Sorry, definition nerds. “Soulslike” is a word now. Disgusting, I know, but this is how genres are made. Along comes a giant like Dark Souls that everybody won’t stop bleating about and soon it has copycats. Before you know it, a swarm of like-minded games with sparse checkpoints and lethal attacks are scuttling around, leaving slime trails and biting your ankles for surprisingly massive damage. Ugh, soulslikes. But stoop low to appreciate these little monsters, and among them you’ll find some very good games about dying.
Here are ten of the best.
Best games like Dark Souls
I’m not here to define the prerequisites of the genre or discuss whether it should even exist. I just want to pick a few of the wondrous horrors off the ground and put ‘em in a big terrarium with reinforced glass, so you can appreciate them. If it helps, think of them not as “soulslikes” but as curious offspring you might like if you enjoyed big daddy souls. Read on to discover more.
We're obviously leaving out the Dark Souls series itself. After all, you can't be "like" the thing you are. Also, Bloodborne is still nowhere to be seen on PC, so obviously don't expect that bad boy to show up. And like most of our lists, the game you like is number 11. Anyway, let's get on with it.
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10. Titan Souls (2015)
Developer: Acid Nerve
Publisher: Curve Digital
Weak spots. We’ve all got one (mine is the collarbone, be careful) but Titan Souls makes a whole game out of these traditionally glowing murderpoints. What you’ve got here is a whole game of big bads, a boss-rush about rolling under the flailing tentacles of a hungry plant monster and shooting an arrow into its vulnerable vegetables. Or at least, that’s the goal. You’ll probably miss and get pummelled to death by its flowery tentacles while trying to get your arrow back. I can see why you tried, though. It is your only arrow.
Apart from the toughness of its vicious bosses, and the insistence on learning their attack patterns following death after death, this twitchy top-down Shadow Of The Colossus doesn’t lift much else from the big book of Souls (apart from, uh, having the word in its own name). But it takes one other small thing - the ability to tackle a cluster of boss fights in whatever order you want, trudging into one arena instead of the other. Smooshed against the wall by that giant brain encased in an ice cube? That’s okay, go fight the slimeball that splits into two smaller slimeballs when you shoot it. I’m sure that’ll turn out fine.
Notes: Titan Souls began life as a tiny Ludum Dare game, created in a couple of days as part of the game jam.
Read more: Our Titan Souls review said it “gets boss fights right by reducing them to the final moment”.
What non-soulsy games should I be playing if I like this: Hyper Light Drifter has the same top-down dodge-rolling combat, but fills its world of hot pinks and aqua blues with everyday enemies, not just bosses.
9. Outward (2019)
Developer: Nine Dots Studio
Publisher: Deep Silver
This big fantasy dander 'em up has some familiar foe-circling combat, putting it firmly with other bruisers about getting knocked out by a monster in a few hits and waking up furious. But this time, you awake not at your last campfire or sparkly shrine, but in a random place in the massive open world, after having your pockets picked clean by some opportunistic git. If Dark Souls is a game about navigating a claustrophobic labyrinth of a dead kingdom while trying not to get cursed by burping frogs, Outward is an adventure about orienteering across open fields full of vicious wolves and trying not to catch the flu on your way to the next town.
It borrows from survival games and open world RPGs as much as it takes from the souls school. You drink tea to cure diseases. You boil water to make it drinkable. And your inventory has to be carefully managed. All that makes the journey more challenging and meaningful. You have a big backpack (your dearest possession) and will need to take that off to become more nimble in a fight. But you’ll also want to keep track of where you put it down, lest you realise mid-fight that all your stamina potions are still in the bag, not your pocket. Whoops. In summary, Outward wants you to leave home and become an independent traveller. Unless, of course, you’re playing in co-op. At which point it becomes a daft journey about shouting down a dungeon corridor at your pal to stop walking into spike traps, for heaven’s sake. We’ve only got two bandages left.
Notes: Outward did not meet its original Kickstarter goal, but here we are.
Where can I buy it: Steam.
Read more: Our Outward review said it was “about the difficulty of travel, not combat”.
