FromSoftware's Pantheon of Challenge: Every Soulslike Game Ranked by Difficulty image
  • Daniel Ellis
  • 25 Nov 2023

FromSoftware's Pantheon of Challenge: Every Soulslike Game Ranked by Difficulty

Since the release of Demon's Souls in 2009, FromSoftware has become synonymous with a unique brand of challenging video games. The Souls series has not only carved out its own subgenre within gaming but has also set a high bar for difficulty. This has led to a community that revels in the punishing nature of these games, discussing and debating the merits and challenges of each entry. In the realm of FromSoftware's Soulslike games, some stand out as more grueling than others. From the haunting corridors of Boletaria to the sprawling fields of the Lands Between, let's traverse the difficult landscape of these games, starting with the easiest and ascending to the hardest.

Elden Ring: A Flexible Challenge in a Vast Open World

Elden Ring, the latest and largest of FromSoftware's endeavors, offers players the freedom to explore and tackle challenges at their own pace. The open-world design allows for strategic retreats to easier areas when the going gets tough, and the abundance of checkpoints ensures that progress is rarely set back too far. Summons provide a significant boon, offering assistance in the game's most harrowing battles. While still a formidable challenge, especially for the uninitiated, Elden Ring's design choices make for a more approachable entry point into the Soulslike genre.

Bloodborne: A Dark Dance of Aggression and Speed

Bloodborne's nightmare-fueled streets encourage a more aggressive style of combat, pushing players to reclaim lost health by striking back at enemies. This approach, combined with the ability to carry a generous supply of healing items, provides a different kind of challenge. The atmosphere is oppressive, the enemies relentless, but Bloodborne's mechanics allow for a thrilling experience where boldness is rewarded. It's a game that tests reflexes and resolves in equal measure, demanding that players adapt to its rhythm of risk and reward.

Dark Souls III: A Polished and Streamlined Trial

Dark Souls III represents the culmination of lessons learned from previous entries, offering a more refined and accessible challenge. Combat strikes a balance between the methodical play of the earlier Dark Souls titles and the swift brutality of Bloodborne. New gameplay elements, like diverse magic spells and potent defensive tactics, give players additional tools to face the darkness. While its bosses and environments remain daunting, the game's more balanced difficulty and fewer environmental hazards make for a tough but fair journey.

Dark Souls: A Deliberate and Metroidvania-esque Odyssey

The original Dark Souls stands as a masterclass in difficulty balance. It eschews many of the more punishing mechanics of its successors while avoiding any concessions that would significantly soften the challenge. Players must navigate a world that intertwines like a complex labyrinth, with limited fast travel and checkpoints that are just scarce enough to instill a sense of tension. The game's Metroidvania elements encourage exploration and a careful approach to each new, mysterious area. Dark Souls' challenge is as much mental as it is skill-based, making it a truly classic Souls experience.

Demon's Souls: The Pioneering Trial by Fire

Demon's Souls set the stage for the Soulslike subgenre, introducing many of the mechanics and design philosophies that would define the series. The game's notorious for cutting the player's maximum health after each defeat, adding an extra layer of difficulty to reclaim lost progress. The level design is less forgiving than its successors, with checkpoints spaced far apart, demanding meticulous play to survive. While later games refined the formula, Demon's Souls remains a raw and challenging experience that tests even the most seasoned players.

Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon: A Fresh Challenge in Mech Combat

Armored Core VI: Fires of Rubicon takes FromSoftware's penchant for challenge into the realm of mech combat, offering a familiar level of difficulty in a fresh context. The game's fast-paced vehicular combat demands quick reflexes and precise aim, providing a unique test that stands apart from the standard Soulslike fare. The player's ability to customize their mech also mirrors the RPG elements of other FromSoftware titles, allowing for a personalized approach to overcoming the game's considerable challenges.

Dark Souls II: A Divisive and Punishing Journey

Dark Souls II remains a contentious entry within the Souls community. Its design choices, such as the incremental reduction of maximum health with each defeat and slow healing items, contribute to an experience that can feel unforgiving and, at times, arbitrary. Bosses and enemies are designed to be formidable, often prioritizing raw power over intricate mechanics. While it may not capture the same adoration as its siblings, Dark Souls II's unique approach to difficulty ensures that it stands out as a particularly grueling chapter in the FromSoftware saga.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice: The Apex of Skill-Based Combat

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is a testament to the power of mechanical mastery. Absent are the RPG elements of leveling and character builds; instead, players must rely on honing their skills and understanding of the game's combat system to progress. The game's structure offers less leniency in terms of exploration and alternative strategies, forcing players to confront challenges head-on. Sekiro's emphasis on parrying and precision makes it the pinnacle of FromSoftware's challenging output, demanding perfection and punishing anything less.

FromSoftware has created a lineage of games that are as rewarding as they are demanding. Each title offers a unique blend of mechanics, world-building, and challenge that has captivated a legion of dedicated players. While each game can be ranked by difficulty, the true FromSoftware experience is about the journey through adversity, the satisfaction of overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds, and the memories forged along the way.

Whether you're a newcomer drawn by the allure of the Lands Between or a veteran who has braved the fires of Boletaria, each game has its own lessons to impart and its own trials to best. As FromSoftware continues to evolve and expand its library, the Soulslike genre stands as a testament to the joys of gaming challenges, offering experiences that resonate long after the credits roll.

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