There is no greater triumph than standing over the fallen, disintegrating body of a Souls boss. Nothing provides a better boost to the ego than seeing your foe collapse to the ground while the words “You Defeated”, “Victory Achieved”, “Heir of Fire Destroyed”, etc. appear across the screen. If you’ve never felt this glorious feeling, I suggest you pick up one of these gems and change that immediately.
From its challenging combat to its beautifully crafted environments, there is much to love about the Souls series. It offers an experience unlike any other, dropping you in a foreign world with unrestricted exploration and no direction. The stories are as minimalistic as can be, relying heavily on lore and the player’s desire to learn more on their own. Without hesitation, I can say that it’s one of my favorite series of all time, and it should be played by anyone with a strong passion for games.
In honor of my recent completion of Dark Souls III and the release of The Ringed City DLC, I have decided to rank the Souls games from least awesome to most awesome. Keep in mind that all of these titles are incredible and worth playing; you may just want to prioritize some over others.
Dark Souls II
Following up the groundbreaking Dark Souls was no small task, but Dark Souls II managed to capably do so. Delivering a larger, more diverse world, a wider assortment of weaponry, a great power stance mechanic, and a more complex hollowing system, it successfully expanded on the first with fresh and original ideas. My personal favorite addition: The ability to fast travel between bonfires from the start. One could argue that this discourages exploration, but not for me. All it did was save me a lot of time that would’ve been wasted backtracking.
However, where it succeeds in adding many features and mechanics absent in its predecessor, it fails in serving up a more memorable experience. While the areas are well designed and worth exploring every inch of, none made my jaw hit the floor like Anor Londo or Sen’s Fortress. Boss fights are also lacking in comparison, aside from Looking Glass Knight, which may be the most original battle in the series. Some were lame (Royal Rat Authority), relied on a gimmick (Bed of Chaos), or were just copied over from the first (those fucking Belfry Gargoyles). Worst of all, hitboxes are broken, making an already difficult game all the more frustrating.
Dark Souls III
When it was first announced, I was afraid Dark Souls III was going to be dumbed down so it could be catered to a wider audience. I was fairly disappointed with Bloodbourne and half expected to be just as unenthused with Dark Souls III. But then I heard Hidetaka Miyazaki was back at the helm and my anxiety was quelled. From the first moment you enter Lothric, you know you’re in for another fun and grueling 50+-hour journey.
Boss battles are some of the most original and exhilarating in the series next to Dark Souls; my personal favorite being Nameless King. You don’t feel like you’re just fighting big armored knights or clones from the other games. Fights like Dancer of the Boreal Valley, Soul of Cinder, and Pontiff Sulyvahn are unpredictable, well designed, and challenging. Regular enemies are also some of the most unique in the series. Deep Accursed, Demon Clerics, and Boreal Immolators are among the many foes outside of bosses that will terrify you and make you want to whip your controller across the room.
Lothric is more thoughtfully crafted than Dragleic (Dark Souls II), but I was disappointed to see some areas from Lodran (Dark Souls) brought back. Sure, it was nostalgic to rummage through the dilapidated remains of these areas, but I would have much rather had uncharted territory to explore. Additionally, the removal of the power stance mechanic from Dark Souls II is a bummer, and the poise system is terribly broken. Even after the update that supposedly fixed it, I found myself getting stunlocked by rats and other weak enemies, even with a tank build.
Yes, I am including Demon’s Souls in this list because I do consider it a spiritual installment in the series. It often catches flack for not having a true open world, but it shouldn’t because it enables free exploration of any of its five areas after completion of the opening level. You can tackle each stage in any order, and explore them to your heart’s desire.
Out of all Souls games, it does the best job of making you feel helpless and alone. It offers up a nastier, bleaker environment to create a much darker atmosphere, and gives you very little direction on how to play or where to start. It’s also more punishing in the sense that your healing items aren’t refilled upon death. This makes you play much more conservatively, as opposed to Dark Souls games where you can guzzle Estus flasks without a care.
Weaponry may be the best in the series – from the cult favorite Dragon Bone Smasher to the swift and powerful Sharp Uchigatana. Switching between dual-gripping and one-handing is also much more seamless, making it easier to bridge together powerful and complex combos. However, playing a mage isn’t quite as intuitive. Magic is split into Spells (offensive) and Miracles (defensive). Spells require a catalyst to cast, while Miracles require a talisman. The most annoying part: Both aren’t in obvious locations and could take hours to find. Many may not see this as a negative, but I do, and it’s probably the only gripe I have with the game.
You ask any Souls junkie which installment is best and most will say either Dark Souls or Demon’s Souls; it’s undebatable. I would be hard pressed to say that I have ever played a game with as beautifully crafted environments and well-designed enemies. Bosses are perhaps the best I’ve played in any game, period. I will never forget the triumph of defeating Ornstein and Smough after dying countless times or the gratification of slaughtering Gwyn Lord of Cinder to put the cherry on top of an amazing experience.
Before playing Dark Souls, I’d never played a game that offered a similar multiplayer style. Its rogue-like style of coop drew me in because it was unlike anything I had personally experienced before. I loved helping fellow Chosen Undead take on tough bosses, or invade their world to kill them and steal their souls. As a new player, I also appreciated the messaging feature players could use to communicate. These notes notify you of things like challenging enemies and hard-to-find treasure, and most importantly, they remind you that you’re not alone in your struggle.
What really draws me to Dark Souls is its world. Much brighter, larger, and intricate any environment in the series, Lordran is an absolute joy to traverse. I love gazing off into the distance, only to see a gothic-styled castle I’ll explore at some point looming in the background. Also, it’s “praise the sun” moments after tough boss fights haven’t been topped by any of its successors. In basics, it’s a hell of a ride. If you can only make time for one Souls game, make sure it’s this one.
What are your thoughts on the Souls games? Do you love them? Hate them? How would you rank them? Leave a comment and let’s discuss!
Note: Bloodbourne was not included in this list because it is not a Souls game. If it were included, it would be my least favorite