What non-soulsy games should I be playing if I like this: The best survival game is Subnautica, and no backsies. But if you want an unforgiving fantasy jaunt you could brave the world of Kenshi. Oh, and Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen might be up your fantastical street. Or simply install a bunch of survival mods on Skyrim and turn off fast travel.
8. Rain World (2017)
Publisher: Adult Swim Games
You might consider the inclusion of a cuddly “slugcat” in a list about soulslikes to be stretching the as-yet-unproven definition. But you haven’t been to Rain World. It might not have the levelling-up murder currency, or the watertight combat controls. But in so many other ways this follows FromSoft’s example. This is an obtuse, harsh world that refuses to explain its rules. A land full of traps, unseen dangers, and freaky animals that can kill you with a single snap of their jaws. On top of that, it periodically rains so hard everything not in a shelter will die in the deluge. There are hibernation chambers hidden in the walls from time to time, but they are deliberately distant from one another. Which means a big loss of progress when you are snapped up by that terrifying vulture with a skull for a face, like a grape being plucked off the bunch by a greedy Roman.
Like any traipse through Lordran or Lothric, it is a thoroughly punishing place to inhabit, but a wonder to explore. It’s populated by fascinating and lethal creatures, and it makes players either recoil in horror or die enraptured. It has as much claim to the soulslike moniker as anything else on this list, and for all its faults (wonky controls, randomly placed enemies, total lack of direction) it is arguably the most imaginative. There is a terrifying and wonderful bestiary of creatures, including camouflaged lizards, carnivorous seaweed, scissor-mouthed ostriches, and a gargantuan seafaring leviathan you usually only see at a glimpse. Almost everything in this rusty, wet jungle is out to get you.
What non-soulsy games should I be playing if I like this: There’s a similar mix of punishing natural selection and awkward jank in ape simulator Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey, but it's not a great game. The creatures of Rain World have an Oddworld vibe to them, so maybe Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty if you want an oldie.
7. Blasphemous (2019)
Developer: The Game Kitchen
Publisher: Team 17
If you thought it was not possible for a souls ‘em up to be more bloodlustily Catholic than the grand cathedrals and demon deacons of Dark Souls 3, you were mistaken. In Blasphemous you prostrate yourself on the 2D pixel stonework between swinging your thorny sword at baddies in search of penitence (you become penitent by killing all the things, duh). It’s a grounded metroidvania full to the chalice brim of religious iconography and hard-hitting enemies. You slice holy men in floating chairs, slash self-flagellating whipfellas, and fell sad tree beasts. And all that soulsian lingo we’re used to has a gory Christian twist. Beating a boss is a “Humiliation of Penance”. Passive bonuses like better defence are granted through Rosary beads you find along the way, and new fighting moves (a powerful slice, a ranged attack) are unlocked with this game’s version of a death currency, called “Tears of Atonement”.
You might have to ignore the voice actors who pronounce things like “pious” questionably (it's definitely not “pee-us”, folks). But it handles well and feels good in the old soulfingers. Parrying is nice and generous and you can clasp onto missed ledges automatically. Plus it runs so hard with its theme that you’ve got to admire its blood-soaked vestments. It feels like a bitterly lapsed Roman Catholic and ardent metal fan travelled back in time and made a soulsy game in the era of pixel Castlevania.
Notes: The land of this bishop battering is called Cvstodia, but it was originally named “Orthodoxia”.
Where can I buy it: Steam.
Read more: In our Blasphemous video review Matthew called it “Castlevania redrawn by someone who’s just discovered Francisco Goya’s edgelord years”. Terrible Souls non-liker Sin played a bit for Unknown Pleasures and called it a game of “inquisitorial extremism” (still didn’t like it though).
What non-soulsy games should I be playing if I like this: Any other metroidvania, I suppose. Bloodstained: Ritual Of The Night carries the Castlevania torch in its little anime hands. But if you fancy something more soothing, there's Ori And The Blind Forest.
6. Ashen (2018)
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Ashen is a lighter, softer souls, but it retains just enough of that toughness you probably like. Veterans of Undead Burg will drop in comfortably. This soulchild hugs FromSoft’s skirt so close it’s hard to spot its face among the folds. That might be because it doesn’t have a face. The characters in Ashen have fluffy moustaches and hair, but no eyes or mouth. Nevertheless, these whimsical villagers will join you as an NPC on your journey across the landscape to protect a light-bringing god from an ancient evil. Occasionally that NPC will start acting weird. That’s because a real player is controlling them now. Surprise!
