Demon Souls, Dark Souls, and Dark Souls III – Metacritic Score: 89
In a three-way tie, these iconic action/RPGs helped revolutionize the genre itself thanks to their innovative gameplay, wonderful level design, punishing difficulty, and awe-inspiring bosses. Yet, each one is important for a very different reason as they all affect fans and the actual franchise itself in new and interesting ways. Despite having some problems, these titles were largely hailed by critics and fans alike with all three receiving a hefty 89% on Metacritic.
Released back in 2009, this PS3 exclusive by From Sofware took their experiences with previous dungeon crawler genre titles and fused them into a more modern, yet still brutally hard title. Demon Souls was a title that didn’t compromise its gameplay for the sake of difficulty, but instead found a unique balance between the two. Bosses and levels are exceptionally difficult, but never to the point where it was unfair to the players. It also introduced an interesting PvP mode that allowed players to not only invade, but become a literal boss at a certain section. While there was still a lot of refinement needed for the combat, exploration, and movement, this game helped lay the foundation for the rest of From Software’s catalog.
While Demon Souls was a cult classic among the gaming community, Dark Souls helped push this series into the mainstream. A critical success, Dark Souls was hailed for its fantastic level design and bosses which still stand as some of the best in the series. The world was interconnected, allowing a deeper sense of exploration and discovery among the community. From a narrative perspective, the story was incredibly cryptic which forced players to look for answers within the actual maps themselves. Notes, NPC dialogue, and art helped give the users clues about the world and it was an interesting way to tell a story that helped it stand out among the competition. However, Dark Souls claim to fame was the inventive and awe-inspiring boss battles that are still regarded as some of the best in not only the action/RPG genre but gaming itself.
The last entry in this iconic series, Dark Souls III delivered on what made the series fantastic while expanding upon the lore, character designs, and weapons that were laced throughout the world. Yet, it’s the refined combat and gameplay mechanics that made the third entry such a hit, as every aspect of the actual gameplay felt polished. Battles had a nice mix of defensive and aggressive play that allowed users of all playstyles to be viable for PvE combat. On the PvP side of things, Dark Souls III expanded upon the covenant system, while making it easier to locate and join a match. Even with a few small problems, namely some issues with the camera and underwhelming areas, Dark Souls III was a worthy send off for this franchise.
Dark Souls II – 91
The highest rated game in the direct Dark Souls franchise, this game built upon everything that fans loved in the original title and added a few new concepts as well. While many fans wouldn’t agree that it’s the best of the series, Dark Souls II is not a bad game by any stretch of the imagination. Its story and world were thoughtfully constructed, as the various sections you explore all felt unique and delivered their own set of challenges to the player. Combat was also expanded upon as a host of new weapons, armor, and magic spells were introduced to combat that variety of different enemies roaming the lands.
Visually Dark Souls II was impressive for its time, as the graphics were certainly a step up from the first game and the title still looks good to this day. However, where Dark Souls II suffered was with its bosses, as many of them were simply underwhelming or too easy. There were a number of reskinned bosses laced throughout the game and it came off as if they only existed to artificially lengthen the campaign. That’s not to say all of the bosses were duds, as the Looking Glass Knight is one of the most stunning fights the entire series has produced. PvP was also expanded upon as arenas were introduced, allowing for a more cohesive competitive experience among the community. While this title may not perfect every aspect of this formula, Dark Souls II is still a wonderfully macabre game and a worthy sequel to the original game.
Bloodborne – 92
While not directly related to the Dark Souls series, Bloodborne shared more than a few things in common with its Dark Age era brothers. So much so, that Bloodborne could easily be considered a simple spin-off to From Software’s most iconic franchise. Yet, there were enough changes to make it stand out, namely both in its presentation and combat which both saw noticeable upgrades from the previous Souls entries. Set during the nightly hunt in a Victorian city called Yharnam, the player took control of a hunter roped into slaying the various beasts that roamed the streets of this warped city. Its main narrative was just as cryptic as previous entries, yet for those who were willing to go out and explore the world they were rewarded with not only loot but more information about the fall of this city.
Combat was way faster and more intense, as enemies were very aggressive and usually offered very small openings for players to counter attack. This gave Bloodborne a unique feeling compared to the other titles, as the sheer ferocity of the moment to moment gameplay was unmatched by virtually any modern game on the market. Enemy designs were both intriguing and horrific, with the various bosses standing out as some of the series best to date. Instead of having dozens upon dozens of blades to choose from, players were given trick weapons which could transform both in and out of combat. It was a unique concept that allowed for more variety in combinations and playstyles during the actual combat.
Bloodborne stands as one of the best PlayStation 4 exclusives released as it offered a finely tuned, yet terrifying experience to both veterans and new players alike. It’s an uncompromising experience that is full of tense, thrilling moments that serve as some of the best in the entire From Software library. To this day the Soulsborne series is still one of the best action/RPG franchises ever introduced as each one was a master class in level design, combat, and how difficulty can be used to enhance the gameplay itself. While the Dark Souls series may be ending, it will forever considered one of the most exciting experiences in gaming.