Xbox One, PS4, PC, Nintendo Switch, PS5, Xbox Series X
July 29, 2021
CI Games, United Label Games
Fallen Flag Studio
Eldest Souls is a retro-inspired boss-rush game that takes no prisoners and holds no hands. You are on your own the entire journey. 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, and in a final act of vengeance, the Old Gods have unleashed a great Desolation upon the world. Mankind is fading, with but a glimmer of hope remaining. Heavy is the burden that lies on one lone Warrior. Armed with a greatsword… of the purest Obsydian.
Eldest Souls is developed by newcomer Fallen Flag Studio, being their first commercial title to date. Whilst it does certainly have its charm and provides a difficult experience for the masochists out there, some other issues persist that dull the otherwise terrific short experience.
The graphics are clearly retro-inspired, utilising some fantastic choices that make it look like a beefed-up SNES game. But make no mistake, this is not a family-friendly title. The action, the blood, and the overall creepy atmosphere make this a mature release, but it is the utter frustration you will endure that makes this not for the faint of heart.
There is no getting around it, Eldest Souls is a bloody difficult game, and despite its name, it is not as much of a souls-like as one might expect. The challenge comes not from facing a multitude of less powerful enemies to slowly progress, but from encountering a smaller amount of difficult and drawn out battles with bosses that will test your resolve and patience. Essentially a boss-rush game, your enemies come in the form of difficult and unique bosses, all with their own range of attacks and tactics. This is a game that asks for, nay, requires patience, as running headfirst into any encounter will leave you DOA.
Every enemy I encountered had me gripping my controller tightly as I knew I was bound to fail at least a couple of times. I often felt frustrated as I would die over and over again, but luckily you can pretty easily just resume from the start of the boss encounter and try as many times as needed, hopefully improving each time to eventually down your enemy. There is no soft start to this game. After a very brief intro spent walking along a bridge with a couple of hints along the way, you are thrown right into your first brutal encounter. Even just the second boss I fought gave me an incredibly hard time as I dwindled his life bar down thinking I was finally going to best this foe, but halfway through he transformed from a giant knight into a demon that required me to change my approach and learn the new attack patterns.
“Every enemy I encountered had me gripping my controller tightly as I knew I was bound to fail at least a couple of times“
Eldest Souls does have a few tricks up its sleeve though, namely the charge attack. As you would expect you have access to a standard attack, a dodge, and a charged attack. The unique aspect of the charge attack is that successfully pulling one off will fill your ‘blood thirst’ meter, allowing you to gain health back with every hit for a very short amount of time. There is a tradeoff though, as you can either choose to deal rapid attacks and gain some life back or choose to perform a heavy attack that deals more damage and can break down an enemy’s guard, but instantly depletes your meter. The charge attack has no usage limit, so you can use it again and again which sounds like a game-breaking mechanic in theory, but in practice, it is not.
The bosses in Eldest Souls are no slouches, they cannot simply be picked off in a minute allowing you to continue your journey. Each encounter is brutal and difficult, ensuring that you take your time, study the attack patterns, and strike only when able to do so as a hit from any boss can deal massive damage, and in some instances even result in instant death. Luckily the controls are pretty tight and responsive, so any error in dodging or timing an attack is on the player’s end, not the game’s.
Whilst the encounters themselves are difficult, there is a lack of any permanent loss to further escalate the challenge. As previously mentioned, if you die during a fight you can simply respawn at the beginning of the battle and there are no collectables or experience to lose when doing so. Each boss you down will grant you one skill point to use in 3 different skill trees, along with a unique shard to slot into your limited storage, each offering a unique buff/attack. You are also able to simply reallocate spent points to any tree you want, whenever you want.
This does mean you can adapt your style on the fly to suit different encounters, with the skills on offer presenting 3 different ways to battle your foes. One provides a boost to your defence and counter abilities, and the other two are variations of a supportive attack and damage buff that requires you to fill bars with each attack before you can utilise them.
Unfortunately, outside of the encounters, there is little exploration to be had in Eldest Souls. Moving from one encounter to the other does take you across various locales which are beautiful to look at, but there is very little to do in these areas apart from reading a few codex pages, none of which I found too interesting. The gorgeous graphics and detailed design make up for this shortfall though, as the environments and characters themselves are stunning, but I did feel that some of the NPCs you encounter in the wild offered very little in the way of lore or meaningful exchange. The world feels empty, which is probably the point due to the devastation humanity faced in the intro, but it doesn’t change the fact that outside of battles there is very little for you to do.
The standout for me though is the downright gorgeous art style, with each locale and boss having their own unique look, which had me looking forward to finishing my current battle to see what other monstrosity would be waiting around the corner. Couple the art style with the music in Eldest Souls and you have an awesome blend of visual and audio delights dripping with atmosphere. The soundtrack utilises some epic orchestral tunes that thud and boom during encounters to elevate the mood, encouraging you to push on and fight harder and smarter as you feel like the last hero that the world is relying on to save the day. Even the sound effects are punchy, with every hit landed on the daunting enemies providing a satisfying audio response.
Eldest Souls is on the short side, clocking in at around 6 hours or so depending on how fast you get through each encounter, with replayability being fairly limited unless you are an achievement hound that needs to complete every last one with replays.
- Gorgeous retro inspired art style
- Epic orchestral music
- Challenging, yet satisfying combat
- Some encounters are extremely difficult
- Lack of any real story or interactions with NPCs
- Short game with little reason to replay
I had a great, albeit frustrating time with Eldest Souls and thoroughly enjoyed the short experience. It is a brutally difficult game, but the music, art style, and overall challenge had me coming back for “one last try” each and every time. I will say that if you are not a fan of boss-rush or challenging games, then this will not change that. But if you are after a title with an old-school appeal that does not hold you by the hand and presents a truly captivating time, then I think you will find a lot to enjoy here.