The release of Demon’s Souls in 2009, and then Dark Souls in 2011 marked a turning point for video games. A move away from spectacle and towards challenge and depth. The success of both games, Dark Souls, in particular, demonstrated that there was, and still is, a place for high difficulty, deep narrative woven into gameplay, and simple yet intricate combat. The subsequent explosion of “soulslike games” has therefore come as no surprise.
But what is a soulslike game? I doubt there is a single definition on which we would all agree. That being the case, for this list, I’m going to be using my own interpretation. I will be referring to any game that borrows from Dark Souls in terms of level design, narrative structure, combat style, or currency mechanics.
Superficial and thematic elements are less relevant. Having said that, however, many of these games will be decidedly downbeat affairs so be warned.
Games developed by FromSoftware have been disqualified. They can get all the exposure they need elsewhere. Just look at the hype train for Elden Ring, which admittedly, was part of the inspiration for this list. Now that we’ve sorted out the rules, here are the best games like Dark Souls you can play right now.
Let’s kick things off in feudal Japan. Both games in the Nioh series are an obvious choice for anyone craving another helping of souls-style hack and slash gameplay. Nioh 1, in particular, is an excellent example of how a soulslike game can use Dark Souls as a foundation, and still have an identity of its own. So while the combat fundamentals are similar, Nioh layers on a number of systems that change things up significantly.
Developed by Team Ninja, the influence of their other series, Ninja Gaiden is obvious. The combat feels a lot faster and is unusually complex for a soulslike game. Stamina management is still key, but you also have to switch between three different weapon stances, strategically use your ki pulse, and summon a “Guardian Spirit”. A spirit animal that boosts your effectiveness in combat.
There is also a much greater emphasis on stats and loot. The way new gear bursts forth from defeated enemies is almost Diablo-esque, and stats tied to gear are much more important than the ones associated with your character. If hoovering up new weapons and equipment is your thing, Nioh is the one for you.
There are also a variety of tiny green men or “Kodama” to rescue and a stunning variety of colourful bosses. The only way that Nioh lets itself down is in the way the story is told. The game centers around William Adams and his pursuit of the sorcerer Edward Kelly.
Sounds simple enough but you will quickly lose track of what is going on. It all moves so fast, with new characters and locations, that there’s just no way to keep up.
And now for something completely different. As I have already noted, soulslike games tend towards elegance and simplicity. In that spirit, Titan Souls, by Acid Nerve and Devolver Digital, boils things down about as far as they can go.
It may not be as dizzyingly deep or as breathtakingly grandiose as its peers, but it doesn’t need to be. This is still an essential soulslike experience.
In stark contrast to Nioh, in Titan Souls you only have one attack. A bow and one arrow, which after being fired, must be retrieved manually You die in one hit and so do all the bosses, of which there are 19 in total. The real challenge is in working out in what specific way you need to use your solitary arrow to take down the behemoth of the moment.
Titan Souls can be very frustrating, and you will need a lot of patience, but that all needs to be there to set up the payoff. There are two distinct “Eureka” moments to every battle. The first comes when you work out what you’re actually supposed to do, the second when you finally pull it off. The world might be a little flat, and there isn’t really much context for what you’re doing, but Titan Souls provides that Dark Souls boss battle high in spades.
This might be a contentious one. I concede that Hollow Knight is very much a Metroidvania, but I think there is enough souls influence in evidence for it to qualify for this list. So yes it’s a 2D platformer sort of affair, but there are some decidedly Dark Souls elements. Incidentally, it also has the sense that the end of the world is just over the horizon very much front and center.
Most obviously souls-inspired is the mechanic wherein you lose all your money upon death but can recover it if you make it back to where you died. You do also have to fight a ghostly shade of yourself, but that detail aside, this is an obvious nod to the bloodstain system from Dark Souls and all its sequels.
Couple that with the benches, which work a lot like bonfires in that you can respawn and fiddle with your stats and loadout at them, and you have a game undeniably soulslike in feel.
Of course, I don’t recommend Hollow Knight solely on the basis of its resemblance to Dark Souls. Far from it. I might even go as far as to say it’s the best game on this list. Incredible animation, refined platforming gameplay, fantastic boss fights and a devastatingly beautiful world to explore.
