The Soulslike genre has always been something of a niche category in the gaming landscape. While that may change—considering the near unrivaled hype surrounding the release of Elden Ring—it’s true that Souls-like games cater to a very specific audience.
Between cryptic questlines, minimalist UI, and the utterly unforgiving combat, Soulslike players are often labeled as somewhat masochistic. That said, if you do happen to be part of the target audience (like me), there’s no better experience than a well-crafted Soulslike game.
But what exactly is a “Soulslike” game? Unlike a lot of other genres, it doesn’t really have many defined rules. Still, though, there’s a few hallmarks across the genre:
- Character Upgrades
- Hard Hitting Enemies
- I-Frame Rolling
- “Straightforward” but Brutally Difficult Combat
- Dark Fantasy Settings
Some of these may be debatable, but in my experience, some combination of these are generally the marks of a Soulslike game. In accordance with these traits, I’ve compiled a short list of what I personally think are the best Soulslike games available at the time of writing—with the obvious exception of the titular Dark Souls trilogy.
10. Hollow Knight
As a disclaimer, despite being at 10th place, Hollow Knight is an utterly fantastic game. Now if only they could release Silksong… But I digress.
I’ve placed Hollow Knight at 10th place (despite its excellence as a game) because it skirts the line of what it means to be a Soulslike game. Not because of its 2d format—there’s a few more of those on this list—but because it places heavy emphasis on exploring its massive, well-designed map world. Despite that, its tight, unforgiving combat (in tandem with deceptively difficult bosses) earns it a place on this list.
9. The Surge (Series)
At the time of writing, there are 2 entries in “The Surge” series. Whether there will be more in the future has yet to be seen, but the 2nd game is, in my opinion, the superior product by nearly every measurable metric. The Surge takes the Dark Souls formula and adapts it into a sci-fi setting, with some pretty varied results. It doesn’t offer the same level of character customization as other entries on this list, but its fast, fluid combat is more than enough to keep it afloat.
8. CODE VEIN
CODE VEIN is a bit of an interesting notion. While it holds true to the “grimdark” post-apocalyptic fantasy settings that fans have come to expect from Soulslike games as a whole, it undoubtedly takes a more… “anime” approach—in terms of both artstyle and gameplay. With that said, however, it features a diverse pool of weapons, along with in-depth character upgrades, making it a faithful representation of what it means to be a Soulslike.
7. Remnant: From the Ashes
There’s been a large variety of games trying to adapt the Soulslike formula into a successful shooter. The vast majority of these games failed spectacularly, due to a plethora of reasons—among these failures, Remnant stands as a pleasant exception. Despite its shooter formula, it features an expansive list of both firearms and melee weapons allowing players to min-max in whatever ways they want. It also features a roguelike gamemode, allowing players to pick up and set down the game at a moment’s notice.
Bloodborne is perhaps the most fabled game on this list—and for good reason. Developed by From Software themselves, it’s the complete package. A grimdark setting, difficult combat, and a veritable plethora of boss fights. In comparison to other Soulslike titles, it can be a little lacking in terms of weapon selection and character customization—but it more than makes up for this with its fast paced, fluid combat—which is arguably even more high risk, high reward that other Soulslike entries. So why is it placed 6th on this list?
One word: Availability.
Having been released in 2015 as a PS4 exclusive, Bloodborne has never been compatible with any other platform or system. While it’s technically available on PlayStation Now, the service itself is riddled with so many problems that whether or not it’ll work really just comes down to a coinflip. Bloodborne is a fantastic game, but the tall asking order of an entire console just to play it is a huge detriment to its popularity.
5. Ender Lilies
At 5th place, Ender Lilies stands strong as the first true 2d Soulslike on this list. While it may stand closer to being a metroidvania than a Soulslike—considering how much the map opens up as the player unlocks new abilities—the difficult combat no doubt takes inspiration from the Soulslike genre as a whole. The player’s choice of skill set is somewhat restrictive, but makes sense given the game’s setting.
Really, though, this game’s strong point is its presentation. Ender Lilies artstyle is a weird blend of cartoon and stained glass that’s hard to put into words. Using black and white heavy color palette with such an artstyle might seem strange—but somehow, it is.
4. Nioh 2
Coming in at 4th place, Nioh 2 is a highly stylized take on the Soulslike genre. It goes all in on a traditional Japanese aesthetic, pitting the player against hordes of yokai, all of them featuring a flashy, lethal moveset. Nioh 2 offers perhaps the most character customization out of the entries on this list, but loses a few points due to the added complexity of its combat system (elements, status effects, and so on) and its emphasis on grinding/farming for gear. Still, though, if you’re fine with more instance-based systems, Nioh 2’s dynamic, fluid combat system will no doubt have you hooked.
3. Dead Cells
Similar to Ender Lilies, Dead Cells blends the metroidvania and Soulslike genres, throws a roguelike into the mix, and wraps it up in bright, high-quality pixel art. In comparison to Ender Lilies, though, Dead Cells emphasizes speed, rewarding the player for both taking fights, and for clearing rooms in a timely manner.
The roguelike genre itself may not be for everyone, but between its already content-filled base game, and its two impressive expansion DLCs, it’s easy to attain a sense of progress normally associated with more linear games. The huge weapon and utility pool works in its favor as well, assuring that there really is something for everybody.
2. Salt and Sanctuary
Salt and Sanctuary earns the number 2 spot on this list for a few reasons. While it’s a great game in its own right, it’s perhaps the most faithful 2d adaptation of the Soulslike genre to date. While staying true to the slow, methodical, trial and error combat of the Soulslike namesakes, Salt and Sanctuary throws a few unique mechanics of its own into the mix. The result is a wonderfully crafted, brutally difficult action RPG that has truly embraced what it means to be a Soulslike game.
1. Elden Ring
I really did my best not to include too many of From Software’s own games in this post. They pioneered the genre, after all—it’s no surprise that they’d be the masters of it, as well.
That said, Elden Ring can’t be described as anything but the pinnacle of the Soulslike experience. Not only does it take the trademark brutal combat and difficulty of its predecessors and refine it, it completely revamps the magic classes and spells in the game, allowing for an astoundingly enjoyable experience as a close-range battle mage.
Even as a standalone title, Elden Ring is nothing short of a masterpiece. The open world is beautifully crafted and filled with separate storylines, the boss fights are some of the most fun of any game, and it features a lore-heavy, if somewhat minimalist story. There’s no other game that deserves first place more—out of every game listed here, Elden Ring is the best by a wide margin.