Eldest Souls - The Deer God

When it comes to the best anything of the year, things can get a little complicated. For starters, you have to ask yourself if the best is something that most everyone can enjoy, or if it can be something a little more niche. Games like Skyrim, God of War, and Ocarina of Time come to mind. Soulslikes? Boss rush games? Those definitely won’t appeal to everyone, but the argument can still be made that something that won’t attract the vast majority can still be so good that it’s worthy of being deemed one of the best games of the year.

That’s Eldest Souls from Fallen Flag Studio. While it certainly won’t be for everyone, it’s such a well-designed boss rush Soulslike that it’s impossible to call it anything other than one of the absolute best games of 2021.

Eldest Souls - The Watchdog

Here’s the kicker, though: Even if it might not be for everyone, it has the potential to draw in folks who might otherwise dismiss it or not be too into what it has to offer at a glance.

For instance, I’ve never been the biggest fan of boss rush games — or boss rush modes in games, for that matter. I liked Furi, but I didn’t love it. I thought Titan Souls was fascinating, but I sadly couldn’t get into it. Eldest Souls, however, just sort of sucked me into its world of massive, ferocious deities. It challenged me, but it also encouraged me, and it drew me in more and more the further I went.

Eldest Souls does an excellent job of mixing easy-to-grasp combat with deep mechanics that sort of just work in the background and are never overbearing. There’s still plenty of thought that goes into playing a game like this, but for as much as these types of games are meant to overwhelm you, Eldest Souls is keen on ensuring that you make it out alive — well, after you die a bunch of times, that is.

Eldest Souls - Pixel Art Landscape

You’ve got light and charged attacks. Charged attacks are especially interesting, because aside from dishing out heavy damage to bosses, they also fill your Bloodthirst meter. This is of major importance as having a full Bloodthirst meter means you can then regain lost health by successfully delivering subsequent strikes. There are no health pick-ups of any kind in the game, so you rely entirely on your charged strikes and Bloodthirst in order to heal.

This is a wonderful dynamic because, on the one hand, it encourages semi-aggressive play while still requiring you to be mindful of going overboard and leaving yourself open to attacks, which is a staple of the Soulslike genre. And on the other hand, while delivering those charged strikes may be tricky at times, it essentially gives you a virtually unlimited pool of healing ability to tap into — so long as you play methodically and avoid being reckless.

You can choose between three different classes — referred to in-game as fighting styles — in Eldest Souls: Windslide, Berserk Slash, and Counter. Windslide is all about granting you speed and letting you deal passive damage. Berserk Slash stacks the damage you deal. Counter buffs defense and attack based on how well you defend against enemy offense.

These fighting styles don’t massively alter the way gameplay flows per se, but they allow you to approach combat in fun and interesting ways. And because you can level up different aspects of each fighting style, you’re bound to discover multiple approaches for each. Not to mention, you can add and remove skill points as necessary at any time and even switch between fighting styles on the fly, so you’re never tied down to any class and can experiment to find the one that suits you best — or switch between styles depending on the boss.

Eldest Souls - Azikel, God of Light

You’re not faced with boss after boss in nonstop fashion while playing Eldest Souls. Instead, the game gives you a few brief moments of respite in between battles. These usually entail walking through some ruins, traveling across a beautiful field, or lightly exploring a dark dreamscape. For a game that so proudly will destroy you, I appreciate how it also gives you a little time to both take in some nice pixelated scenery and really just breathe following a grueling encounter.

Speaking of which, the pixel art in Eldest Souls is absolutely stunning and is used to create everything from awesome scenery and dungeons to imposing bestial gods. The art style is beautifully dedicated to creating a rich, fantastical landscape that’s as mesmerizing as it is ominous.

But really, could anyone actually play and get into Eldest Souls? I truly think so. Maybe not everyone would love it, but I feel that it has something for a lot of folks, even those who may have some trepidation toward the challenging nature of Soulslikes. Bosses are tough, but observing their patterns over multiple attempts will get you one step closer to victory. And once you’ve accrued a few skill points, things get much more doable — not exactly easy, but definitely doable.

Eldest Souls Pixel Art

As I went deeper into the world of Eldest Souls, I felt my character grow considerably stronger. Eventually, I went from being afraid of the bosses to knowing that even if I got schooled a few times, there would be no stopping me from imminent victory. It’s refreshing and encouraging, and it rewards persistent play in a way that gives you the confidence to continuously step up to the challenge.

For a game that’s so keen on punishing the player, Eldest Souls also knows exactly how to reward you and make you feel good about the challenge at hand.

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