From Software’s Elden Ring has been out for more than a month now which means a lot of players have already beaten the game multiple times. Some of them in exceptional or unconventional ways. I’d like to count myself among the ranks of those embarking on New Game Plus, but I haven’t had my priorities straight and I’m only a little more than halfway done. I'd be Elden Lord by now, but I’ve been getting a full eight hours every night and going to work. However, playing Elden Ring got me thinking about some of the games I tired to scratch my hardcore action RPG itch with after beating Dark Souls 3. In that dark time between From Software releases I played several frustrating games that should appeal to the soulslike fandom. So, for those that can’t get enough of the Soul’s formula I’ve decided to highlight several lesser-known games that you can get right here at the Caldwell Public Library.
The Surge and its sequel The Surge 2 are probably the most well-known and best rated games to make this list. Set in a futuristic dystopia, The Surge has all the core soulslike elements including a crushing level of difficulty. A catastrophic event at the Creo megacorporation finds your character in an industrial exoskeleton with customizable upgrades to help you survive “robots gone haywire, insane augmented co-workers and rogue AI.” While borrowing heavily from the souls games, The Surge adds many interesting gameplay elements like individual limb targeting that allows players to harvest specific parts of enemy armor. The combat is tight and satisfying with plenty of sci-fi weapon options to compliment a variety of possible character builds. The leveling system is also quite refreshing with its energy core system. While The Surge lacks the multiplayer elements common to the souls series it doesn’t suffer for it.
Set in an alternate sci-fi universe inspired by Norse mythology, the game is basically Dark Souls with guns. Souls are called “bits”; bonfires are “monoliths”; it’s all here under a different name. The gameplay loop becomes somewhat repetitive, the enemy types aren’t that varied, and the build options are limited. A little rough around the edges to be sure, Immortal Unchained charmed me nonetheless and I was hooked enough to see it through to the end. This is the B-movie equivalent of a soulslike where the only real evolution to the formula is gunplay, and even that isn’t game changing. But Immortal Unchained has redeeming qualities that make it a fun experience despite the lack of polish and in a video game that’s what really counts. Excellent art direction and great level design elevate the game and make pressing on through the bad parts rewarding. While just as cryptic with its narrative as the souls series, the story and world building were interesting and engaging as well. You can feel the passion in the parts that work. The soulslike with guns idea has real merit, it just isn’t fully realized here.
Hellpoint suffers from many of the same issues that plague Immortal Unchained including a lack of innovation to the basic soulslike formula. However, just like Immortal Unchained, Hellpoint has a great setting, fantastic atmosphere, and solid level design. Another sci-fi entry to the genre, Hellpoint is set in the far future on a derelict space station orbiting a black hole. There’s a plethora of armor and weapons to find and modify, and the balance of available build options and stats is well conceived. Perhaps the best feature of the game is its multiplayer options. While not as robust as From Software's offerings, Hellpoint makes co-op play extremely easy and straightforward. Players can summon a friend from anywhere in the game and summons are not limited to merely completing the area boss. Players stay with the host for the duration of their summon and are even able to warp to other locations with the player. Another welcome feature is couch co-op. While having two players really cuts down on the difficulty, making some bosses feel trivial, it’s refreshing to have a more or less seamless co-op playthrough experience. Hellpoint is a meat and potatoes soulslike experience that offers enough of a challenge to keep players engaged. It doesn’t stray too far from its influences but it does a reliable enough job of putting a new face on an established style.
There’s no shortage of games taking notes from the souls series and quite a few simply copying off From Software’s playbook. Some definitely do it better than others offering players unique ideas and settings that make their games feel more distinct. While I’ve only briefly highlighted a few clones there are many more to explore like Code Vein, Remnant: From the Ashes, and Mortal Shell. So, if you’ve still got a taste for more hardcore action RPG fare grab your library card and give one of these games a try.