Eldest Souls Review: What A Rush
Developed by Italian indie outfit Fallen Flag Studio, Eldest Souls is a brutal boss-rush soulslike with an outstanding 16-bit aesthetic. The game artfully combines Dark Souls‘ oppressive atmosphere and style of worldbuilding with Furi‘s focus on epic duels. With frenetic combat, challenging creatures to topple, and a highly customizable skill tree to master, it’s a title that promises the test the mettle of even veteran fans of the Soulslike genre. However, if you’re brave enough to take up your sword and master its unforgiving mechanics, you’ll find an unforgettable journey awaits you.
Eldest Souls‘ premise is simple enough. Players assume the role of a lone knight tasked with venturing into a place known as the Citadel and slaying the Old Gods who’ve left the world in ruins. Armed with nothing more than your wits and a massive obsidian sword, you’ll traverse crumbling corridors, verdant fields, and icy peaks as you track down and eliminate ten brutally difficult bosses and claim their crystalized souls to enhance your powers.
Calling Eldest Souls streamlined would be an understatement. Apart from poking around to learn more of the world’s lore, there’s little to distract you from your task. There are no cannon fodder baddies to worry about here. Occasionally, you’ll cross paths with the odd NPC looking for a particular MacGuffin that they’ll exchange for a valuable trinket. But for the most part, you’re going to be spending your time battling the game’s bosses over and over again until you get a feel for their unique attack patterns.
These encounters are nothing short of exhilerating. You’ll cross swords with a motley crew of horrors, including a ferocious frosty fiend, tentacle-wielding sentry, and even a rampaging deerlike deity throughout the game’s roughly 10-hour campaign. And even the least demanding of the bunch is bound to put your skills to the test.
Thankfully, Eldest Souls gives players plenty of freedom to explore the land. You can essentially choose which order you want to tackle many of the game’s bosses in, a bit like the Mega Man titles of old. And, once you slay a boss, it’ll drop its crystalized soul in the form of a Shard. Shards are used to augment your abilities in numerous ways. And doing so is often the key to giving you an edge against a particular foe.
Fight Or Flight
On the surface, Eldest Souls‘ combat seems a little sparse. However, as you progress through the game and unlock new abilities and Shards, things really start to open up.
There are only two basic attacks at your disposal. Tapping the attack button will perform a light slash with your sword, which, as you’d expect, is fast but does minimal damage. Hold the button down, however, and you’ll dash toward your opponent and execute a heavy attack.
This is where things get interesting, and Eldest Souls‘ combat starts to become a bit more involved. When a heavy attack connects with your opponent, it’ll activate your Bloodthirst buff. When Bloodthirst is triggered, you’ll attack faster and deal more damage with every slash until the Bloodthirst meter is depleted. Additionally, you can execute a powerful Bloodburst move to unload a nice chunk of damage. Though keep in mind this comes at the cost of your entire Bloodthirst stock.
Not only is Bloodthirst the key to dishing out the most punishment in Eldest Souls, but it’s also your only way to go about replenishing your life meter. There are no healing items to speak of in the game. Instead, the damage you dish out when in Bloodthirst mode allows you to siphon health points from the enemy with every attack you unleash. This risk versus reward system makes the battles even more engaging, as a smart offense quickly becomes the best defense, forcing you to carefully consider when best to attack your opponents so that you can eke out some extra health and stay in the fight. Which, as you can imagine, is often easier said than done in Eldest Souls.
The Road To Deicide
As you topple the Old Gods, you’ll earn skill points to unlock passive and active abilities to help give you a fighting chance. There are three different fighting styles to master. For example, Windslide is all about mobility, allowing you to deftly stick and move and outmaneuver your opponents. However, if you’d rather rush in swinging, Berserk Slash is a more aggressive style that sacrifices speed in exchange for raw DPS-dealing damage. Lastly, the Counter fighting style is the most technical of the three, requiring patience and careful timing to punish your adversaries.
Each fighting style has its own skill tree, each with two paths of progression to suit your preferred style of play. Additionally, you can infuse your abilities with the Shards collected from fallen Gods. Doing so will grant you a variety of helpful buffs. Better yet, you can mix and match multiple Shards at once to create surprising effects.
