As an avid gamer and Souls veteran, the question I get asked most often by newcomers is: "Which Souls game should I start with?" It‘s a great question – the Souls series has a reputation for brutal, unforgiving difficulty that can be intimidating for new players. But with the right game and the right approach, anyone can get into and succeed at these masterfully crafted titles! In my opinion, the best way for Souls newcomers to get their feet wet is by trying some excellent (and free!) Souls-like games first.
What is a "Souls-like" Game?
In case you aren‘t familiar, let me quickly sum up what defines a Souls-like game. Souls-likes are known for:
- Demanding, precision-based melee combat
- Punishing difficulty and losing progress/currency on death
- Intricately interconnected maps with shortcuts
- Environmental storytelling and mysterious lore
- Enigmatic online multiplayer elements
These core tenants were pioneered by FromSoftware‘s seminal Souls series (Demon‘s Souls, Dark Souls 1-3, Bloodborne, etc). Numerous developers have tried to capture the same hardcore gameplay and obscure storytelling in their own "Souls-like" titles.
Should Beginners Start with Actual Souls Games?
As a Souls veteran with platinum trophies in every game, I don‘t recommend starting out with the premium Souls games from FromSoftware. Here‘s why:
- They are very expensive – $60+ for a new copy
- The difficulty curve is steep, especially at the start
- It‘s easy to hit roadblocks that sap motivation
- You may abandon it quickly and feel like you wasted money
Instead, aspiring Souls players should dip their toes into the genre using free or budget Souls-likes. This lets you experience the core gameplay and challenge without upfront investment.
According to data from HowLongToBeat, premium Souls games take on average 51 hours for a standard playthrough. That‘s a massive time investment for an untested genre! Budget Souls-likes let you gauge your interest in a few hours rather than 50+.
Best Free Souls-Like Games for Beginners
If you want to try before you buy, here are some fantastic free and cheap Souls-likes worth playing:
Cinder perfectly captures what makes Souls combat so tactile and intense. It distills the precision, timing, and unforgiving difficulty of Souls boss fights into a frenetic top-down action RPG. With its sparse atmospheric world and enigmatic storytelling, Cinder feels like a 2D version of Souls classics.
It‘s completely free on Steam, and you can beat it in under 10 hours – making it the ideal first step into Souls.
An Untitled Story
This free Metroidvania merges the interconnected worlds, dangerous enemies, and obscurity of Souls with platforming gameplay. It delivers a potent dose of Souls fundamentals like observation, pattern recognition, and persistence wrapped up in a foreboding, explorable 2D world.
I‘d recommend it as the follow-up to Cinder – even 10-15 hours with this game teaches critical skills for tackling premium Souls-likes. And again, it‘s 100% free on GameJolt.
Eldritch takes inspiration from the Souls playbook by blending occult Lovecraftian horror with challenging combat and roguelike permadeath. It captures the feeling of overcoming daunting challenges through patience and pattern recognition that defines the Souls experience.
Procedurally generated levels and permadeath mechanics give Eldritch tons of replayability. It routinely goes on sale for ~$3, making it cheaper than a cup of coffee!
Salt and Sanctuary
This phenomenal 2D action RPG is a hardcore Souls-like through and through. It translates Souls combat, brutal difficulty, obscure storytelling, and melancholy world into flawless sidescrolling gameplay. With over 600 weapons and deep character building, it offers incredible bang for buck.
Salt and Sanctuary replicates the full scope of Souls progression and content for under $20. It‘s the final stop before moving on to premium Souls titles.
Friend, if you‘re eager to see what the buzz around Souls games is about, I couldn‘t recommend starting with these budget and free Souls-likes enough. They deliver bonafide Souls experiences without the intimidating investment. Give Cinder and An Untitled Story a shot to grasp the genre‘s fundamentals, then try Eldritch and Salt & Sanctuary to experience the full spectrum Souls has to offer. Once you‘ve got those under your belt, you‘ll be hungry and prepared to conquer a premium Souls title – and see firsthand why these games inspire such passion in their fans. Let me know when you make the dive into true Souls! I‘m excited for you.