There’s no summoning ritual or faffing with soapstones, the game just throws people together in pairs without so much as a blink. And it works. When your new pal is a decent, helpful adventurer it feels like meeting a new friend by a stroke of luck. You can help each other up ledges and enter special two-player dungeons. In a lot of ways this is the most gentle sorta-souls on this list. There is a map, there are recognisable RPG quests, and the presence of a constant pal (computer-controlled or otherwise) makes your adventure across dark lands less foreboding. There is also a constantly growing village and some wonderful local wildlife, including a big flying animal that looks like a friendly sky whale. If the Buddha were a mythical creature, he’d be this thing.
Notes: The fleeting crossing of players is inspired by the Japanese concept of “ichi-go, ichi-e”, studio director Derek Bradley told us, which can be loosely translated as “for this time only, never again”.
Where can I buy it: It’s exclusive to the Epic Games Store at the time of writing, but that will change.
What non-soulsy games should I be playing if I like this: If you like ruined worlds and skinny heroes but prefer punching to mace-swinging, you could take a punt at Absolver. If you’re intrigued by the prospect of meeting a gentle soul on a long trek through strange lands, try Journey.
5. Nioh (2017)
Developer: Koei Tecmo
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Nioh is one of two samurai souls ‘em ups on this list (bet you can’t guess the other) and it is all about that loot. There’s a fabulous array of trousers and stabbing implements to stuff into your pockets as you slice through Sengoku Japan (and a bit of London. Don’t ask). Your murderous missions are taken from an overview -- basically a level select screen. So the mines, castles and snowy mountains aren’t woven together in the criss-crossing way of the Souls series. But they are just as infested with spiky-shouldered demons and corrupted samurai bandits. Don't worry, you can kill them by, let's say, catching their katana between your bare palms mid-strike and turning the blade back on them. Nice work.
The bosses too, are horrid yokai fiends. There’s a blood-sucking bat lady with a fashionable umbrella and a fondness for chucking spikes at you. There’s a colossal skellington with six arms and all the requisite glowy weak spots. And a massive, chatty cat with two tails and a pair of vulture wings. While a lot of this game is following the soul train, it has its own moments of inventiveness. You know the illusory walls of Dark Souls? Well, there are hidden secrets behind some walls in Nioh too, but here these walls sport tell-tale eyeballs, and far from simply dissolving, they come alive and fight back when you try to slice through them. What's more, if you make a certain gesture to them, like bowing, they might let you pass without a bust-up. Politeness goes a long way.
Notes: There is a badgerlike creature of folklore in the game who wears its own ballsack as a hat. I’m not joking.
Where can I buy it: Steam.
Read more: Our Nioh review said it “throws swords, guns, bows, trousers and hats at you as if it’s trying to make up for a lifetime of missed birthdays”.
What non-soulsy games should I be playing if I like this: If you wanna perfect the art of curvy swords, you could try quickfire slice ‘em up Katana Zero or dumbass demon slayer Shadow Warrior 2. Or if you fancy something more strategic set in feudal Japan, try Shadow Tactics.
4. The Surge 2 (2019)
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Some of these games have so much in common with their shared ancestor, you can see the Capra Demon looming over them when you squint. When Deck13 made Lords Of The Fallen the studio was criticised for slicing a little too close to the soul. Their sci-fi follow-up The Surge also kept the soul monies and tough bosses, but it experimented admirably with new angles. You could chop off limbs, for example, and plug in implants for special RPG-style bonuses. But they kept the most important thing from the soul catalogue. The shortcuts.