Shards don’t just imbue your abilities with bonuses, either. They also can be infused with your Bloodburst, Charge Attacks, and Dash abilities to give them unique buffs, such as increasing your dodge speed, amplifying the damage you deal from certain attacks, or increasing the amount of health you’re given when Bloodthirst is activated.
I really appreciated the way Eldest Souls encourages experimentation on the part of the player. Hell, you don’t even have to worry about where you spend your skill points; the game even allows you to completely re-spec your character’s skill trees at any time!
Taking In The Sprites And Sounds
The presentation in Eldest Souls is all top-notch stuff. The game features a stunning, retro-inspired art style that any child of the 90s should appreciate. The backgrounds are vibrant and lushly detailed, with plenty of visual variety. However, it’s the sprites for the Old Gods that steal the show here. They look superb and feature plenty of breathtaking animations that really bring them to life. Sadly, the same can’t be said about your scrappy little knight, whose sword-swinging animations look floaty and weightless. Still, that’s one small misstep in what’s otherwise a gorgeous game.
The soundtrack also impresses. While the barren corridors of the Citadel are largely silent, save for ambient sounds and the wistful harp melodies from a bard you’ll occasionally come across, the battle themes are bound to get your adrenaline pumping. I loved the way these intense anthems would change dynamically based on how close a God is to death, further ratcheting up their intensity during a fight’s final moments.
The Fight Of Your Life
Developer Fallen Flag Studio describes Eldest Souls as challenging but fair. And for the most part, I’d absolutely agree with them. The game’s boss battles aren’t for the faint of heart. Chances are, you’re probably going to die more than a hundred times before you manage to defeat the first handful of enemies and claim their Shards. But that’s what boss rush games are all about: overcoming seemingly insurmountable foes and savoring victory before the next bout. It’s like the best parts of a Dark Souls game distilled into one pint-sized, pixelated package.
That’s not to say the game is perfect. Again, while Eldest Souls is mostly fair, there were a few areas where my fun eventually turned into frustration. The most egregious of these issues is the occasional slowdown which can rear its head. Let me be clear: above all else, Eldest Souls is a game that demands pinpoint precision and perfect timing. Unfortunately, I found the game’s performance would dip pretty wildly as particle effects and massive sprites filled the screen, which could make my inputs feel noticeably delayed and imprecise, quickly turning an otherwise solid attempt at bringing down a boss into what felt like a messy, unfair demise.
The best Souslike games often leave you asking what you should do differently to adapt to a particular fight. Instead, I found Eldest Souls would sometimes leaving asking, “what else could I have done?” This is mainly due to the game’s dash mechanic, which has a cooldown. As a result, I’d sometimes find myself forced to dodge 3 consecutive attacks that literally require you to use your dash’s invincibility frame to pass through them. This would leave me unable to escape a screen-filling follow-up attack that would essentially leave me defenseless. Are these game-breaking issues? I don’t think so. At the end of the day, they weren’t enough to keep me from dusting myself off and coming back for more. But I’d be lying if I said they didn’t help me discover a few dozen new and exciting curse words along the way.
Eldest Souls Is A Brutal Boss-Rush Soulslike That Demands Your Attention
Despite the occasional moments of frustration the game provided, Eldest Souls is an experience no fan of the Soulslike genre will want to miss. From its unforgettable boss battles to its deceptively deep and engaging progression system, it’s the kind of game that will get its hooks deep into you and keep you coming back for more. While the game only features ten boss fights, it’ll easily take players about a dozen hours to make their way through the story. And those who do make their way to the end credits will unlock a New Game + mode, which dials up the already considerable challenge even further.
If you’re eager for a challenging boss-rush with a killer aesthetic, look no further. Fallen Flag Studio’s latest offering will swallow your soul.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: PS5 (reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Switch, PC; Publisher: United Label, CI Games; Developer: Fallen Flag Studio; Players: 1; Released: July 29, 2021; MSRP $19.99
Editor’s note: This review is based on a retail copy of Eldest Souls provided by the publisher.