We don't quite know whether it was developer From Software's intention, but with Dark Souls it started a gaming revolution. By shying away from any kind of hand-holding, avoiding masses of tutorials, and presenting them with a true challenge, From Software found a niche. And a very vocal, supportive niche it is.
The Souls series drop players into a challenging world full of peril with nothing but a few bonfires and a smattering of weapons to help you. There's nothing else to do but figure everything out for yourself, and if you fail, you'll always know the game is there to punish you. Swiftly and sharply.
This approach to game design saw a swathe of developers follow suit, creating their own Dark Souls alike titles that push the same boundaries and introduce similar levels of difficulty. And that's good when you've squeezed every drop out of Dark Souls, or it's done the same to you, grinding down your gaming ego to nothing but dust.
If you're looking for a new spin on the Dark Souls formula, these 9 games are ready to dish out your daily serving of punishment.
It's the game that started it all, and yet, it technically isn't a Dark Souls game - which is why you see it on this list. Demon's Souls laid the groundwork for the entire Dark Souls series; everything from the unforgiving world design to the cryptic storytelling and initially bizarre online player interaction is there. You've got the medieval environments, armor, and weapons if you enjoy the fantasy setting. Plus, there are some fascinating characters to encounter (if you can find them), and best of all, you will finally get the many references to Demon's Souls From Software has dropped into the Dark Souls series. If you're looking for more Darks Souls, don't skip out on Demon's Souls.
Play it on: PS3
If Bloodborne's cthulhu monsters and top hats deterred you from exploring its grim and fascinating world, you need to put all of those Dark Souls traditionalist feelings aside. From Software's move from the medieval fantasy setting of Dark Souls to Bloodborne's arguably cooler, more stylistic version of From's masochistic adventure is an excellent departure from the Souls gameplay style - while keeping everything feeling familiar. Instead of combating undead knights and dragons with swords, shields, and heavy armor, players take on lycan horrors and mutated beasts with transforming trick weapons while wearing tattered trench coats. Bloodborne favors faster combat and manoeuvrability over turtling behind metal shields, forcing some Dark Souls veterans to adopt new tactics. And if you're looking for a veiled story with mysterious side characters and a plot that makes little sense (unless you really dig for it), Bloodborne's got that, too.
Play it on: PS4
Lords of the Fallen
It's immediately apparent that developer CI Games took the gameplay and world design of the Souls series and implanted them directly into their game the moment you step into Lords of the Fallen’s dark and gloomy castle corridors. You travel the interconnected world slowly and deliberately avoiding traps, studying enemy attack patterns, and collecting various, increasingly powerful weapons and items in order to stop a demonic army from destroying humanity. All of the Dark Souls tropes are there plus Lords of the Fallen arguably has a more impressive visual aesthetic flaunting heroes and enemies in massive suits of armor and wielding even larger weapons. But what makes Lords stand out is its more character-driven hero story, having you follow a single named character rather than creating a hero of your own.
Play it on: PS4, Xbox One, PC. There's also an iOS and Android version if you're feeling particularly mobile.
Salt and Sanctuary
Ska Studios are eminent formalists. Its Xbox 360 games like The Dishwasher and Charlie Murder took the brawling, platforming and sidescrolling perspective of '80s/'90s classics and reimagined them through the lens of scratchy, gothy art. Salt & Sanctuary, its latest and first game for PlayStation 4, keeps the studio's signature art style while taking on a whole new type of game. Explicitly mimicking the structure and character building systems from Dark Souls, Salt & Sanctuary perfectly translates From Software's famously brutal series to a sidescroller. If you're the type of person that looks at Dark Souls or Bloodborne and thinks, "Boy, I'd like that a whole lot more if it played like Castlevania!" then Ska Studios has made your game.
Play it on: PS4, PS Vita, PC, Mac, and Linux.
Pull back Dark Souls' camera to an isometric perspective, give the game pixel graphics, and make the hero a Viking shieldmaiden and you get Eitr. The upcoming game makes every enemy encounter a tactical endeavor, drops story details in item descriptions, and has really, really difficult bosses to defeat. It's like Dark Souls, alright. Surviving Eitr's undead skeleton-infested world requires you to study your enemies and manage your combat abilities effectively - whether that means swapping your sword and shield for better damage-dealing dual axes or igniting your weapons in sizzling lightning bolts.
Play it on: PS4, PC, Mac, and Linux.
The upcoming indie game Necropolis is unmistakably a Dark Souls clone, but it doesn't quite take itself as seriously. For one thing, the artstyle creates a world that is more abstract and colorful and even has you facing off against giant shark-like monsters, but there's also some tongue in cheek humor in there, too. You might pick up a scroll called "That Sure is a Magic Scroll" which your character is unable to read because magic words are hard to read, apparently. Despite its goofiness, Necropolis will chew you up and spit you out if you don't navigate its world carefully, and it's a roguelike, so death is permanent. Yeah, prepare to cry.
Play it on: PS4, Xbox One, and PC.
Hyper Light Drifter
You'll never know what to expect when you enter Hyper Light Drifter's neon, cyberpunk, Mayan ruin-like environments. The entire world is a mix of natural and technological elements all highlighted with colorful, vibrant landscapes that contrast the somber musical tones and often gruesome visual themes. Hyper Light Drifter combines the gameplay of Dark Souls, Zelda, and Ninja Gaiden, bringing lightning-fast reactionary combat, puzzle-solving exploration, and hair-pulling difficulty all into one adventure. You can't go wrong with that.
Play it on: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Mac, and Linux.
Castle in the Darkness
If you grew up playing gruellingly tough NES games like Zelda 2, Castlevania, and Blaster Master, then you're at least somewhat ready for Castle in the Darkness. Beyond the demanding (but fair) difficulty, inventive boss designs, and endearing pixel art, this stellar indie also mimics the brilliant world design of Dark Souls. Each new region feels completely distinct from the last, jam-packed with secret item caches and convenient shortcuts to suss out, provided you're not actively slashing your sword against swarms of 8-bit enemies. The action and exploration are top-notch, but just like Dark Souls, you should prepare to die. A lot.
Play it on: PC
Originally announced in 2004 as a PlayStation 3 title, Nioh (formerly known as Oni and Ni-Oh) is based on a script from legendary filmmaker Akira Kurosawa. Don't recognize the name? His film Seven Samurai was remade in 1960 as a Western called The Magnificent Seven. Partly due to its ties with the film industry, Nioh is more story-oriented than the Dark Souls games, as it follows a blond-haired samurai named William through feudal-era Japan. The setting means fewer undead monstrosities and more bandits - with demons popping up only rarely - but it also means a more technical playstyle, where you have to carefully manage your Ki and weapon stance. It's also a bit more brutal than Dark Souls, as even low-level foes can cut you down in a single slice if you're not paying attention. If the Onimusha series and Dark Souls had a baby, it would be Nioh.
Play it on: PS4. Coming soon to PC.