A final act of vengeance
Following centuries of servitude, Man finally rebelled against the Old Gods. Imprisoning these colossal calamities within the sacred walls of the citadel. But…an evil stirred within. In a final act of vengeance, the Old Gods have unleashed a great Desolation upon the world. Mankind is fading, but with a glimmer of hope remaining. Heavy is the burden that lies on the one lone warrior. Armed with a greatsword of the purest obsidian.
If we grew a whisker for every game that comes out with the word “Souls” in its title, we would all be looking like Gandalf by now, which would be quite an amusing look for IllustratedJill. All joking aside, the “Souls” formula has become one of the most iconic subgenres in gaming and whether you like it or hate it, it appears to be here to stay. This brings us to the latest offering from developer Fallen Flag, Eldest Souls, but how does this latest edition to the extended family hold up? Let’s take a look.
Fear the Old Gods
Eldest Souls places you in the role of a lone warrior who must venture through a ruined citadel where a host of “Old Gods” dwell. These gods have thrown the world into chaos and humanity stands upon the brink of extinction, only by slaying these gods can you hope to rid the world of corruption and save humanity. As a set-up for a dark fantasy inspired world goes, it’s pretty good though nothing groundbreaking, but the story that is on hand is delivered well throughout a mixture of notes and NPC’s that can be found throughout your journey and a dose of well-constructed cutscenes. Fans of lore will no doubt want to delve deeply into this element of Eldest Souls as there are some great notes to this tale despite its cliché set-up. I always find it impressive, no matter how many fantasy titles I play, how some skilled writers can shake up even the most tried and tested concepts and make it feel engaging.
Whether you care for the narrative and backstory of events or are just here for the glory, fear not, for there is plenty of combat to keep everyone busy. Eldest Souls is a boss rush experience meaning there will be no skirmishes with minions to keep you warm between battles, just a constant flow of big ugly bastard followed by another big ugly bastard as you work your way through the citadel slaying them one by one. Each boss is pleasingly unique in both appearance and combat abilities though they will follow the age-old formula of having a handful of attacks patterns to learn before morphing into a second form once their health has depleted by fifty per cent before tap dancing all over your skull, but hey, we knew what we signed up for when we took the job… or, downloaded the game.
A Slice of Life
Combat is the beating heart of the experience and as such, needed to be well-conceived which thankfully, it is. Though you only have one primary weapon in the form of a ruddy great sword that would make Dante blush, this hulking blade carries some weight with it but pleasingly the timing of the swings feels good and not over cumbersome. Aside from basic attacks and dodges, the best tool at your disposal will be the charge attack whose use will be determined by a stamina gauge. Upon successful strikes, with the charge attack, you will activate “Blood Thirst” which enhances movement and attack speed while applying more damage to your hits. It also pulls a trick from Bloodborne’s playbook by allowing you to regain health with every strike. This is essentially the core way of healing within Eldest Souls and I enjoyed the way it pushed you to go on the offensive just as Bloodborne inspired you to be more aggressive.
Having this ability tied to the stamina bar may at first seem annoying but it is integral to balancing the boss fights, were you able to activate Blood Thirst constantly there would be little to no challenge on hand but the balanced dance of avoiding enemy moves, waiting for the opportune moment to strike and getting some good damage in during openings provides each fight with a steady rhythm but by no means makes them a walk in the park. These gods are formidable and will take you down swiftly if you get caught in their grasp. Eldest Souls also provides a pretty robust upgrade tree that allows you to enhance your combat style and preferences along the way. Each defeated god will drop a shard that can be placed strategically in your loadout to add buffs, experimenting with the different options available will help you find your groove as you progress deeper into the citadel. This does carry the small caveat of the game not feeling like it reaches its potential until around the halfway mark but does inspire the use of the new game plus feature to get the most out of upgrades and abilities.
Pretty as a Pixel
The presentation of Eldest Souls is one we have become all too familiar with from the indie circuit but that is not to say it isn’t a treat for the eyes. The pixel art graphics look absolutely stunning on Nintendo Switch whether playing in handheld mode or on the big screen. The world design itself is one of beauty that takes you from dark despair filled caverns to lush heavenly locations that make you feel guilty for spilling blood on such a nice day. The detail on hand is impressive and what is even more impressive is how clear the enemy animations are. Given this formula relies on being able to read enemy tells in order to not get strawberry jammed every ten seconds, each attack looks distinctive and allows for familiarity to be learned with each god. The music score is a suitable mix of foreboding and elegant tracks that bring the environments and battles to life. I encountered no performance issues during my time with Eldest Souls, the controls are simplistic and responsive as they need to be and although loading screens linger a little longer than I’d like they were not obstructive.
I have a love-hate relationship with the Souls formula, when it is done well, it is awesome but with the formula being used so frequently almost to its detriment over the years the good experiences have been far and few between. Eldest Souls started off feeling like it would just be another clone but soon developed into something of its own. Great graphics, well-constructed gameplay with replay value in mind this title will both frustrate and satisfy in good measure yet will not fail to provide a great experience as long as you manage your expectations at the door.
Review code provided
Platform: PC, Nintendo, PlayStation, Xbox
Release Date: 29/07/2021
No. of Players: 1
Category: Adventure, Action, RPG
Developer: Fallen Flag Studio
Publisher: CI Games
Download link: US eShop / UK eShop