If you need proof that gamers don’t want just mindless entertainment spoon-fed to them, take a look at the success of the Souls games. GadgetMatch is here to look back at the recently concluded hardcore action RPG franchise, ranking every game from worst to best.
5. Dark Souls II
As the direct sequel to the industry-changing Dark Souls, Dark Souls II had a lot to live up to. It didn’t.
It has an overabundance of forgettable boss battles. It has too many levels that rely on throwing waves of bad guys at the player from all angles. It also looks the worst. Muddy, low-res textures make the environments look fake. Baddies have a wind-up toy feel because of their clunky animation.
But even as the worst in the series, Dark Souls II is still a good game. The HD re-release Scholar of the First Sin does a lot to alleviate the problems of the original. Touched-up graphics, remixed enemy encounters, a more fleshed out story, and all three amazing DLC packed in make it the definitive version.
4. Demon’s Souls
Demon’s Souls introduced a lot of elements that fans have come to love about the series: intricate castles and caverns filled with devious traps and larger-than-life bosses, calculated sword-and-sorcery combat, the risk/reward tension of exploration and self-preservation, and a revolutionary online multiplayer system that let players help or fight each other. Experiencing all this was a revelation for PS3 owners.
Going back to Demon’s Souls though after playing the later games reveals the primitive design. Ambushes are telegraphed a mile away to experienced players. Enemies can’t withstand constant pressure. Most boss battles have one neat solution that make quick work of them on repeat playthroughs. Magic is OP!
But nothing will take away the thrill of conquering Boletaria Palace for the very first time.
3. Dark Souls III
Of the Dark Souls trilogy, the final chapter is the most refined gameplay-wise. Dark Souls III cherrypicks from all its predecessors’ mechanics while presenting novel ways to overcome demons and dragons and all sorts of foul, twisted evils. This combination of quality features results in the most fun-to-play Dark Souls game.
It is certainly the grandest, taking players across distant lands and distorted timelines, and serving up the biggest and baddest bosses to conclude the epic story.
And yet at times, it feels like the creators were getting burnt out. There aren’t many surprises, especially for diehard fans who’ve played all the older games multiple times. Familiarity reduces fear, which is as much of a Souls hallmark as the difficulty. At the very least, developers From Software are leaving the series on a good note.
2. Dark Souls
Although Demon’s Souls came first, it wasn’t until Dark Souls was released did video games at large feel the seismic shift this storied franchise caused. Unlike Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls wasn’t exclusive to the PS3. It also came out on the Xbox 360 and PC, garnering a much bigger audience that was thirsty for something different from brain-dead shooters and tedious RPGs that dominated the market circa 2011. And boy was Dark Souls different.
Gamers used to the comforts of contemporary games were dropped into a mysterious land that punishes thoughtless play. You don’t get a guided tutorial that explains what you can do. There is no map with objective markers telling you where to go. Whenever you die, all the enemies you kill come back to life. Checkpoints are few and far between. You can’t manually save your progress, and the game auto-saves the moment you do anything, so you can’t just load an older save to undo a mistake. You can’t even pause the game at all!
None of that stopped millions of players from facing the game’s myriad trials, plumbing the depths of the fantastical interconnected kingdom of Lordran, and discovering the simple satisfaction of earning hard-fought victories.
It’s only fitting that the best Souls game is a spin-off and doesn’t even have “Souls” in the name. Bloodborne takes the core components of Dark Souls, discards everything that slows things down, and turns up the dial on speed, style, and story. The result? Fast-paced, hyper-focused action in a nightmarish plane of existence dripping with atmosphere and intrigue.
Forget the hundreds of useless gear that only have the slightest variations. Each weapon in Bloodborne is wholly unique, with “trick modes” that add another dimension to fighting. Guns replace shields, and lost health is recovered when you immediately strike back against foes, forcing more aggressive play. Toss out the tired “grimdark Lord of the Rings” aesthetic. Bloodborne goes all Brutalist Victorian, deftly mixing the Gothic stylings of werewolves and vampires with the cosmic horror of H.P. Lovecraft.
There are no weak, throwaway, and unfinished levels. All the bosses have something special about them. The optional Chalice Dungeons present a series first with their ever-changing areas and randomized loot. The Old Hunters DLC is a masterclass of expansions, supplementing the main game with lengthy and meaningful content. The music is sinister and stirring.
Most important of all, Bloodborne recaptures the essential sensation of trying to survive in an unknown, uncaring, and uncompromising world.