From poison swamps to jump buttons: 5 things soulslikes shouldn't do, and 6 things they should

A hero fighting a monstrous giant in Lords of the Fallen.
(Image credit: HEXWORKS)

What a wonderful year to be a soulslike fan! I’ve enjoyed hours of being beaten to death in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, Lies of P, and Lords of the Fallen. All three have interesting ideas and generally solid execution. But they also have flaws that are fast becoming tiresome soulslike staples. So here’s a wishlist of what these games should keep doing/for-the-love-of-God-stop doing. Come on, soulslike where you play as a crab, let me help you be PC Gamer’s 2024 GOTY! 

DO: Set them somewhere interesting

(Image credit: Deck13)

The Surge 2 is one of my favourite soulslikes, thanks in large part to its novel far-future setting, full of colour and mildly psychotic sentient vending machines. Lies of P has the Black Seaside, a beautiful endgame location that’s like wandering the ghost of a beach, far more striking than its oh-cool-I’ve-played-Bloodborne-too earlier areas. Lords of the Fallen has… anyway, the fresher your setting, the more you’re going to stand out. Something to keep in mind before rendering yet another gloomy castle. Lies of P is meant to be a Pinocchio riff, so where’s my level set inside a whale? 

DON'T: Send me to another bloody poison swamp

(Image credit: Neowiz)

Oh how we laughed when our lord and saviour Hidetaka Miyazaki said he couldn’t resist putting yet another poisonous swamp in Elden Ring. We weren’t laughing after trudging through another in Lies of P then another in Lords of the Fallen. Swamps are starting to feel like sewer levels with worse plumbing. See also Victorian-era streets, castles, churches... Unless you’ve got something new to say with these locations, you’re just giving us Souls déjà vu.  

DO: Give us proper jump controls

(Image credit: Deck13)

In Lies of P you have to click the right stick to jump, which is why its protagonist deserves to never become a real boy. Lords of the Fallen doesn’t fare much better, refusing to let you jump unless you’re already running. Even my beloved Surge 2 has hopping that’s an insult to gravity. When you’re cribbing from Dark Souls, be careful not to steal its bad features too. FromSoftware's horrible jump controls finally went extinct when Sekiro invented something called the ‘jump button’. Steal that! 

DON'T: Stay grounded

(Image credit: FromSoftware)

Elden Ring has a lovely double-jumping horse to hop about on. Why stop there? Give us wings and let us fly, meeting all the horrors you can stuff the skies with. Lies of P could have scored in the nineties if Pinocchio had been able to lie his nose big and then use it as a pogo stick to get around, pole vaulting to higher areas. Or how about giving us a vehicle? Summoning a double-jumping steed was fun, but I’d love to be able to call in a helicopter, a rideable drone, or one of my mechs from Armored Core 6 (synergy!). Look me in the eye and tell me that a jetpack wouldn’t have improved Lords of the Fallen. You won’t be able to look me in the eye, as I’ll be 60 feet airborne, uppercutting a dragon.  

DO: Let us make our own weapons

(Image credit: NEOWIZ)

In Lies of P, handles and blades of every melee weapon you find can be snapped apart and mixed and matched. You can build absurd hybrid weapons that are fantastic fun to play around with, even when they’re hopelessly impractical. Nintendo's Tears of the Kingdom has a great fuse power that lets you combine your weapons with basically any item you can pick up in the game. I’d love to see a soulslike go further and let us fuse our weapons with the environments. Let us play with all that beautiful architecture you’ve built! Ornstein and Smough might regret having those massive golden statues of themselves commissioned if I could cave their heads in with them. 

DON'T: Give us potentially great new toys that are uselessly underleveled

(Image credit: FromSoftware)

About two thirds into every soulslike, I greet each new sword I find with a heavy sigh. My current weapon has been levelled up six or seven times by now, at considerable expense and with the use of several finite/rare resources. To see if the new toy I’ve found is maybe as good at the same level, I’ll have to risk wasting the same amount of resources. It discourages experimentation. Perhaps there could be a temporary weapon buff that lets me try an upgraded version before I buy? Even Elden Ring gets this wrong, which is why I’m retroactively knocking 89 points off its PC Gamer score until they patch in a fix.

DO: More cool, weird mechanics like Lords of the Fallen's umbral lamp

(Image credit: HEXWORKS)

Lords of the Fallen’s best new idea is that you have a key to another dimension resting on your hip. The lamp shines a gateway into Umbral, a Lovecraftian nightmare world where you’re also sent if you die (and if you die there, game over). You can use the lamp to send you on a one-way trip or cautiously take a peek. But often you have to commit to entering Umbral to progress, then desperately seek out a Vestige that lets you escape. I love this! It’s such a good idea that I want FromSoftware to steal it for its next game. Considering how much these games have ‘borrowed’ from Dark Souls, that seems only fair. 

DON'T: Make any more dark, medieval fantasy

(Image credit: HEXWORKS)

Dark Souls didn’t invent dark medieval fantasy. But if you’re making a game that plays so much like it, is it really a good idea to swipe its setting as well? Deck13 realised this, abandoning the derivative setting of the original Lords of the Fallen for the far future with The Surge (meh) and The Surge 2 (hooray!). Running through a decrepit castle in this year’s Lords of the Fallen sequel often looks exactly like Dark Souls, except with less imagination and a cheaply recycled bestiary. Flaws that are far more noticeable because a direct comparison is unavoidable.  

DO: Lighten up a little

(Image credit: FromSoftware)

Lies of P was about homicidal puppets slaughtering a city. Lords of the Fallen was probably about a kitten massacre (I skimmed a lot of the lore). Must it always be so bleak? I’d love something with a tone more like, say, Frog Detective. You don’t even have to go that far, as Elden Ring felt refreshing for being set in a world that still had a lot of life in it. I’d also love one of these games to take the Bioshock Infinite approach of having us be a witness of the apocalyptic event instead of always arriving after-the-fact to mop up. That’s right, I’m suggesting you copy the famously easy-to-make-and-beloved-by-all Bioshock Infinite. Good luck!  

DON'T: Give us 'surprise' second phases in boss fights

(Image credit: NEOWIZ)

Lies of P loves this trick, seemingly unaware that it’s only a ‘surprise’ for a boss to have a second phase if it doesn’t happen every other bloody time. Minus another fifty points for when the second phase requires a whole new strategy unrelated to the first. Eventually that initial phase becomes tiresome busywork, the chore you have to get through for another go at the fight you actually want to focus on. Does any difficulty spike in these games feel cheaper?  

DO: Keep trying new things

(Image credit: NEOWIZ)

Lords of the Fallen was a commercial hit this year, and we’ve already been told we’re getting a Lies of P sequel (*cough* whale level this time *cough cough*). I’d love a Lords sequel that’s set in 1960’s Liverpool - or at least not a medieval setting—and that explores that delightful universe-hopping lamp mechanic further (some time-travel maybe? Liverpool 2077?). Lies of P and Lords of the Fallen were great starting points, proof that the soulslike may be getting a little stale, but has also hit an impressive baseline of quality. Now give me sequels that embrace innovation. Kill me over and over again, by all means, but find fun new ways to do it! 

By the way, I got myself hypnotised before writing this, so now whenever I read the words "git gud" I feel a sensation of unparalleled ecstasy. Just something to keep in mind before you visit the comments section. While you’re there, tell me what you’d like to see improved in Soulslikes! More mimics? We shall never be friends.