Sekiro Shadows Die Twice and the best Souls-like games

The birth of a new genre is always fun to watch. You see the initial game trying something new. A cult forms around the game crowing about untapped potential. Then, the follow-up delivers, setting the world on fire. Other developers pick up the torch, differentiating theming and mechanics until we have enough games to warrant a new category. In 2019, we’ve reached the tipping point with Soul-likes, a collection of brutal action RPGs where dodging a hit is just as important as getting one in yourself. With the release of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice generating hype, we thought it’d be the best time to survey the genre as it’s gone so far.

So, what does it take to be a Souls-like? Outside of the animation priority in combat, many of these games share a few signature mechanics. The “fireplace,” or the marker where you save your game in exchange for respawning every enemy in the area. The currency you collect from kills, originally called “Souls.” Running back to your corpse after you die in order to save your hard earned “souls.” The mysterious item descriptions that force players to experiment with every little trinket they discover along the way. Not every game has these, but they usually have at least a few ways of calling back to the originator of the genre.

There are some that cringe at the name “Souls-like”, saying it’s not a real genre. However, these are very distinctive games that each follow a rigid pattern. Sure, some mix it up here and there but denoting this style of combat as its own thing is most useful. You wouldn’t want someone who only plays Devil May Cry to stumble into Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. They’re just very different experiences for very different players. With Sekiro leading the charge for a whole new group of these games, I think “Souls-like” is here to stay.