There is also a deeply tragic story going on in the background. As far as soulslike games go, this one is not to be missed.
The Darksiders franchise never had a problem with trying to emulate popular games. The first two entries were often compared to The Legend of Zelda while the Darksiders Genesis spin-off looked a lot like a Diablo clone, though the gameplay was overall quite different. As far as Darksiders 3 is concerned, the latest entry in the series is clearly inspired by soulslike games, at least to some degree.
In case you’re not familiar with the series, Darksiders takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where a war between the forces of Hell and the forces of Heaven destroyed most of Earth. And wiped out most of humanity. The protagonists of these games are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which in Darksiders are powerful beings pertaining to a race called the Nephilim (half angel, half demon) who are charged with maintaining the balance between Heaven and Hell.
In the first Darksiders you play as War, in its sequel you play as Death, and in the third entry you get to take on the role of Fury. The fourth horseman, Strife, is playable in Darksiders Genesis but he never got his own solo game in the mainline series. You’ll find certain soulslike elements in all three main entries but Darksiders 3 is the most similar to games we tend to associate with the genre.
Although the series has moved farther away from its roots with each new installment, it hasn’t forgotten them completely. Puzzle-solving continues to be just as important as before in Darksiders 3 and you can expect to spend a good chunk of your time exploring hidden areas in search of long-lost treasures. Boss fights are an important part of the game, too. No need to worry about that.
Remnant: From The Ashes
Here’s a game that came out of nowhere, and took a lot of people by surprise. Remnant: From the Ashes, by Gunfire Games, is an attempt to translate soulslike gameplay and structure over to a third-person shooter. The first few hours are a little slow, but get past that, and Remnant suddenly becomes one of the most imaginative and intriguing soulslike games on the market.
What begins as a slog through sewers and ruined cities somehow transitions into an interstellar odyssey. New areas, abilities, and weapons bring the game to life. I was having a great time dodge rolling and shotgunning my way through far-off, alien worlds. There are also elements of procedural generation that the game can still surprise you with the third or fourth time around.
It should also be noted that if you are looking for something with a co-op focus, Remnant is the obvious choice. You can play the whole game with a friend or two in tow. Where most soulslike games limit their multiplayer functionality, Remnant goes the whole hog. If you’ve ever wished your friends could stick around after a boss fight in Dark Souls, then give this one a look.
My one word of warning is that, just like Nioh, the story is a bit of a mess. It all whizzes past so fast that you probably won’t understand what’s going on without a trip to the wiki. Having said that, the world itself is intriguing enough that you’ll want to keep going. You never know what might be around the next corner.
Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order
Star Wars getting involved is a good sign that soulslike games have achieved mainstream appeal. It doesn’t get much more over-exposed than Jedi, Sith, and Ewoks. Given all the negative press surrounding Dice’s two Battlefront games, I had little hope for Fallen Order. EA has made itself difficult to trust over the years.
But despite their insidious influence, Fallen Order is a remarkably solid game. A single-player, Metroidvania, soulslike, that finally lets Star Wars fans swing a lightsaber that feels halfway satisfying to use. And it does all this while serving up a brand new Star Wars story.
While this isn’t the most innovative game on this list by a long stretch, it’s nice to see something with such broad appeal knuckle down and focus on the fundamentals, rather than how best to trick children into handing over all their parents’ money.
I realise that this is trite, but if you’re a Star Wars fan, you should probably own this game. Even if you aren’t but you enjoy a good souls-like experience, Fallen Order will provide. I’m not a Star Wars fan and I still got a kick out of it. There’s a sequel on the way too, so now is a great time to jump in.
The Surge was one of the first soulslike games that tried something different in terms of setting. While most games in this genre take place in some sort of fantasy world, including every title developed by FromSoftware, The Surge is pure sci-fi goodness.
The Surge takes place in a futuristic dystopia where the line between humans and machines has become blurred. The world is run by megacorporations, most labor is relegated to robots, and a good chunk of humanity walks around in mech suits. The setting isn’t mind-blowingly original but it does stand out when you compare it to the settings of most other soulslike games.