So when The Surge 2 came out, with it’s choppy-limb combat much improved and grim cyberpunk city of overlapping disaster zones, it was a delight to see that shortcut mentality ramped up to ridiculous levels. The city is a concrete warren of magnetic lifts and secret doorways. Even at the tail end of the game you’ll be finding new pathways back to the starting area, and the metroidvanian accrual of helpful new devices only expands the map you draw inside your head. At one point an electric drone upgrade lets you unlock previously sealed doors, and later a flashy hook lets you ride the locked-off ziplines you’ve been gazing at in anticipation for twenty hours. It’s lattice-like level design more pleasing than a hot cross bun. Deck13’s games still fight in the cold shadow of the Capra Demon. But they innately understand the reassuring warmth of Firelink Shrine. And that’s great.
Notes: In the first Surge the primary medical bay you call home plays this folky number over and over on a radio, forcing you and main character Warren to listen to it an absurd amount of times. In The Surge 2 you meet Warren again, and he hums and whistles the same tune.
Where can I buy it: Steam.
What non-soulsy games should I be playing if I like this: If you want to explore cool environments, chop off limbs, and collect armour, all in a solid third-person action RPG, then Monster Hunter: World might be the game for you. Failing that, uh, Dead Space?
3. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice (2019)
Hang on! That’s cheating! Oh, I see. It doesn’t have “Souls” in the title. Sekiro is a souls game only insofar as it is made by FromSoftware. And even though it includes basically everything that makes those masochistic adventures worthwhile, it still gets a place on this list for being significantly different. For example, the multiplayer bits of the soulsies are nowhere to be seen in this trip to a warring Edo Japan. You can’t summon pals or get invaded by nasty men with giant hammers. On top of that, the classic RPG levelling screens are replaced by a cleaner skill tree, which unlocks special abilities for a bony prosthetic ninja arm (eg. a giant steel umbrella, a gun that shoots money). Hell, you don’t even get to equip a new sword, you only use the blade you’re given at the start.
But what a blade. The fighting in Sekiro is eerily satisfying. Full of parries and leaps and backstabs and twirls, the duels against spear-wielding generals and kimono-wearing samurai masters are far more refined than any simple mace fest in Drangleic and far more brutal. Enemies demand so much discipline, timing and restraint, they may as well be screaming “not my tempo” at you between slashes. And there are some bosses that will make you go absolutely ape (massive spoilers, don’t click that, fool).
Notes: Somebody made a boss rush mod for it, which is absolutely terrifying, let’s be honest.
Where can I buy it: Steam.
What non-soulsy games should I be playing if I like this: Again, Shadow Tactics is a good bet, if you like the setting. But if it's stealthy rooftop navigating and fiery assassinations you're after, you might like fantasy orc-dating sim Middle-earth: Shadow Of War.
2. Dead Cells (2017)
Developer: Motion Twin
Publisher: Motion Twin
Genre is stupid, we've established that. When 2D slashfest Dead Cells was first fired down the game tubes at us it was described as a “roguevania” which is almost as disgusting as “soulslike”. But here we are, in a list article about soulslikes, admitting that this fiery little monster of a game is somehow all the genres. It’s fantasy, it’s action, it’s soulsy, it’s a metroidvania, it’s a roguelikelike. Honestly, some games are just greedy.
Greedy for FUN, that is. Dead Cells is a quick sprint through a bright, blood-spattered land full of kamikaze bats and giant lamprey slugs that poop exploding eggs when they die. But instead of intricately designed walkways, this goes for randomly generated warpaths, creating new levels with every death, full of different weapons to find and skills to equip. One run sees you whipping everything in the back of the head and throwing daggers at distant pirates, until you die from an errant cannonball. The next sees you slapping away rapier strikes with a shield and throwing down flamethrower turrets to watch your back. It’s a speedy slicer of constant change. In souls games, you often get fixated on one character build that works. But in this dungeonworld you’ve got to dodge-roll with the punches, and carefully choose among the tools you’re given to make something work. Oh look, a “cursed" sword. I wonder what it does.
Notes: The creators Motion Twin are run as a co-op studio, meaning in theory everyone gets equal pay. You could call that … Dark Soulscialism. (I stole this joke).
Read more: Our Dead Cells review said: “the verbs ‘hack’ and ‘slash’ have rarely been put to better use.” Alec also wrote about the things he wish he’d known before going in. It was also our favourite PC game of 2017.
