Since the release of Demon’s Souls in 2009, FromSoftware’s Dark Souls, or Soulsborne, franchise has become one of the most popular and critically lauded in the world. The popularity of the games has even spawned its own subgenre of brutally difficulty RPG adventures defined by dodge rolling and imposing boss fights that require nothing short of perfect execution from the player.
As of this writing, most fans and critics agree there hasn’t really been a true flop in FromSoftware’s Dark Souls catalog yet. That makes it fairly challenging to rank the best Dark Souls game, and nearly impossible to do without ruffling some feathers among the passionate players. Nevertheless, there is a case to be made for some of the games being better than others, and maybe even a case that certain titles just straight up haven’t aged well.
7. Demon’s Souls
Demon’s Souls is the blueprint for everything FromSoftware has done with the Dark Souls games that followed. It feels like a compliment to the developer more than anything that the first game in the series falls at the bottom of the ranking. It illustrates how the developer has done little but improve and build upon this title, even with the PS5 remake doing a lot to improve the visuals and certain other aspects of the experience.
6. Dark Souls
If Demon’s Souls was the blueprint, Dark Souls was the game that changed everything. While this is the game that truly launched FromSoftware into an unprecedented level of recognition, it still feels like a bit of a prototype in retrospect. This game definitely sparked conversation among many gamers about the difference between difficulty and arbitrary frustrating features. The original Dark Souls has a little bit of both, and its follow-ups do a better job of giving players mostly just the legitimately difficult content without so many unearned deaths.
5. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
FromSoftware brought things home to Japan in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice to give players an experience that is a wonderful cross between the Soulsborne formula and mythical samurai fantasy. It stakes its claim with a number of unique mechanics only present in this game, like the ability to revive after death. The changes aren’t always perfect, but it would be nice to see FromSoftware revisit them in a potential Sekiro sequel if it isn’t interested in bringing those mechanics into the wider Dark Souls series.
4. Dark Souls 2
Dark Souls 2 doesn’t break the mold compared to what’s found in the original Dark Souls, but it does tighten up the ship while expanding in many appropriate areas. The variety of maps and various locations is a step in the right direction, ensuring no fatigue for players who have already become extremely familiar with the earlier titles. There was still a lot of work that came later and perfected the formula, but at least the player didn’t have to worry about their sword colliding with every wall in a small corridor in Dark Souls 2.
3. Dark Souls 3
The final entry in the Dark Souls trilogy feels like the most fitting send-off. It’s hard to say much about the quality of this game other than that it just gives fans of the genre everything they’re looking for. Brutal combat, bosses on a scale not previously seen in the earlier entries, and detailed levels as full of wonder as they are traps. The diversity of weapons and RPG elements in this game is a big part of what makes it that much more in-depth, and a stepping stone towards what came in Elden Ring looking back.
The Dark Souls series didn’t necessarily need a “horror” alternative. The series itself was already horrifying enough, with plenty of macabre, oftentimes disturbing interpretations of fantasy creatures to terrify the players while testing them. Bloodborne turns all of this up to another level and innovates on the core combat experience while it’s at it. There is no shortage of monsters lurking in the dark around Yharnam to make players downright afraid to wander down the wrong corridor.
1. Elden Ring
In some ways, it might feel like it’s too soon to say Elden Ring is the best Dark Souls game. At the same time, it’s hard to imagine reasons why it isn’t the best. FromSoftware takes a familiar formula and expands it into a world that is as expansive as it is detailed. There is seldom a moment in Elden Ring where the player will head in a direction and not feel like they are challenged and then subsequently rewarded for their efforts in some way.