Setting aside, the other two main highlights of The Surge are the combat system and the character progression. Which are tightly linked to each other. To find equipment in this game you’re going to have to take it from enemies. If you want gear, you’ll have to dismember opponents and use their parts to upgrade your rig. This applies to weapons as well.
Once you’re done with The Surge, we (s)urge you to also check out its sequel. The Surge 2 doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel but, then again, it doesn’t have to because the original’s formula is good enough. The sequel merely goes bigger and brings more variety to the table. Overall, the original is arguably better, but The Surge 2 is not to be overlooked either if you’re a soulslike fan.
Salt and Sanctuary
This is one of the most brazen soulslike games on this list. Salt and Sanctuary asks one simple question. What if Dark Souls, but 2D? Ska Studios gave it a go, and the result is exactly what you’d expect. Almost every soulslike element you can think of appear in some form in Salt and Sanctuary.
So yes, you have the die, die, die again cycle. Yes, you have the currency that enemies drop which you can use to level up. Yes, you have the cryptic story, the high difficulty, the respawning enemies, and so on. But it goes even further than that.
Each “sanctuary” is a bonfire and Firelink Shrine all in one, and you can even leave messages for other players. There are even a number of covenants, thinly disguised as “creeds” that you can join.
It may sound almost like a parody, but there is an obvious talent and enthusiasm on display that elevates the game above rip-off status. It looks and feels great to play, and a number of RPG elements, such as a skill tree do just enough to keep things original.
The comic-book style might be a turn-off for some, but I think it works well. If you aren’t looking to stray too far from the Dark Souls comfort zone, but want something new, Salt and Sanctuary is a great place to start. This one also has a sequel on the way.
Lords of the Fallen
Lords of the Fallen can probably best be described as discount Dark Souls. The action RPG draws heavy inspiration from soulslike games but eases up on the difficulty commonly associated with the genre.
Indeed, Lords of the Fallen is one of the easiest soulslikes out there. This makes it a good starting point for those who want to see what the genre is all about without having to pull out their hair while trying to tackle some of the hardest video game bosses of all time in titles like Bloodborne or Elden Ring.
Lords of the Fallen is a dark fantasy RPG that takes place in a world where humanity banished its malevolent god and its demonic armies. With the titular Lords of the Fallen threatening to return to the human realm, it’s up to you to stop them. You play as Harkyn, an outcast cursed with immortality.
The combat is pretty much what you would expect from a game like this. You have nine character classes at your disposal, with plenty of types of weapons, armor and spells at your disposal. Lords of the Fallen is way clunkier than most other soulslike games and it might take you a while to get used to the combat and the controls. Same goes for the camera. But if you can get past those issues, you’ll have a pretty good time with Lords of the Fallen.
Just like Salt and Sanctuary, Bloodborne PSX comes to the table with a single, burning question. What if Bloodborne, but released in 1995 for the Playstation 1? Well, without wishing to repeat myself, the result is exactly what you’d expect.
The ever-advancing nostalgia wave has moved on from the 8-bit era and has now fully submerged the age of early 3-D modeling. Games like Dusk, Tormented Souls, and Night of the Consumer have cemented PS1 nostalgia as a hot new trend in the independent sphere. And now, thanks to LWmedia, and Bloodborne PSX, soulslike games are a part of it. This is Bloodborne meets Silent Hill.
It is perhaps more souls “on the rocks” than a soulslike, being a recreation of a FromSoftware game, but there are enough differences between it and its inspiration to make it worth playing. New areas, bosses, and secrets abound in this low-res gem. If you’re a fan of both early survival horror and soulslike games, then your day has come at last.
Presumably tired of simply publishing soulslike games, Bandai Namco decided to also develop one a few years ago. Code Vein is a pretty big departure from the titles made by FromSoftware but it does have all the basic soulslike elements you would expect.
The first thing you’ll notice about Code Vein is that it went in a unique direction in terms of art style. Well, unique as far as this specific genre is concerned, I should say. The game looks very much like an anime and that’s something that will either attract you or dissuade you from playing, depending on your tastes. Code Vein is very anime-ish not just in terms of visuals but also when it comes to character design and even its story.
The story is one of the other aspects that distinguishes Code Vein from most other soulslike games. The narrative is straightforward and you can expect a lot of cutscenes and dialogue. There’s also a lot of emphasis on character development and that doesn’t apply just to the protagonist. Most characters are fleshed out throughout the course of the game, which is pretty unusual for a soulslike.
