When the Dark Souls series first started, its greatest blessing and our greatest curse was just how unique it was. It was an action RPG with tense, exacting combat and nary an ability hot-bar in sight.
Fights came down to your wits and reflexes instead of how long you'd spent grinding out levels. Traps were avoided by cunning and caution instead of a roll of the dice. The world was full of wonder and lore without any bearded old coots sitting you down in a series of interminable cut-scenes and explaining why some bloke who looked suspiciously like Sauron needed to be stopped. No wonder we wanted more!
Six Games Just Like Dark Souls That Every Sun-praiser Should Try
The Dark Souls games offer experiences you can't find anywhere else, which is a bit of a downer after the seventh or eighth time you finish them and you realize nothing around can scratch the same itch.
Luckily, we live in an advanced age these days: People are 3D printing robot limbs, the internet is teaching AI bots to be racist and the action RPG genre has come a long way. So don't fret dear reader, though we're stuck in the long, dark stretch between the Ashes of Ariandel expansion and the final installment of the #DarkSouls series, there's a few things in the world and on their way to keep you going:
1. Dragon's Dogma
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows
If you're a souls fan and you haven't checked out #DragonsDogma, you owe it to yourself to give the game a try. Whereas some other games on this list try to mimic the combat system of Dark Souls 3 as closely as possible, Dragon's Dogma goes its own way, with an action experience that trades the tight encounter design of Dark Souls for grand bad-assery.
Depending on your character, you can crawl on beasts to cut off their weak points, launch your own companions at enemies like questionably willing human missiles or summon an apocalyptic storm that picks up anyone unlucky enough to be nearby and flings them around like rag-dolls.
The game also sports one of the most in-depth character creators ever made. Your height, build and weight all have real world effects on your character. A hulking brute can carry a lot, but can't climb all that well. A smaller character can clamber around and even be picked up by their allies, but will need a strong friend to lug back loot to town. As a final bonus, you can pick up NPCs that annoy you and throw them in a river, which is always a blast.
Try this if... setting yourself on fire before leaping on a flying griffin's back sounds like an effective and fun plan.
2. Salt and Sanctuary
Developer: Ska Studios
Publisher: Ska Studios
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Microsoft Windows
Out of all the games on this list, Salt and Sanctuary probably captures the feel of Dark Souls combat most effectively, albeit in a 2D environment. The designers were heavily inspired by the Souls series, and it shows in their tightly-crafted combat, where careful stamina management and split second reflexes are required to survive the deadly gauntlet of enemies.
In a nice twist, the game features platforming that doesn't make you want to tear your hair out, which is something the Dark Souls series never quite managed.
Much like Dark Souls 3 and its predecessors, character creation is flexible and open ended rather than class-based, with a huge variety of weapons, magic and combat styles to experience. The hand-painted aesthetic of Salt and Sanctuary also means you'll be occasionally awed by some gorgeous environments and monster design, although the character models can occasionally look a bit goofy.
Try this if... You want the action of Dark Souls with the exploration of Castlevania and a big dose of Lovecraftian horror thrown in for measure.
Developer: The Game Bakers
Publisher: The Game Bakers
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
Part bullet hell SHMUP, part fast-paced sword play, Furi is perhaps one of the most unique action games to come out recently. There's no small fights in Furi, no dregs or hollows to cleave through, just a string of some of the most intense and rewarding boss fights ever created. Timing is everything in Furi, and keeping calm and collected is absolutely necessary to come out on top in the game's grueling one-on-one duels that easily rival the best boss fights that Dark Souls had to offer.
The cryptic story gives you just enough information to keep you fascinated, and the cel-shaded samurai cyberpunk aesthetic is both unique and breathtaking—not least because of the character designs by Takashi Okazaki, the artist behind Afro Samurai.
Try this if... You like the sound of cyborg ninja duels set to a pulse-pounding synthwave soundtrack.
Developer: Team Ninja
Publishers: Koei Tecmo, Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 4
The upcoming Nioh is Team Ninja's answer to Dark Souls, with a touch of Bushido Blade and Onimusha thrown in for good measure. Nioh takes elements from the Dark Souls series and builds on them to create a game that competes with the meticulously designed combat and difficulty of those games without feeling like a clone. The fighting in Nioh feels fast-paced and deadly, with twitch based gameplay and stance switching that add a level of depth and complexity on top of the FromSoftware's formula.
The Sengoku Japan setting of Nioh is another draw, with unique Yokai enemies added to mix up the more conventional fights with samurai, ronin and brigands. The only downside is the lack of character customization—you're stuck with the Geralt-esque William, who's very loosely based on real historical figure William Adams. Luckily, there's a deep skill and equipment system, so though we'll all be playing the same William, our Williams won't all play the same.
The story so far is vague, but what we've seen as of yet is rife with Team Ninja's trademark weirdness, including one scene where a man tells the time with a cat.
Try this if... You want to fight a giant demonic wall with a spear or grab someone's sword out of midair and stab them with it.
5. Let it Die
Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture
Publisher: GungHo Online Entertainment Inc
Platform: PlayStation 4
Speaking of weirdness, Let it Die is the new piece of madness by Grasshopper Manufacture, the game development studio headed by the notorious Suda51. In Let it Die, you'll take on the role of an anonymous survivor in a post-apocalyptic splatterpunk Tokyo. Stranded in the brutal urban wasteland with nothing but a gas-mask and your undies, you'll have to scavenge, scrape and scrap to survive. The combat looks appropriately Dark Souls with perhaps a touch of Devil May Cry and some scattered third-person gunplay thrown in for good measure, plus some exciting looking team based PVP that includes the ability to kidnap other player characters.
What's really exciting about Let it Die is its sheer style. Where Dark Souls was restrained and melancholic in its tone, Let it Die goes full-on crazy-train. Enemies range from insane survivors to bio-mechanical monstrosities straight out of Resident Evil, and they explode in buckets of neon red blood. To fight them, you'll be using everything from clothing irons to belt sanders, plus power ups ranging from live frogs you eat for health to mushrooms that make you do yoga in the middle of battle.
Try this if... You thought Dark Souls needed an area called Tokyo Death Metro.
Developer: Eneme Entertainment
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, Linux, Macintosh operating systems
Eitr is another indie offering that hews closely to the Dark Souls formula, but this one shakes things up with a bit of old-school Diablo influence. The isometric viewpoint and random loot remind me of childhood nights hoping I didn't run into The Butcher, but the combat is no clickfest. Stamina must be managed carefully, and switching between combat styles and tools is necessary to overcome the tough and vicious enemies the game throws at you.
Like many modern Indie Games, Eitr eschews hyper-realism for a more stylised approach to the game's graphics. The pixel art landscapes draw you into the low-res world of the game and the sprites, though simple, are full of character and move with a slick fluidity. Eitr is definitely one to keep an eye on.
Try this if... You watched Brave and thought it needed a sequel where Merida kills a few hundred skeletons.
What games like Dark Souls are you looking forward to? Let me know in the comments.