Ever since its release in 2011, Dark Souls has been viewed as a benchmark in gaming difficulty spawning a trilogy held by many to be one of gaming's finest. Like many successful franchises, the game also inspired a bunch of other games from different developers, originating the Souls-Like genre.
Nowadays, Souls-like is the term used for games that have a slower approach to exploration and a stamina bar to keep the players frequently managing their resources. The difficulty is also one of the big staples of the genre. Some games are significantly more difficult than others, though.
Updated on September 7, 2021, by Thomas Heath: The Souls-like genre continues to be one of the most popular in modern gaming, spanning across a variety of franchises and gameplay styles. This updated list adds five more brilliant games to the fold, all of which bring the brutal difficulty and souls-like gameplay beloved by fans of the Dark Souls series.
14 Code Vein
Code Vein is not as hard as your average Souls-like game. Although it might be harder than your typical action-adventure blockbuster, it will not be as painful and slow to get into as other games might be. Well, at least until you reach a boss battle. This game has some very unforgiving and punishing bosses.
Code Vein can be played cooperatively, and this mechanic might be the best way to get through some bosses. Unfortunately, playing cooperatively out of boss battles might completely trivialize some challenges. It is a fun game nonetheless, and a great entry-point to the genre.
A Souls-like with several twists, Nioh is considered by many the spiritual successor of Onimusha. The game has your typical slower approach and a Ki bar that works like the Stamina in your standard souls-like game. However, it does have unique mechanics that accompany it.
There are different postures that the main character can use to change the way he attacks. Also, timing your strikes, posture defenses, and other commands might make you instantly recover part of the ki spent. This makes the combat engaging and fun but can also make it easier when the mechanic is mastered. If you're looking for a challenge, they can look for the hardest twilight missions.
12 Lords of the Fallen
The first Souls-Like in the PS4 era, Lords of the Fallen was developed by Deck13 Interactive and CI Games. Unlike Dark Souls and Demon's Souls, it had a protagonist with a name and backstory.
Many gamers did not enjoy this game, though, and there is some reason for that. The game had some questioning design, considered by many to be too edgy. The gameplay was also not considered as fun, engaging, or as well thought out as that of Dark Souls.
11 Mortal Shell
Mortal Shell is a really good-looking game and takes a lot of inspiration from Dark Souls - although it isn't afraid to refresh the formula. It even has a roguelike mode. The biggest addition though is the hardening mechanic, which acts as a way to prevent any damage from being taken and can be used in some really unique ways.
Shells are also a unique feature and act as the game's classes. In-game they're the remains of defeated warriors and allow you to learn new skills and combat techniques. Mortal Shell doesn't offer the brutal difficulty of the harder Dark Souls games, but it's a great alternative and one of the newer entries on this list.
10 The Surge 2
The futuristic setting and the dismemberment mechanics of The Surge indeed made the game unique and fun. The dodge was really strong, making the main character jump far to the side. Some weapons were unique, and the game had a strong identity.
The game had its issues, but The Surge 2 improved on almost every single aspect of the game. Those changes did make the game easier than the predecessor, but considering that the first game had some strange difficulty spikes, it was all for the best.
9 Remnant: From The Ashes
The elevator pitch for Remnant: From the Ashes is pretty simple, it's Dark Souls with guns. Mechanically, Remnant borrows the bonfires, dodging mechanic, stamina, and classes, as well as offering some pretty tricky boss fights for you to die to again and again.
It is less of a souls game than most games on this list, but it is a lot of fun, offering great co-op action, and takes enough inspiration from the series that fans of the Dark Souls games will probably have a lot of fun here.
8 Salt and Sanctuary
Salt and Sanctuary is a tough 2D platformer that combines fluid combat with some great exploration to produce an unforgettable experience. One of the highlights of the game is its weapon system, with over 600 weapons and spells to find, craft, and upgrade, meaning you can take down enemies and bosses however you choose.
It wears its Dark Souls influence on its sleeve, taking all of the best elements from the series, and projecting them into two dimensions. The atmosphere is bleak, the enemy designs are grotesque, and the difficulty is high. You'll die a lot, but isn't that why you play souls-likes?
7 Demon's Souls
The original Souls game. Demon's Souls was the original punishing game with methodical exploration that was made by FromSoftware. It remains one of the most critically acclaimed games out there and is still considered one of the best Action RPGs ever made. Thanks to the remake, players can enjoy this classic with new generation graphics, but there are some other things that are different from the original.
Demon's Souls is hard, and it was one of its selling points. It was the first game of its era that unified your money and experience in a single currency and would take everything away from the player after any death. This eternalized the "you died", originating a series of memes.
6 Dark Souls 3
Thankfully, FromSoftware did not stop after Demon's Souls. In fact, we got several great games after. The spiritual successor of their prior success was called Dark Souls, and it was also one of the most critically acclaimed Action RPGs ever made.
Dark Souls was so famous due to its game design philosophy and genius map structure that it caused the existence of two more games within the same franchise. Dark Souls 3 might not be the hardest of the Dark Souls, but it is hard, rewarding, and amazingly well designed.
5 The Surge
The first futuristic souls-like, The Surge was a welcomed new take on this genre that was once thought to be exclusively about medieval settings. This is the game that implemented dismemberment and localized damage as an important part of its combat system.
Knowing what part of an enemy to hit was almost as important as dodging or parrying. Although the gameplay was fun and the setting very unique, the game suffered from sudden difficulty spikes that were not entirely fun to deal with.
4 Hollow Knight
Hollow Knight is arguably the best Metroidvania to have come out in the last decade and includes many souls-like staples such as a high difficulty level, lots of boss fights, and a mechanic very similar to the bonfire system in Dark Souls for saving.
It has amazing combat and a move set evolution that evolves from being rudimentary to eventually allowing you to slash, dash, and bounce your way to victory. The story is heavily influenced by the Dark Souls games too, with your journey taking you through a once-great kingdom that has fallen into disrepair.
3 Dark Souls
Always fun and always fair. Or at least that's what fans of Dark Souls have to say about the game. This game is considered by many to be almost flawless. It has extremely well-constructed combat, map, enemies, and atmosphere. Dark Souls makes you rage when you die, but provides an amazing sensation of achievement when they overcome each challenge.
The dark fantasy setting compliments the difficulty of the game, and the death and respawn points are not only a game mechanic but also explained by the lore. Although it is difficult, almost every single challenge is fair and can be beaten if you're determined enough.
At some point, someone had an amazing idea of mixing Dark Souls, Gothic architecture, the Victorian era, and Lovecraftian horror. The baby of this weird salad is one of the best games ever made. Bloodborne is the horror Action RPG nobody knew that they wanted. The game even has an optional dungeon crawl with very challenging sections.
Following the same design proposition that Dark Souls had, but with faster gameplay, Bloodborne is one of the most memorable games on the PS4. It has a great twist, though. The only shield in the game is quite useless. The game forces players to play aggressively and dodge like no other souls game ever has, and perhaps ever will.
1 Dark Souls 2: Scholar Of The First Sin
The least favorite Dark Souls of most fans, many players would say that Dark Souls 2 was the easiest in the series. That is until FromSoftware decided to change the game with patches and Downloadable Content. By the time they launched the Scholar of the First Sin version, this was a new game already.
Dark Souls 2's latest version was harder, unforgiving, and had a plethora of enemies. Whether or not the game is fun now is very debatable - It is certainly the least favorite game for most fans, but it is indeed a quite hard one. Especially considering the number of bosses that have creatures to aid them in battle and the amazing DLC bosses.
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