In some ways, playing Code Vein feels like playing a JRPG. But don’t expect tactical combat a la Final Fantasy or anything like that. The combat is very much soulslike and appropriately difficult. The game doesn’t compare to something like Elden Ring when it comes to enemy difficulty but boss encounters are definitely not a walk in the park.
Dead Cells identifies as a “souls lite”. This could mean any number of things really, but I think I can see what they mean. While the overall structure isn’t particularly reminiscent of Dark Souls, the combat has an unmistakable soulslike flavor to it. If you enjoy rogue-lites (I know this all sounds very silly) then Dead Cells is probably up your alley.
So it’s the classic formula. Battle your way through a series of procedurally generated 2D Metroidvania stages, and if you die, you start all over again. There are a handful of upgrades that carry over from run to run, but this is not the kind of game that you can beat by simply banging your head against the wall long enough. It’s all very skill-based, which is where the souls influence is most apparent.
Combat in Dead Cells is a faithful recreation of Dark Souls in two dimensions. Which of course means that you’d better start practicing your dodge rolls. Unlike in many other Metroidvanias, enemies don’t deal damage just by touching you. It’s a small change but it goes a long way to fundamentally shifting how you approach every encounter.
I personally found Dead Cells the toughest game to get through on this list. Maybe the pressure that comes with perma-death got to me. Despite that, I enjoyed it immensely. It’s a great rogue-lite and a great soulslike (souls lite?).
Finally, we have Mortal Shell. Now, a soulslike game needn’t necessarily take place in a dark, decaying world (doesn’t seem to stop them though), but Mortal Shell really goes all-in on the misery and gloom. It’s just like Dark Souls but with more geometry and fewer cathedrals.
Other elements such as the combat and the extremely vague story (possibly the vaguest I’ve come across so far) are also fairly transparent where inspiration is concerned. Of all the games on this list, Mortal Shell does the least to disguise its influence. At least Salt and Sanctuary had the decency to drop the third dimension.
However, there is some innovation that keeps the game interesting. The titular “shells”. Rather than an Undead, or an insect, or whatever you are in Dead Cells, you play as a ghostly specter with no real means of self defense. This necessitates a mechanic wherein you are able to possess the bodies, or “shells”, of fallen warriors scattered across the world.
It’s basically a very fluid class system and provides a fresh new angle on the more traditional RPG elements of most soulslike games. The one other new idea is the “harden” mechanic. You can at any moment turn yourself to stone, even mid-swing, to deflect an incoming attack. Again, it’s like a more flexible parry and opens up a lot of options you wouldn’t see in other games.
Ashen is one of the most obscure soulslike games on this list. Which is a real shame because it’s also one of the most unique ones. Publisher Annapurna Interactive is known for backing a lot of experimental and ambitious games, such as What Remains of Edith Finch, Outer Wilds or Twelve Minutes. Ashen is another one of those games, only this one happens to be soulslike. With a twist.
Ashen takes place in a very strange world inhibited by equally strange people and monsters. The cell-shaded graphics and washed-out look of the game make everything feel immediately hostile and oppressive right off the bat. The almost minimalist art style and faceless people add even more to the feeling that this world is dangerous and you should constantly watch your back. Which you should.
It’s not all gloom and despair, however. Ashen was primarily designed with co-op in mind and playing it that way is far less depressing than playing it solo. If you’re playing online, you’ll often run into other players and the way you interact with them can fundamentally change the way you experience this game. It’s a bit like an MMORPG in that sense but with all the elements you would expect from a soulslike game.
If you’re planning on checking out Ashen, keep in mind that the game is more about exploration than combat, though there is quite a bit of the latter as well. You’ll probably have less fun fighting bosses than randomly wandering around the creepy but beautiful open world alongside a buddy.
The Soulslike is Here to Stay
It may have been over a decade since Dark Souls, but the genre it spawned is showing no signs of slowing down. Spanning all manner of genres and themes, soulslike games are almost inescapable. Hopefully, this list will serve as a tool for those who want to see what the genre has to offer outside the original series, and what can be done with the core ideas and a little imagination.