Now that the dust has settled on Elden Ring, we’ve been thinking about how it compares to FromSoftware’s other recent games. That in turn led us here, a definitive ranking of all the “Souls” games developed by the people who made the genre what it is today. These games are so important to so many people (myself included), and they deserve special attention.
We’re well aware that FromSoftware were making games before the release of Demon’s Souls, but for this list, we’re sticking to the high-difficulty, action RPGs that put them on the map. This one’s probably going to get contentious quickly, so strap yourself in. To be clear, all these games are masterpieces in their own right, but there can only be one winner.
As far as my credentials go, I have beaten every game on this list multiple times, and even 100%-ed one of them. I am by no means a speedrunner or someone who plays the game at soul level one, but I think I have enough of a history with these games to give them a fair assessment. With that out of the way, let’s get to it.
7. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
I get the impression that Sekiro is something of a marmite game for Souls fans, that is to say, they either love it or they hate it. As you can probably tell, I lean towards the latter. It is different, and there is nothing wrong with trying something new, but it wasn’t clicking for me. I wasn’t getting what I normally get from a Souls game. The combat was as exhilarating as ever, but something didn’t sit right.
Most of that was due to the lack of RPG elements. There is a correct way to play Sekiro, and if you don’t like it then you can hop on the next train to Lordran. If you don’t learn how to parry properly, then you will not make it to the end credits. There’s also no rolling and no stamina bar. I’ll say it again, there’s nothing wrong with changing things up, it just didn’t work for me.
There isn’t enough RPG stuff, and the stealth elements are a little lacklustre. The AI doesn’t feel like it was designed to handle the player being discreet. I get that it isn’t a full-on stealth game, but games that try to have things both ways rarely work for me. The sneaky bits can’t help but feel tacked on, or not worth the effort.
On a more positive note, the game is absolutely gorgeous, packed with personality, and the Shinobi prosthetics are a brilliant addition. Offhand tools and other items so often feel like an afterthought, but here they enhance gameplay in meaningful ways. The grappling hook also adds a nice verticality. But despite all that, Sekiro can’t get off the bottom of this list.
6. Dark Souls Iii
A list like this is always going to ruffle a few feathers, and that ruffling most likely starts now. I doubt many people will have Dark Souls 3 this low on their personal lists, but the more I look back on it, the less inclined I am to place it above other games we’ll get to later. I know some of you have already beaten your ploughshares into swords and are storming the castle gates as we speak, but let me try and explain.
As the final game in the Dark Souls trilogy, there’s something very knowing and “nudge nudge, wink wink” about Dark Souls 3. There’s nothing wrong with it really, but it feels more like a greatest hits album than an exciting new work. Characters, locations, and enemies all reappear with varying degrees of blatancy. Anor Londo, The Demon Ruins, and “Siegward” of Catarina (among others) are all back for one last performance. Nostalgia is thick on the ground.
It was also at this point in the series that I realised I was getting sick of running around huge gothic cathedrals and poison swamps. Admittedly, it probably isn’t fair to criticise Dark Souls 3 objectively for feeling too familiar, but when held up against other FromSoftware titles, it just doesn’t have the same impact.
Just like with Sekiro however, the combat, exploration, and worldbuilding are all up to the usual standard, In fact, I think I’d go as far as saying that Dark Souls 3 is the best playing of its trilogy. The faster pace and smoother animations are a joy. Ultimately though, I just can’t get past the sense that we’ve been here before. A great game, brought down by circumstance.
5. Demon’s Souls
It’s amazing how much Demon’s Souls got right. For the first attempt at such an ambitious concept, it’s incredible how many of its ideas remained part of the series’ DNA for so long. Miyazaki clearly had a vision, which he realised remarkably well. Demon’s Souls was unlike anything else on the market at the time but found an audience regardless. That in itself is worth celebrating.
The focus on community cooperation, combat fundamentals, and of course, reclaiming lost souls are all elements of Demon’s Souls design that have remained largely untouched for the last 13 years. Even the recent remake only had to make one or two small tweaks to bring the game up to modern standards.
There are, of course, ways that more recent games have changed for the better. Omnidirectional rolling (which the remake did have) for a start. Demon’s Souls only allowed rolling in the four cardinal directions and it’s difficult to go back to now. Upgrading weapons is also more of a pain than it needs to be, and the world isn’t as sprawling or interconnected as it would be in later games.
The big problem though is the boss design. While there are a handful of great ones, like Flamelurker, the majority phone it in a little. Too many of them are puzzle or gimmick fights (looking at you Dragon God) and none of them really have more than one stage. They’re not bad, by any stretch of the imagination, but they don’t reach the heights we know FromSoftware are capable of.
4. Dark Souls Ii
Yes yes, I know. Dark Souls 2 wasn’t developed by Hidetaka Miyazaki, and in many ways, it shows. The levels are weirdly disjointed, it often feels more unfair than challenging, and some of the bosses are downright dreadful. Dark Souls 2 is widely considered one of the lesser FromSoftware games, but I have to disagree. Call me crazy, but I think there’s a lot to like.
