Eldest Souls Review
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a lone nameless wanderer skulks through a blasted, foreign land to slay its twisted dominators, freeing the few survivors left, and avenging the ones who aren’t. The world is dark, filled with corrupted yet redeemable souls. Your sense of duty is born in your blood.
Fallen Flag Games isn’t the first to find FromSoftware’s genre-defining classic to be worth emulating. Eldest Souls, their brutal boss-rushing brainchild, may be the first to iterate on the formula in such a way that it really can’t be compared directly to any of its soulslike peers. It isn’t perfect, but the cycle of struggle and success feels fresh, thanks to focus on mechanical depth and creative combat customisation.
The world, though beautifully rendered, is empty of minor enemies and environmental hazards. You wander through haunting ruins, verdant forests, and frigid ice caves rather peacefully. Only the occasional key item and bits of lore await those who wish to turn over every stone. You can even meet some locals, like a bard missing a harp sting, or a priest desperate for you to join their order. The fragmented storytelling and cryptic side quests are mostly optional though, and the plot isn’t very compelling on its own—it’s largely sparse and generic—though some quests do reward you with items that boost your capabilities in combat. But without the fear of potential death around every turn—that is, you’ll just exploring the environments and solving small quests in between big boss fights in Eldest Souls—a big part of the identity of the “soulslike” genre is missing here.
Any inch you can gain on the ten deadly rogue gods that are scattered throughout the game is appreciated. They are menaces that get more ferocious and unyielding as you progress through them, and have their own clever gimmicks, like splitting themselves into two halves, or freezing you if you get hit with multiple attacks in succession. Every boss fight needs to be studied and approached differently. This process can be extremely rewarding when you slay them, but also extremely frustrating; bosses hit so hard that they often leave very little room for error, meaning early in the process of learning, you’ll probably die several times before even seeing everything they can do in their initial phase. They also seem to have unreasonable amounts of health, especially in the later stages. I would spend so much time dodging attacks just to hit them for miniscule damage in the lull between their screen-eclipsing volleys. There’s no way to break their patterns or stun them, so you spend most of each fight waiting for your turn to attack.
The options I had when inflicting those attacks were vast. Each of the three fighting styles changes up combat dramatically, altering your normal and heavy attacks and giving you a special ability gauge to charge up. When I knew I was up against a slow but mighty enemy, the Counter style helped me turn those usually powerful blows against them. When I wanted to go all out for maximum damage potential, the Berserker Slash style helped me load big damage on single strikes. When I needed to be more evasive, the Windslide style lets me dash through enemies. Each style can be upgraded in various ways using skill points earned from bosses, which add significant alterations to these attacks. These enemies also drop Boss Shards, which you can attach to your style, specific attacks, or just to use as an active ability. Taken together, the action RPG combat possibilities in Eldest Souls really shine as some of the best you’ll find in the genre.
Souls May Cry
Fans of games like Furi and Devil May Cry may be surprised with how well Eldest Souls can produce the same sort of frantic and expressive action those games are known for. Its “soulslike” credentials don’t stem from replicating the slow and plodding experience that the subgenre is known for very much. Instead, it’s the focused and diverse boss encounters, on top of the snappy combat and clever customisation. Eldest Souls may not change the face of soulslikes just yet, but it at least demonstrates that there are still new ways to interpret them.