"Soulslike" is a term few are comfortable with: Austin even wants it to die. But there's no denying that From Software's Dark Souls series has been hugely influential. The Japanese studio has managed to push out five "Soulslike" games since 2009, but only three of those are available on PC, and some appetites cannot be sated.
Plenty of difficult games have been compared to Dark Souls, but that doesn't necessarily qualify their placement on this list. The qualifications vary, but I've opted for games that focus on exploration and skill-based combat, while also borrowing certain obvious elements from Dark Souls, ranging the checkpoint system through to the way XP is gained (and lost). What does "skill-based" mean? Well, it basically means you can't button mash.
These games are ordered based on PC Gamer's review scores, though some of them we didn't review. I've also added some honourable mentions at the bottom. For more adventure, check out our round up of the best RPGs of all time.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
It feels like cheating to include a From Software game in this list, but Sekiro departs far enough from its sibling’s formula to help it stand alone. It’s still a challenging combat-focused action game that rewards exploration, though it opts for an array of skill trees instead of numbers-driven RPG elements. The combat does away with stamina management, replacing it with posture – Sekiro and his foes boast a posture meter which can be broken for an insta-kill death sequence (that doesn’t always hold true for bosses, though). Set in a fantastical imagining of Japan's Sengoku period, Sekiro still retains the Souls series’ ominous mood and cryptic storytelling mode. Director Hidetaka Miyazaki was clearly determined to move his fans away from defensive play—you’ll need to get right up in your enemy’s grill in Sekiro—though the stealth component is there for more careful players. Mind you, you’ll need to master both in the long run.
Developed by a small New Zealand indie studio, Ashen punches above its weight. It boasts a muted pastel-hued world, but otherwise the Souls formula is very obvious from the opening minutes. Most of the raw components of From’s series are here: scarce checkpoints, a seamless inter-lapping world, deliberately inscrutable dialogue and characters and, of course, a novel take on cooperative online play. The combat doesn’t feel quite as impactful and precise as the Souls games, but it’s a gorgeous and mysterious world to get lost inside.
Set during Japan’s Sengoku period, there are plenty who regard Nioh’s fast-paced swordplay to be an improvement on the Souls series. It’s easy to see why: it rewards cunning and dexterity, and if combat is a lot more important to you than mood and world design than Nioh definitely excels. Its level-based structure and often unimaginative maps is compensated for (most of the time) by its precision-oriented combat, and while the loot system isn’t the best out there, it’s probably the best one available in a Souls clone. Oh, and it’s a massive game.
This was among the first inevitable roguelite takes on the Souls formula: the dungeons are procedurally generated, it boasts seamless cooperative play with up to four friends, and the variety of perks and power-ups means that the random drops can result in some varied runs. The approach to combat is its most Soulslike characteristic: you’ll be keeping a close eye on your stamina meter but overall, as Tyler observed in his review, it tends to not be quite as punishing as its muse. Since launch, studio Harebrained Schemes has added a new playable character, a new outdoor biome, new enemies and tons more, so if it didn’t pique your interest at launch it might be worth another look.
Here’s another sidescroller obviously indebted to the Souls series, though its approach is a bit less orthodox compared to Salt and Sanctuary. The checkpoint system is the same (shrines instead of bonfires) the leveling system is the same (shards instead of souls) and you’ll be rationing your health power-ups because they can only be replenished at shrines. The world branches from two main hub areas, each with a boss at the end, and these can be tackled in any order you wish (there are hints about which you might be wiser to do first, though). Combat is stamina focused, and pattern recognition the learning strategy. While Sam’s review picks up on some faults, the art style is impeccable and, uh, yeah: it’s really bloody hard.
If the dark fantasy of the Dark Souls series doesn’t connect with you, The Surge is among the only Souls clones to depart from that territory. It’s a science-fiction romp through the labyrinthine remains of a tech company’s manufacturing headquarters, so expect to be fending off angered factory workers, drones and robots – lots of robots. Combat is mostly melee, though you’re able to target specific limbs, thus sparing others in order to use them in the game’s neat (and mandatory) crafting system. You even have your own drone, which is often best used to tease enemies out of packs. Crafting is cool: you can complete armor sets based on those used by enemies, and you’ll want to because foes hit hard in The Surge.
Lords of the Fallen
Developed by the same studio responsible for The Surge, Lords of the Fallen was among the first true Souls clones, arriving only a matter of months after Dark Souls 2. It’s a challenging albeit slightly cartoonish take on From Software’s dark fantasy formula, set in and around a sprawling, labyrinthine fortress. While its level design isn’t its strongest feature, the fashion aspect shines, as does the relative build freedom it offers – there’s a fairly granular approach to magic, for example. It takes a neat approach to progression: avoiding the use of checkpoints, and pulling off certain fancy combat techniques will buff the amount of XP you gain. Given the options that have flourished since its release, Lords of the Fallen isn’t the best Soulslike out there, but it’s definitely worth a shot if you get it on sale.
Salt and Sanctuary
Studio: Ska Studios | Our rating: n/a | Available on: Steam
Here’s another game happily indebted to the Souls series, ranging everything from the combat through to the majestically bleak atmosphere. Only Salt and Sanctuary is a side-scrolling platformer, borrowing as much from the Metroidvania genre as From (some would argue Dark Souls itself is a Metroidvania). When I say “happily indebted”, I mean that Ska Studios has seemingly created a homage to the Dark Souls series, meaning anyone familiar with the gameplay beats of its 3D sibling will feel at home immediately.
The slash-and-evade rhythm of Dead Cells kinda resembles Dark Souls. It's definitely a roguelite homage to Castlevania, but Dark Souls fans will more than likely dig.
It's a very hard video game. The mood is cryptic, the combat is tight, and the moments of intense frustration frequent. It may please Souls fans for this reason, but it's not quite a Soulslike.
A gorgeous, top-down pixel art boss rush, Titan Souls is all about pattern recognition, but it lacks the exploration and RPG elements.
Lucah: Born of a Dream
A fascinating and surreal hack-and-slash adventure RPG, with a combat flow reminiscent of the Souls games.