Majula is one of my favorite hub areas of any game. The way the small cliffside settlement grows as the game progresses is fascinating. It also contains some of my favorite NPCs, such as Maughlin the Armourer and Cale the Cartographer. The world at large is also brimming with personality and is one of the most visually varied of all the Souls games. The Dragon Aerie is breathtaking, and the Forest of Fallen Giants is a great opening area.
Dark Souls 2 also contains several ideas I wish FromSoftware had developed further. The bonfire ascetics are a clever addition, and new game plus actually significantly changes several encounters. I don’t know why this hasn’t been done since. There is also a huge (almost Elden Ring-like) variety of weapons and playstyles.
It’s a shame then that Dark Souls 2 so often resorts to ganks and enemies with ludicrous amounts of health in a feeble attempt to live up to the series’ reputation for difficulty. Bosses like Throne Watcher and Defender and Ancient Dragon are real low points. However, there is a variety and charm to Dark Souls 2 that I find irresistible. Flame me all you like, but this is where I think it deserves to be.
3. Dark Souls
Just like with Demon’s Souls, it’s amazing how well (most) of Dark Souls holds up. It’s still a top-quality action RPG and its legacy is almost inescapable. It is undeniably one of the most influential games of its era. Miyazaki and his team took what worked in Demon’s Souls and polished it to a mirror shine, simultaneously making just enough changes to bring everything together.
What really set Dark Souls apart from its predecessor was the level design. The sprawling, interconnected, Metroidvania-inspired world of Lordran remains one of the best-realized settings in all of gaming. There are enough secrets, things to discover, and eureka moments out there that exploring is satisfying in its own right. Few games manage the same feat.
The boss fights aren’t as mechanically complex as they would go on to be, and one or two feel a little half-baked, but many of the rest are truly iconic. Ornstein and Smough, Knight Artorias, and Black Dragon Kalameet are among the best FromSoftware has to offer.
It has to be said though, the game really goes off the rails in its latter stages. I don’t know what ran out if it was time, money, or passion, but there is a serious nosedive in quality. Bosses are recycled, and areas like Lost Izalith are utterly miserable experiences. It might be the most important game on this list, but it’s not quite the best.
2. Elden Ring
The latest, but not quite greatest FromSoftware offering absolutely raises the bar for the kind of game it is, but I can’t bring myself to call it the best Souls game ever made. Vast, stunningly beautiful, and bursting at the seams with interesting characters, lore, and locations. This is the game our very own Ammar Kachwala called “a flex on the entire gaming industry“.
Unlike other open-world games, almost everything feels handcrafted. There are no icons on the map that fill you in on exactly what will happen once you reach a certain point. Encounters and discoveries all feel totally organic. This feeling is enhanced further by the way NPCs with their own agendas move around the map. The Lands Between are the star of the show, and they more than live up to the billing.
It’s surprisingly rare for open-world games to feel big. I know that sounds silly considering the sheer size of most of the current crop, but think about it. Games like FarCry or Days Gone might be dozens or hundreds of square miles across, but they often feel like the same two or three square miles copy-pasted over and over again. No matter where you are, you’re fighting the same bandits and liberating the same camps. Elden Ring simply doesn’t work that way and is better for it.
Elden Ring hits the highest notes the Souls Games have ever managed, but it’s also a little bit flabby in places. The crafting system feels unnecessary, and (just like Dark Souls) the game’s second half feels unbalanced. There’s a sudden difficulty spike that doesn’t feel warranted. I also wasn’t a fan of how some bosses would appear over and over again. These are minor quibbles though. Elden Ring is a landmark title that will be talked about for years.
Here we have it. The only game on this list I have 100% completed. I am by no means a trophy hunter, I just couldn’t stop playing Bloodborne. I believe that a Souls game is, first and foremost, an action RPG. That being the case, I have to put forward Bloodborne as the fullest realization of FromSoftware’s vision.
Unlike Elden Ring, Bloodborne doesn’t have an ounce of fat on it. The combat is fast and precise, the boss designs are outstanding, and the world is as brilliantly dark, twisted, and mysterious. The genuinely creepy, Lovecraftian setting and plot are mysterious, savage and utterly unique. Gehrman and Gascoigne’s story arcs in particular stand out as two of the most tragic and sensitive of any Souls game.
The rally mechanic, whereby you can regain lost health by immediately striking an enemy, is a genius addition that lends combat, a desperate, frenzied edge. Bloodborne’s trick weapons are also a delight. They expand your character’s move set in ways we haven’t really seen before or since. The threaded cane, which transforms into a whip is one of my favorites.
Bloodborne has an interconnected world, just the right amount of RPG elements, and the best combat system in the series. It also has the best bosses. Ludwig The Holy Blade, The Orphan of Kos, and Father Gascoigne are all absolutely peerless. As far as I’m concerned, Bloodborne has yet to be topped.
Did Dark Souls 2 make it too high? Should Elden Ring have taken the top spot? Have I got Sekiro completely wrong? Let me know what you think in the comments.