What non-soulsy games should I be playing if I like this: Any other roguelite. The RPS treehouse has plenty of Binding Of Isaac devotees if grim-funny psychoanalytical mum-killing is your bag. Cave-sploring dasher Spelunky is always a good shout. SteamWorld Dig 2 is no roguelike but it’s a solid metroidvania if you want something brighter with a touch of story.
1. Hollow Knight (2017)
Developer: Team Cherry
Publisher: Team Cherry
Hollow Knight is big. Bigger than that giant spider on your neck. You play a buggy cartographer, mapping the netherlands beneath a gloomy village of fellow insects (and you’re not the only one). You scuttle downward, nail in hand, slicing at baddies until you hit the first real boss. An absolute scumbag with a mace bigger than your head, and a lethal bum slam to go with it. Finally, you crack open his carapace with the meagre movements currently at your disposal - a jump button and a slash. But this is only the tip of the termite mound. Here’s a map of the first area. And here’s a map of the full game. It isn’t long before you realise, this is a game about terra incognita, about filling blank space with knowledge.
Your journey through the subterranean landscape of Hallownest has all the established quirks of this filthy newborn soulgenre. When you die, you drop a bunch of deathcash, and have to return to the point of doom to retrieve it (the twist here is that you have to kill a little ghost to get it back). It’s got tough-as-jerky bosses, and punishing rooms full of cheeky invertebrates. And it has that characteristically obtuse storytelling, delivered with some classic cryptosouls lore peppering. A chuckling miner sings a song and chips away at rock as you pass, ancient signs tell of a desolated undercity, and a map-obsessed explorer says hello time and again, as you travel in eerie parallel. These characters and discoveries explain piecemeal things about the glum arthropod world, but a full picture isn’t exactly forthcoming. Imagine if Tim Burton had written a script for Antz, but David Lynch was hired to direct and 90% of the sense was left to rust on post-production hard drives.
So yes, Hollow Knight conforms to all the dogma of His Souliness. But then it stuffs all that into the twitchy jaws of a Castlevania-style action platformer, where you unlock new powers to reveal new areas. A glowbug companion who can light your way through a blackout cavern, a ground-slam that breaks through loose stones. And while that secret-hiding stonework might be shaky, everything else is rock soild. You’ve got your precision platforming controls, your floaty jump that lets you about-face in mid-air, your clingy wall-hopping. It’s all here, resulting in some positively Meat Boy moments as you bound through caves full of spikes and shifting walls.
If this “best of” list was about platformers, it’s possible this colour-drained puncher-upper would still be riding high. Likewise if this was a list about metroidvanias. And that’s this little nail-swinging beetle’s real triumph. It bestrides multiple genres. Like a giant radioactive ant from one of those 1950s B-movies, Hollow Knight looks like it should be tiny, but it’s not. It’s big.
Notes: The creators, Team Cherry, have added a bunch of sizeable updates since its release, essentially funnelling four free barrels of DLC down the holes of this grand hive of a game. And there is a sequel in the making, Hollow Knight: Silksong, where you will play the speedy princess bug Hornet, a mysterious character from the first game.
Read more: Alex Wiltshire dived into the artwork of Hallownest’s creepy crawly citizens. John didn’t rate it very highly in our Hollow Knight review, but he’s gone now, which makes his opinion void. RPS in Peace, John.
What non-soulsy games should I be playing if I like this: Ori And The Blind Forest is a brighter bounce-around and Guacamelee 2 is another metroidvania with more than a handful of colours. Or go for Celeste if you want platforming magic and challenge, but with easy options.
Thank you for reading our big list about soulslikes, even though we all know that’s a stupid name to give to a vaporous pattern of commonalities across the gameosphere. Well done for restraining your rage on this matter. I’m proud of you.
Please don’t use the comments to unleash that futile, pent-up rage which, don’t worry, we all feel in our bones. Instead, use the comments to make your own recommendations to fellow readers. You don’t need to call it a soulslike, don’t worry. Call them: “games you might like if you loved dying at the hands of Ornstein and Smough”. Or “games you might like if you got a thrill gingerly stepping forward through Blighttown”. Or “games you might like if you feel happy not knowing where the hell to go next”.
Recommendations, people. That’s what we like here. Be good to each other. Be a gentle soul, not a dark one.