Over the years, plenty of games have taken inspiration or pay homage to the Souls series, made famous by the incredible From Software studio. It is all well deserved, as the games in the series marry pure gameplay goodness with intricate storytelling, which is a combination that is almost impossible to find elsewhere. Of course, not everyone can reach such lofty standards, but based on our preview of the upcoming indie Boss-Rush title, Eldest Souls, developer Fallen Flag Studio is in a good place.
Launching in just a few weeks on 29 July, with the help of publisher United Label, it is clear that the game is wearing its heart on its sleeve. Even if its impressive 16-bit pixel aesthetic is not as realistic as its inspiration, Eldest Souls is chocked full of intense action and enthralling environmental storytelling. From the moment you step into the shoes of the lone Warrior, the world and everything in it smells of danger and the gravity of the task at hand.
This is a world devastated by the Old Gods following humanity’s rebellion after centuries of servitude. Not content with being imprisoned, these colossal calamities unleashed a great Desolation upon the world, and it is up to you to be the salvation mankind seeks. Armed with a greatsword of the purest Obsydian, the Old Gods await to test your skill and mettle.
Speaking to developers Jonathan Costantini and Francesco Barsotti, the passion emanating from them is quite evident as the duo count not just the Souls series as their favourites, but also the likes of Titan Souls and Furi. It makes perfect sense, then, to have Eldest Souls pay homage to these games and, at the same time, attempt to forge a path of its own.
Basics Make The Master
Similarly, players would be able to do the same as the Old Gods loom in the distance. However, instead of an overwhelming number of systems to understand and master, the game gives you the tools to succeed within your means. You can attack with your greatsword, avoid attacks by expending stamina to dodge or hold down the attack button for a charge attack.
It is the latter that is the most intriguing of the combat formula on display in Eldest Souls. By holding all the way, you unleash a powerful charge attack and gain a powerful buff in Bloodthirst. However, unlike the Souls games, you do not have a healing potion handy when faced with enemies in the game. Instead, the game rewards aggressiveness by giving you lifesteal when Bloodthirst is in effect.
Originally not included in the game, the developers eventually decided on this differentiating mechanic to give players more incentive to go on the offensive. After all, when you are down to a sliver of health and have nothing to lose, why not give yourself a fighting chance?
And if a specific boss is steeling their defences, you can break through with Bloodburst, a special attack that drains your charge immediately. Together with the management of your stamina, this becomes a delicate balancing act in the face of imminent danger.
Larger Than Life
Facing down the Watchdog, Guardian, and Azikel, the God of Light in the preview gave us a taste of the different types of challenges that will arrive in the full game. Battles can be straightforward affairs, challenging you to outlast the boss, or it can become very complicated in double-quick time, as bosses might have multiple phases, displaying different quirks and attacks to overwhelm you.
The learning curve is not exceedingly steep, but you need to pay attention to survive. Death is an inevitable part of the experience, but Fallen Flag Studio did not necessarily want players to be punished for dying.
You are not losing currency or progress when you perish; the only thing getting hurt is your pride. So, dust yourself off, enter the arena once more, and learn from your mistakes; such a pure gameplay formula is most certainly welcomed.
Tools of Destruction
That said, you are not going to be powerless in Eldest Souls but rather than worrying about stats or equipment, the ability sandbox takes the spotlight. It can be broken down into two key aspects that synergises, allowing players to customise just how they want to fight, Fighting Styles and the Skill Tree, as well as the Shards and Infusion system.
Defeating bosses will reward players with skill points; these can then be put into a particular fighting style – Windslide, Berserk Slash, and Counter. Choosing one will lock you out of the others, but you can always re-spec to explore the depth of other skills trees.
For the aggressor, the Berserk Slash will complement you with increased damage and more ways to bring the hurt. On the other hand, Windslide is all about mobility and controlling the arena, allowing players to run circles around bosses. Lastly, Counter is about patience and precise timing, negating damage while allowing you to retaliate.
With different upgrades on hand to improve your proficiency in your chosen playstyle, it remains to be seen just how well balanced the skills trees are in Eldest Souls.
As for the Shards and Infusion system, these relics are the fruits of your labours when it comes to vanquishing the Old Gods. Claim them by defeating the monstrosities, and you can elevate your abilities in multiple ways. For example, a Shard can be infused to provide an active ability, such as the Corrupted Grasp, or you can bolster your Dash, Charged Attack, Bloodburst Attack, or your chosen fighting style.
Every Shard offers unique abilities in the different slots, and with multiple Shards at play, you are looking at a staggering amount of variation. It is entirely up to the player to experiment and find what works best, yet another staple of this game genre.
A Fallen World
The ancient kingdom of ruins awaits in between the bosses, filled with dark and ominous mysteries that can be unravelled at your leisure. Of course, you could just waltz past NPCs and essential objects on the ground, but making an effort will always lead to valuable rewards. Fallen Flag Studio also teased branching quest lines, so your decisions will matter in the long run.
With the action and the worldbuilding seemingly in great shape, it is most helpful that Eldest Souls boasts some excellent enemy and world design. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the 16-bit pixels do pop out visually and, more importantly, lets you focus on the action without losing its aesthetic appeal. The sound design is also quite splendid, with each hit and attack providing the right oompf.
It won’t be long before Fallen Flag Studio unleashes Eldest Souls onto the unsuspecting Steam community so if you are a fan of the Souls games, or looking for a challenge that is enjoyable, easy on the eyes, and allows you to play how you want to play, then jumping on board the Eldest Souls ship this 29 July is a no brainer.
The time of the Old Gods are coming to an end, and it is going to be a wild run.