Dark Souls’ influence on game design refuses to die

After ten years, we might have expected the time of Dark Souls to fade away, like the Age of Fire in the game itself. One of the reasons he and his console-exclusive predecessor Demon’s Souls had the impact they had is that they felt refreshing and different from anything on the market. at the time. Now they’re familiar, and many of the mechanics that made them stand out have been compartmentalized and performed by hundreds of other studios. Soulslikes are now part of the video game establishment.

Still, the flame burns brightly, and the term “Soulslike” is still enough to pique interest. FromSoftware’s continued efforts to revamp their own formula with Bloodborne, Sekiro, and perhaps more drastically with Elden Ring, helped stoke the flames. But Souls’ continued appeal has also been aided by other studios around the world, creating Souls inspired games that combine original visions with the challenges and atmosphere we aspire to.

One of the most prominent studios is Deck13, best known for Lords of the Fallen, The Surge and its sequel. The Frankfurt-based studio’s action-RPG roots, however, can be traced back to 2009’s Venetica, and his subsequent work built on the foundations he laid at the time, while also incorporating specific Soulslike elements.

What particularly stood out about Souls games for Deck13 Creative Director Jan Klose was the way they handled combat, with an emphasis on timing, precision and flexibility. “They’re a great benchmark for games that work with close-quarters combat gameplay,” he says, and in an era when many great games focused on cinematic experiences, it made sense to try something different. “We believe that play is about choice and learning to improve your skills,” adds Klose.

At the same time, Klose doesn’t see Souls games as a role model to follow completely. “We were mostly inspired by precision and skill-based aspects of the game,” he says, “but other things didn’t seem to be our cup of tea. I think a lot of games can learn from a Soulslike, but incorporate the parts that work best. This is an approach that is clearly visible in The Surge, one of the few Soulslike games to move away from a dark fantasy setting.

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With this sort of selective approach, Klose sees no reason why Soulslike games should run out of steam. “I think Dark Souls and its successors just broadened the horizons of a lot of game developers and helped bring back challenge-based games, as opposed to just ‘touring’ by clicking on it,” he says. “I think it was a welcome development for the players, and one that’s here to stay.”

Other studios, like OverBorder, are new to the Soulslike scene. Its flagship title, Thymesia, is due out in December, and given the likes of this seven-member team from Taiwan, it was inevitable that they would find inspiration in Souls. “There is so much to love about games from FromSoftware,” says game designer Ross Huang. “Some members of the development team have logged over 1,000 hours in Dark Souls on Steam.”

Game inspired by Dark Souls, Thymesia

They are especially drawn to the ups and downs of a good soul journey. “We love the idea of ​​learning by doing, of mastering combat and the feeling of accomplishment when you finally beat an enemy you’ve been fighting with for a while,” Huang said. “For the development team, these are the most important factors of a Soulslike; we wanted to capture that in Thymesia.

When Demon’s Souls first came out, I felt like he cared about nothing more than delivering the experience he intended to.

Jonathan costantini

Co-founder, Fallen Flag

So how does the team set Thymesia apart? “For the most part, Soulslike games include slow, deliberate fighting,” Huang explains. “With Thymesia, we wanted the fight to be faster and more precise.” In other words, there’s a bit of Sekiro in the mix, but Huang also emphasizes the game’s customization and building options. “We’ve included talent trees that can be unlocked as you go. as you progress through the game, “he says,” like the ability to string together longer combos or replace your parry with defense so you don’t have to worry about timing. “

Most intriguing, however, is how Thymesia’s themes of disease and alchemy will infect her systems, such as the protagonist Corvus able to wield “plague weapons” or enter in the form of a ” Crow”. Plague weapons, which Huang says can be stolen from enemies, will allow for special abilities and attacks alongside your regular arsenal, hopefully combining complex action game combos with challenge and l mood of a Soulslike.

Of course, not all Soulslike games are 3D RPG action games. Over the past few years, many studios have translated the Soulslike formula into two dimensions. The results are often akin to classic Metroidvania games with which Dark Souls has always shared a family resemblance. Some, however, have tried a different twist, like this year’s Eldest Souls, a Souls-inspired boss racing game with an isometric perspective.

Isometric game inspired by Dark Souls, Oldest Souls

Eldest Souls is the debut game from Rome-based indie games studio Fallen Flag. For co-founder Jonathan Costantini, FromSoft’s Souls series has been a long-term influence. “During my teenage years, the gaming industry slowly began to shift towards more ‘commercial’ development processes,” he explains. “When Demon’s Souls came out, I felt like it didn’t really care about anything besides providing the experience it was meant to be. For me, it was love at first sight.

This flame still has not gone out. “Demon’s Souls and FromSoftware’s successors will always be my favorite games,” Costantini said, and he doesn’t care that some aspects of the formula may have been overused. “Honestly, I don’t think I’ve gotten to the point yet where I find these elements too familiar,” he says. “I still love them and appreciate them when I find them in new Soulslikes.”

As for Eldest Souls, “we just took pieces from our favorite games and tried to give them our own spin.” It has the dark tone of Souls and tense battles, but structurally, as a boss game, it’s quite different, swapping RPG-style leveling for simple yet flexible upgrades. “Fortunately, we have found a new mix of all of these elements to make our game stand out enough in the market,” says Costantini.

With many developers embracing this range of approaches, it looks like Soulslike’s design is healthy. Yet one concern that always seems to haunt these games – one aspect of them that, notably, all of the developers we spoke to enjoyed – is how difficult they are. The name Souls is synonymous with a tall order, which comes up against growing gaming expectations to accommodate a wide range of skill levels. Will Soulslike games always have an air of exclusivity for so-called “hardcore” players?

Soulslike Elder Souls Isometric Game

For Fallen Flag, it was important not to alienate the players, but they didn’t go so far as to offer lower difficulty levels. “From a Studio perspective, the challenge is everything,” says Costantini. “Making the game too easy makes it trivial, while making it too difficult causes players to quit before getting into the thick of it.”

We love the idea of ​​learning by doing and mastering combat

Ross huang

Game Designer, OverBorder

Rather, they hoped to ease the process of player onboarding by removing the ruthless and opaque welcome associated with the Souls format. “The difficulty of setting was probably the most difficult challenge for an inexperienced team like ours,” said Costantini. “Although we provide a good tutorial, I think the game is very difficult, ranging from the early game experience to the complete sadistic madness of NG + racing.”

OverBorder also thinks that a fixed level of challenge is crucial, but the goal wasn’t just to make a tough game. “We want people to go to Thymesia and learn about the different enemies and the best way to counter them,” Huang said. With that in mind, there should be methods in the game to alleviate potential blockages. “Different plague weapons are more effective in different situations, and trying potions with different effects can turn the tide quite drastically,” he explains.

Combat in Soulslike Game, Thymesia

Ultimately, however, perhaps the issue of difficulty is best addressed by looking at the breadth of Soulslike experiences today, rather than individual titles. Klose believes that, on the whole, the landscape has become less hostile. “I think the genre has matured,” he says, “it has opened up to a wider range of players. Different games cater to different audiences, also allowing players with more general tastes to be successful.

In that sense, Dark Souls’ legacy isn’t any particular type of challenge, setting, or genre, but its versatility. It’s hard to argue otherwise after even Nintendo sprinkled a sprinkle of souls in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The overall impact of the FromSoft series on game design is what really matters. And as the last decade has shown, it has grown large enough to produce something for everyone.

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