Every film wants to be a cinematic universe, and every game wants to be Dark Souls — according to some.
The cynic inside us already has an answer to why: the games of From Software have a large, paying fanbase, and other studios want a slice of that pie.
A manager who sits at least three floors away from the creative team (if not in a different office entirely) measures the correlation between different Steam tags and estimated sales, and concludes that if they can slap the “soulslike” label on the company’s next game, potential earnings increase by 74%.
A PowerPoint presentation may have been used to convey the message.
If the omnipresence of romantic teenage vampires was the telltale sign that the book market was riding on the popularity of Twilight, there are a few tropes in which we can see a dedication to the From Software formula in the videogame industry:
- An intimate, close-up, over-the-shoulder third-person perspective
- Weighty combat actions with a long wind-up, long recovery
- Bonfires that save progress but reset enemies
- A stamina bar that is drained by all actions, including dodges and basic attacks
It’s hard to deny: these things are common in action games where they were not before.
In God of War
God of War III vs God of War (2018)
Darksiders II vs Darksiders III
In games by Team Ninja
Ninja Gaiden vs Nioh
Some studios seem to have built their entire business model on the trend
Lords of the Fallen by Deck13, also the developer of The Surge, another Soulslike.
New action games love to use Hidetaka Miyazaki’s masterpieces as a blueprint
Upcoming Black Myth: Wukong and Lies of P.
However, to me, this does not represent creative laziness, but creative passion. The altar that Miyazaki built is revered by creators as much as consumers. Developers have played Dark Souls, been inspired by naturalistic level design, eye-catching art direction, high level of tension and rewarding combat encounters.
If you’re not a fan of Souls, this might not sound so great. There are many elements of Souls that are like marmite: you either love them or hate them:
- Unexplained mechanics
- Save points that work like bonfires
- Runbacks before boss encounters
- No difficulty settings
- Stamina management
But it’s not like every third-person action game is moving in this direction
My view is that the third-person melee action genre, a genre that I love, has been reinvigorated in recent years, and Dark Souls had a part to play in that.
Yes, there are more games out there that look like Dark Souls, but also more games in this genre in general. There might even be more diversity in the genre than ever before.
As a closing word, remember that trends come and go. I fully expect more studios to drift away from the Souls style within a few years.
…though, as these cycles go I, expect it will come back again. Love it or hate it, Dark Souls has cast a spell on the industry, and to get rid of it entirely is a challenge that goes far beyond Ornstein or Smough.