Eldest Souls is a title that we have already covered on the site, as we were able to preview it earlier this summer ahead of its launch. This Souls-like comes from a small but dedicated two-man team at Fallen Flag Studios, and it has now been in development for four years. When we first stepped into its dark and ominous world, we found ourselves impressed with its flexible combat system and well-designed bosses. Now with a few months passing, the game has launched on Nintendo Switch, PC, PS4, and Xbox One, and we have revisited it to see whether our initial praises manage to hold up throughout.
The action in Eldest Souls is blisteringly fast and the only way for you to recover your HP is to get up close and perform a charged attack on an enemy. As you pull off these attacks your Bloodthirst will increase and when it's flashing red you'll get HP for each blow landed. This mechanic makes encounters feel exhilarating as you always need to put yourself in the way of danger and death is never too far away. Alternatively, when this meter is full, you can also push the A button (on Switch) to perform a more powerful swing, but this drains your bar completely and prevents any future opportunities to heal.
Another main factor within combat is your dash ability, which can be performed to evade attacks without taking damage. You can only dash a maximum of three times and these take a few seconds to charge once used. It might be tempting to constantly dash around with projectiles frequently coming your way, but you are urged to use them wisely. Some attacks can't be avoided without dashing and if you're out of stamina it's game over.
Unlike other more traditional Souls-likes, Eldest Souls is focused purely on boss encounters and you won't find any other smaller foes to slay when roaming its world. The designs of these formidable opponents are excellent and each boss I encountered brought with it a new mechanic of its own for me to master. EOS, God of Unite, for example, forced me to multi-task and battle two targets at once, whilst Hyem of the frigid made me really conscious of my positioning as his frosty AoE had the potential to disable my dashes. With the majority of them having second more powerful phases, many of these bosses took me tens of attempts to complete, but I felt compelled to push on as the combat felt fair and failure was almost always down to me being too greedy.
Whilst you can purely just move from one boss encounter to the next, there are also quests that you can complete and collectibles that can be obtained that delve into the game's lore. As you move through the Eldest Souls' dreary backdrop, you'll find NPCs that you'll be able to assist in exchange for meaningful items that will help you on your adventure. One item that I received for completing a quest, for example, was the Feather of the Dawn, which rather usefully increases your speed when moving out of combat by up to 20%. I also liked that fast travel is available once you have visited an area, so you can always go back and grab any items you have missed.
What I will say though is that the game has a pretty steep spike in difficulty early on that really caught me off guard and this may work to deter some less patient players. The first two bosses I was able to breeze through relatively easily, but following this, the 'real game' began and the encounters became significantly more challenging. I also disliked how there wasn't the option here to pause the game given that it's completely offline. I get that this is to force players to beat a boss in one swoop, but it was frustrating to abandon progress when receiving a call, for example.
Moving back to the positives, there are three different branching skill trees here (Counter, Windslide, and Berserk Slash) and these all have as many as 25 different skills attributed to them. The Counter skill tree compliments those with precise timings, the Windslide skill tree enables players to land swift attacks from a distance and the Berserk Slash line is for the more aggressive player who's not afraid to get up close. What is great is that you can respec skills and move between skill trees at any time, so there is room for experimentation and a change of strategy if you find yourself continually falling to the same boss.
In addition to all of this, you also receive shards from defeating bosses and these can all give you different buffs and secondary effects when putting them in slots for charge attacks, bloodburst, and your dash ability. One shard, for example, increases your speed by 40% when performing one of these actions (it depends where you've allocated it) and another increases your health and stamina by 4% for three seconds when your health is under 50%. There is so much to toy around with here with the skill trees and boss shards, and it's exciting when stumbling upon different skill combinations that synchronise well.
Fallen Flag Studio's debut Eldest Souls is certainly not for the faint-hearted. The pixelated Souls-like focuses purely on intense and challenging boss fights, and it even feels like a bullet hell shooter at times with there being so much on-screen at times for you to focus on. Still, the action here feels punishing but fair, and I found myself always rushing to pick back up the controller after an agonisingly close encounter. If you find yourself easily frustrated by games then I'd say that Eldest Souls is perhaps not for you, but those seeking a fun and engaging new twist on the Souls-like formula should look no further.