Welcome! This column is part of a regular series in which we share what members of the Tom’s Guide staff are playing and enjoying right now, with an eye towards helping you find great games that you may have missed. Be sure to check out our recent entry, where we talk about The Last of Us Part II.
Earlier this year, like many gamers, I became utterly obsessed with Elden Ring. I spent a glorious month playing literally nothing else, savoring every hard-fought victory and being spurred on by every agonizing defeat.
In the past Souls games have typically failed to grab me and I’ve usually bounced off after just a few hours, but Elden Ring was different. It hooked me pretty much from the start. And after some particularly testing boss battles — the strong words I have for the Fire Giant cannot be printed here -— I did it. I conquered Elden Ring and my Tarnished dutifully took his place as a newly crowned Elden Lord with honor. As the credits rolled, I almost wanted to give the game a standing ovation.
The problem is that in the wake of dozens upon dozens of hours spent exploring the Lands Between, no other game could match up. I replayed God of War (2018), and while I enjoyed revisiting Kratos and Aretus it didn’t quite scratch the itch. Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands lost my interest after just a few hours of play, and a return to Grand Theft Auto IV was abandoned before I’d even unlocked the second island on the map.
I have been slowly chipping away at LEGO Harry Potter on the Nintendo Switch, but it’s really just a time filler until Hogwart’s Legacy finally arrives. So, three months after beating Elden Ring, there was no denying that I was in a bit of a gaming funk. I was genuinely struggling to find something to properly engage me again.
Faced with the practically impossible task of finding something that could stack up against a game that is already being touted as one of the best games ever made, I looked to the past and I decided to give Demon’s Souls on PS5 a shot.
After all, Demon’s Souls is essentially a precursor to Elden Ring. The original game was made by the same developer, FromSoftware, before being remade for Sony’s next-gen console by Bluepoint Games in 2020. And I’m pleased to report that Demon’s Souls has obliterated my gaming funk with all the force of a massive sword swing from its iconic Tower Knight boss.
Demon’s Souls shares plenty of DNA with Elden Ring
Jumping from Elden Ring into Demon’s Souls makes for a fairly smooth transition because structurally, these games are extremely similar. They’re both action RPGs that demand a lot from the player, not to mention both are filled with cryptic mechanics and gameplay systems that aren’t always fully explained — I’m still not entirely convinced I understand what World Tendency actually is.
Much like Elden Ring, Demon’s Souls has grabbed me because overcoming the many obstacles it places in your path is immensely satisfying. The game’s most famous boss, Tower Knight, cleaned my clock for the best part of 45 minutes, but when I finally downed the gigantic foe I was literally fisting pumping around my living room. That’s the power of a Souls game in a nutshell.
Even though Demon’s Souls is technically the very first Souls game, originally released in February 2009 for the PS3, I was thrilled to discover it offers one of my favorite aspects of Elden Ring: flexibility in how you progress through the world.
Now granted Elden Ring is set in a gigantic open world whereas Demon’s Souls is made up of five self-contained levels (which are themselves split into more manageable chunks). But you are given the flexibility to tackle these levels in any order you wish after completing a short introductory sequence.
Like all Souls games, Demon’s Souls can be extremely punishing but because you can jump between levels as your desire it never becomes overly frustrating. For example, one of the game’s infamously difficult levels, the Prison of Hope, was giving me grief early on, so I jumped over to a different section, scored some new items and XP, and was able to return to try again much stronger — and this time I emerged victorious.
I’ve also been highly impressed with the collection of demons I’ve battled against in my 10 hours of play so far. The aforementioned Tower Knight is a boss battle that will stick with me for a long time purely because of its intimating scale, but I equally enjoyed the Fool’s Idol battle for forcing me to switch up my approach and think more strategically.
Even if Demon’s Souls feels a little smaller in scope when compared to the vast openness of Elden Ring, it’s hard to see somebody liking one but not the other. And Demon’s Souls also serves as a brilliant showcase for the power of the PS5. The game runs at a consistently smooth 60 fps and looks downright jawing dropping in just about every single area. The lightning-quick load times are also a Godsend, especially after enduring Elden Ring’s comparatively length loads on Xbox Series X.
Demon’s Souls does show its age
While Bluepoint games have done a truly phenomenal job making Demon’s Souls look like a modern release — it actually looks and runs even better than Elden Ring — the developer decided against tweaking the core gameplay or overall structure. This means it still plays as it did back in 2009.
This move likely delighted purists and is pretty understandable, after all, Bluepoint was not the original developer so may have felt it wasn’t their place to make sweeping changes. But Demon’s Souls on PS5 being such a faithful remake means that in some areas the game feels like a step back compared to the Souls titles that followed.
The lack of mid-level bonfires, essentially checkpoints in the Dark Souls series, leads to frustrating moments where you have to trek back through almost an entire level upon death. But it’s the way the game handles healing items that has caused me the most irritation. Instead of a flask that replenishes upon death as in Dark Souls/Elden Ring, in Demon’s Souls health is recovered via grass, a consumable item.
This means that if you get stuck on a tough section you can quickly use up your entire stock of healing grass. Your choices then are to either solider on with the odds tipped even further against you, or pause what you’re doing and go grind early game enemies to refill your inventory. Grinding for items by killing the same basic enemies dozens of times is rarely, if ever, fun.
But even if Demon’s Souls is lacking some of the streamlined improvements that would follow in the likes of Dark Souls, Bloodborne and Elden Ring, the core of the game is still that intoxicating mix of unabashedly difficult but highly rewarding gameplay that makes the Souls series so beloved. If I find myself struggling for something to play after conquering Demon’s Souls, I definitely know which series I’ll turn to reignite that spark.