The looming planetary bodies of Starfield and Baldur's Gate 3 have seized much of the discourse this year. I'm actually liking both games, but I can't help feel they've stolen our collective attention away from a phenomena I didn't expect—this year's shaping up to be killer for the soulslike genre.
Which is strange, since FromSoftware hasn't released a mainline title—or stopped us from going hollow at the lack of Shadow of the Erdtree info. Saving us from yet another frenzy at the hands of Elden Ring are games primarily from other development teams—what's more, they've been pretty well received.
It really feels like we're past the days of pointing and yelling "clone!" and are instead just celebrating the fact we're getting new spins on a beloved genre. I've played a few key entries from these surprise hits, both released and upcoming: here's why I think it's shaping up to be a special year.
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty
Another thing I've appreciated about this new genre of soulslikes is their willingness to move away from convention. Look, I like a good cryptic opening with a raspy voice-over as much as the next guy, and I love finding an ancient ruin with a pretty lady in it that makes me feel stupid with her spooky riddle talk. But at some point we've gotta lighten up a little, yeah?
Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty is just good fun. It starts out with the same hallmarks of its influences, but quickly tosses aside the doom and gloom in favour of cheesy wuxia nonsense. It feels far more arcadey, too—giving you helpful companions often, relegating most of your defence to one button, and streamlining exploration by letting you do cool flips and double jumps. I can't say this game made a huge impression on me, but was a refreshing start to the year.
Remnant 2, performance issues aside, is pretty dang good. Like its predecessor, it marries the soulslike formula with procedural generation, zany multiverse absurdity, and cool guns that let you do dumb stuff, like shoot a big cube. Despite the clear influences, Gunfire Games has carved out an identity of its own, making something that feels far more original than some of the other titles on this list.
It's pretty much the first game, but better—so I'm not too shocked it became a surprise hit. The classes are more interesting, the gameplay loop's been polished, and you no longer have to spend like 4 hours trudging through a boring brown cityscape to get to its interesting bits. We gave it a well-deserved 84—and if you like both shooters and soulslike games there's no reason not to play it.
Lies of P
It's safe to say most genre-savvy fans had tepid expectations for this game. It heavily borrows aesthetics from Bloodborne, and when it was first announced there was an unavoidable whiff of cheap knockoff that was hard to shake. What fools we were, powerless at the hands of a really good demo.
It was a chunky 3 hours or so of gameplay that ran well and proved the devs know their stuff. The combat's tight, playing more like a slower-paced Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, and while its puppet apocalypse and petrification disease aren't exactly revolutionary story beats, the whole dark fairytale spin is fun enough to make it fresh. Lies of P drops September 19.
Lords of the Fallen
Lords of the Fallen's surprising reboot doesn't come out until October, but I can actually vouch for this one since I played about four hours of it at a press event. While I can't quite go to bat for its technical quality (it was a working build on a preset machine), I genuinely think Hexworks have something special here. It's shaping up to be a proper redemption story following the original's 2014 midness.
That's thanks to a completely wild exploration system involving two worlds. You can hold up a lantern to peek into a skeleton-like shadow realm called the Umbral, letting you walk over platforms that aren't there in the land of the living. You also go there if you die, and you'll often need to head there voluntarily to make your way around. It's really seamless and pretty impressive.
What I loved, though, was just how different the Umbral vibed from a gameplay perspective. There's this Risk of Rain-style doom timer, the monster placements are bastardly, and it feels genuinely oppressive. As the game's creative director Cezar Virtosu told me, it's like 'holding your breath underwater'. This rules, and I'm genuinely excited to play it more.
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor
The more I talk about soulslikes, the further I drift away from the actual genre. I think calling Star Wars Jedi: Survivor one is definitely fair, even if it's doing enough of its own nonsense to land more in standard Action RPG territory. Still, it's got a lot of FromSoftware DNA in it—meditation points for bonfires, Sekiro-style timed blocking, stance breaking, and horrible swamp monsters who make you want to turn to the dark side.
Yes, the game had a shameful performance record on PC—but there've been slow and steady improvements made. The core of the game's still really well-executed and fun, and I actually enjoyed its departures from its soulslike core. It hewed closer to metroidvanias, and pumped the brakes on difficulty to serve more of an action RPG romp.
You can also give Cal Kestis a mullet. This doesn't have much to do with its place in the genre, I just think more soulslikes should have that option.
Armored Core 6
I can feel your missiles locking onto me from here, but hear me out. Armored Core 6 may be a FromSoftware game, yes—but it's not a mainline souls game. The series has a long history which predates even Demon Souls, and gameplay-wise it's mostly fresh. So why, I hear you ask, did I put it on a list where I talk about how great this year's been for soulslike fans? Simply put, it's a gateway between genres.
Armored Core 6 still has enough of FromSoftware's usual energy—compelling worldbuilding, fun characters, and challenging combat. It steers Dark Souls babies like myself onto a series of games we may never have tried.
Besides, the community spirit is completely intact. Between disturbingly hot renditions of its characters, 'I can solo her' style legends, and NPCs reaching meme status in record time, us newly-minted Armored Core fans still get to enjoy being swaddled in the familiar while facing down the new.