Review – Eldest Souls
I first played Eldest Souls at E3 2019 and I immediately knew two things. One, it was totally my kind of game. Two, it was going to kick my ass. I sat down with Johnathan Constantini and Francesco Barsotti, the co-founders of Fallen Flag Studios, as they talked me through game ideas. I came to the first boss and they start chuckling knowing I was likely to be pummeled. They were correct, and I wasn’t only pummeled once. However, I was enjoying the challenge, a challenge not many games offer lately. The final game is here now and I can confidently say that this game is going to beat the hell out of you. Let me put it in perspective. Returnal, the recent game people have called hard, only killed me seven time before I saw the credits. Eldest Souls killed me over one hundred and forty times. This game is not for the faint of heart.
Eldest Souls is a boss rush action RPG set in a world of were man has taken over the Old Gods. Tired of being their servants, man rebelled against them to rule the lands, locking the Old Gods in the Sacred Citadel. As a final act of vengeance the Old Gods released a great desolation upon the world and now humanity is fading. You play as the Lone Warrior, the final piece of hope for humanity. You’re tasked with entering the Sacred Citadel and destroying the Old Gods in order to end the curse. It’s not the most original story in the world, but hey, you need some bad ass god-like enemies to smack you around for eight or so hours.
Since Eldest Souls is a boss rush game, that means there isn’t really too much going on within the open world areas. That’s not to say it’s empty, there are certainly NPC’s and things to discover. However, you won’t be roaming around fighting enemies and gaining experience or items. As you explore the world you will run into important items that you’ll need to give to certain NPC’s. Some of these items are out in the wild, some come after beating bosses, and others once you unlock an area. For example, you’ll gain a rusty key after defeating a boss that will let you open one of the cells in an earlier area. This cell will have a bag of gold in it that you can give to the Blacksmith to upgrade your sword or armor.
Certain key items you obtain from NPC’s will grant you buffs, but most of your character development comes from gaining skill points from bosses and the bosses soul. Your basic move set isn’t even all that basic since there is depth to the combat itself. You have a basic attack combo, a charge dash attack, and a heavy attack called Bloodburst. However, to use Bloodburst you must land a successful charge attack. Successfully landing this attack fills your gauge and while this gauge is filled each hit you land on an enemy gives you health. This is actually the only way to heal yourself since there are no health potions. You can also finish off your meter with the Bloodburst attack for massive damage.
Once you defeat your first boss and obtain the initial skill point you get to decide what fighting style you want. There is Windslide that is made for fast paced attacks with chances of projectiles to surround and attack the enemy. Berserk Slash is your more power focused set for max damage and increased healing. The Counter style is for those that like to stand in and never back down using boss attacks against them. Within these three styles are plenty of modifiers to unlock with additional skill points that will alter your moves in a plethora of ways.
On top of that, each soul you collect has its own set of uses that will drastically change your play style. You can insert a boss soul into six different slots on your character. You have your main super slot that you can activate when charged to unleash the souls power.There are also modifier slots for your charge attack, dash, Bloodburst, overall fighting style, and the final tier slot in your skills. Not all souls are helpful at all times, some will only give you a boost if your life is above or below 50%. Other souls will have both a positive and negative effect that will have you weigh your options. What’s even better is that you can reset and change your fighting style at any time without a penalty. It is encouraged to play with different moves, upgrades, and boss soul placements to find your perfect build.
The bosses are obviously the main focus of Eldest Souls and they do not disappoint. Each boss fight feels extremely different from the others, which means you’re constantly having to reset your muscle memory. The bosses all have a wide variety of attacks that will be thrown at you and it will take time to learn the tells and patterns. Around the half way point they will enrage and start throwing different assaults, powerful attacks, and more volume. These fights are brutal and every boss has the ability to quickly take you down with a few strikes. A couple missed dodges and not healing with Bloodburst is a quick death sentence. You need to be equally defensive with movement and dodges as you are with charged attacks and Bloodburst to heal. It’s a mechanic and loop that I loved, despite still getting my ass handed to me regularly.
On top of the boss fights being fantastic, the designs are extremely cool as well. Every boss has a very distinct look, as well as the arenas they’re in. They use a retro pixel art look, but it’s very detailed and animated very well. With the bosses changing midway through fights, their look and design usually modifies as well. Not just the boss design, but the arena itself can change and move. With all of this going on, it’s a visual spectacle the entire time and with every boss. There is also a very dark overtone to the entire world and the environment designs. Even NPCs fit that theme, adding to the feeling of a desolate kingdom ravaged by gods and men.
Sound design is fairly minimalist, but I feel like is a design choice to increase the feeling of death and dread. The soundtrack is somber while exploring the destroyed city areas, but the music picks up nicely for the fights. It raises the tempo and intensity to fit the anxiety you’re feeling standing in front of a new menacing boss. The general sound effects from the combat are fairly standard slashes, smashes, explosions, and the like. However, they’re implemented with an intensity to feel each one of these sound effects. Each fighting style also has its owns et of sound effects since they feature different kinds of visual and combat effects. You won’t be listening to the soundtrack outside of the game, or cringe from a brutal attack, but it is all well implemented.
Eldest Souls will not be a game for everyone. It will smash you and make you question if you’re any good at gaming. However, I never felt it was unfair in anyway and the sense of accomplishment after finally taking down a boss is immense. The combat has a surprising depth to it, and the gameplay flow is nonstop and pushes you to adapt. Since you can’t farm upgrades from smaller enemies, you are forced to “git gud” and beat that boss to continue. If you enjoy even more challenge, there is a New Game + mode. It not only increases boss health, strength, and lowers your stats, it adds different combat moves to the enemies to make sure you can’t muscle memory through them again. If you enjoy boss rush games, and you’re masochist who loves getting smashed, you’re going to enjoy Eldest Souls.
The pixel art style is handled very well with plenty of details in the environments. The boss designs are really striking and feel imposing.
The combat has a surprising amount of depth with three different skill trees that all encourage different playstyles. The systems in place require you to be defensive but to never turtle up.
Sound design is exactly what I expected. Nothing really blew me away, but it fits perfectly within the setting of the game. It’s very somber between fights, with boss music picking up when needed.
Fun Factor: 8.5
Eldest Souls is a very hard boss rush game with a surprisingly deep combat system that relies on perfect timing and aggression. I never felt it was unfair, but this game is for the masochists out there.
Final Verdict: 8.5
Eldest Souls is available now on Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch, and PC.
Reviewed on Xbox Series X.
A copy of Eldest Souls was provided by the publisher.