One of the biggest roadblocks for anything inspired by something popular is understanding what made the original thing successful. Many games have copied both Destiny and Monster Hunter, though most have either failed for one reason or the other. Souldiers claims to be a retro Metroidvania with “crunchy souls like combat,” which has the potential to carve its own niche. However, given so many titles fail to understand what makes those titles successful, will it be another bomb or be a new entryway to the genre.
Souldiers starts with you and a group of heroes meeting a mysterious Valkyrie. She explains some things, basically, your party is going to die and she is there to guide you to the afterlife. After accepting her offer you end up in Terragaya, an area on the fringe of the afterlife, but there seems to be more to the story than she initially suggests.
Great Sense of Color and Design
The narrative itself is okay, it mostly relies on cryptic clues and unusual settings, with enough to eventually drive it forward. It also has towns, and a good number of side characters, and uses a few narrative choices as a joke that work out quite well. That is if you can get through it.
The reason why I wanted to focus on the Soulslike comment in the opening is that I am not really sure Souldiers understands what makes those games fun. While those games can be challenging, there is usually a wide array of solutions to practically any problem. Souldiers simplifies this and just makes things hard at every possible moment, making progression feel like a slog and unfortunately it happens at almost every turn.
In the initial area, there are wide expanses of dark areas with no light that rely on memory or some level of luck to not take any damage. Most jumping puzzles involve weird enemy rotations and something that exists just to be mean, like one of the first ones has enemies you can’t see the attack and requires a bunch of other areas that end with a completely unexpected trap that triggers on the last island. Later there are also enemies that throw bombs from places you can’t see, which also have fireballs that bounce toward you. Eventually, it gets to the point where every light feels like an enemy waiting to strike, everything teleports and there is so much esoteric logic that it is just unenjoyable.
Figure out the Rotation or Die
Part of what makes everything feel oppressive is how things are designed. I mostly used the Archer character and it got extremely tiring having a limited range for my attacks. Even if my arrow hit an enemy, after a certain point it would just miss, even something like a box would miss. This is all so you can unlock skills that eventually improve usability, which is good, though leveling is slow and not filled with many options. Not in the sense that there are only a couple of skills, I mean you can’t unlock the first skill until level like three and you have two options. Even around level 15 you only have the ability to pick like six total items and it’s less a choice as you either unlock things or save your perks until something eventually unlocks. Leveling also unlocks additional arrows, making encounters more manageable.
Enemies follow similar logic. There are a lot of moves that can only be blocked or dodged, with many really requiring weird rotations to avoid taking any damage. This sucks the first time, though learning a rotation can be fun, it’s when there is just too many unavoidable things that work against you. Like enemies that spawn other enemies, things appearing out of seemingly nowhere, unblockable attacks being performed off-screen, or places where there is simply no way to do the encounter without a couple of variables at once. Even the Souls games generally leave players to dictate the terms, with mistakes being punished with nearly unwinnable situations.
Things really go south when bosses are introduced for two reasons. The first is that these do not really fight in the traditional sense. While these fights rely on rotations and understanding boss moves, they’re really just an endless stream of attacks that need to be countered perfectly. As the fight continues, the rotation just gets more complicated. Either by summoning more adds, using random attacks, or making the moves so complicated you need to change everything to handle it correctly or you will die. The other is the number of options given.
With one dodge roll, with a couple of second cooldowns, these rotations are literally about knowing when and how to do it. Some are easy, like the spider boss slams the ground one way, though others have a timing where doing it early might not be bad, though any follow-up attack will result in some damage. It also discourages players to rely on that and instead of finding other ways to avoid things since it’s more of an ace in the hole than a defense mechanism.
This is really a shame because Souldiers is a fun game in concept. Shooting and navigating the different worlds is fun and some of the areas are really neat, especially once you master the defensive skills. Even if you have to play a lower difficulty to get the fun to a more manageable level, it’s just a shame that nothing ever feels like it relents. Instead, it’s a neat game that almost goes out of its way to make you hate it. And even if it gets easier with more upgrades and skills, it just adds more complicated mechanics, risks or pointless things to make for a thoroughly unenjoyable experience.
Souldiers Review Verdict
No matter how I feel about Souldiers, it has a lot of content, an incredible level of thought and effort that went into a wide variety of mechanics, and secrets, and all of these things are commendable. I am sure there will be some who love these elements, especially on a lower difficulty, it’s just a shame it feels like Souldiers goes out of its way to make everything a slog. Be it huge range between checkpoints, constant and repeated multiple enemy fights, or a general lack of options makes it feel hard for the sake of hard. Be it rooms that rely on cheap traps, lack of visibility, offscreen attacks, teleporting enemies, invisible platforms, or whatever another fun challenge they can come up with. For these reasons, I wouldn’t recommend Souldiers to anyone who isn’t looking for an experience that genuinely tests you.
[Editor’s Note: Souldiers was reviewed on PlayStation 5 and a copy was provided to us for review purposes.]