Available Now on PC, PlayStation, Switch & Xbox (Xbox version tested)

It’s pretty much a given these days that any game with ‘Souls’ in the title is going to be an almost masochistic, brutal test of patience and skill.

Eldest Souls, a top down, pixel art, boss rush indie title with light RPG elements (don’t worry, it’s a much more straightforward and no-nonsense game than that description may suggest), is no different. It’s almost hilariously brutal. My first death in the game came at the hands of a log. Yes, you read that right: a log.

Not a sentient, devious, aggressive log. Just a rolling log. The game even gave me an achievement for being killed by it. Yay, a participation trophy! The developers, though clearly possessing a sadistic streak that reveals itself immediately in Eldest Souls, definitely have a sense of humour; there’s a few achievements here that trigger after failure, which does soften the blow somewhat (aside from the shame of being offed by a log – there’s no ridding yourself of that, achievement or otherwise).

The animated intro and accompanying voiceover set the scene for Eldest Souls, with a tale of the long-imprisoned Old Gods escaping from captivity and wreaking desolation upon the game’s world – and the player’s task, as a lone Crusader, is to slay them all.

It has an incredible atmosphere, with some very clever foreshadowing – the notes, weapons and mounts of former warriors litter your approach to your first battle –  and the soundtrack, which is ethereal and spooky during the game’s quieter moments, then all frantic strings and percussive beats during battles, does a fantastic job of setting the pulse-racing tone when you come face to face with the game’s terrifying bosses.

One of my proudest gaming achievements is beating the game’s first boss character without dying, though it still felt like a hard fought victory. Maybe, I thought, as the dust settled and I moved on, maybe this game wouldn’t be so brutal after all.

I am not ashamed to admit that I was wrong. That first boss? A walk in the park compared to the next one, though I can’t say I wasn’t warned by the characters I ran into on my journey to reach him.

One of the key components of a brutally difficult experience is the sense that, though progress may be slow due to the extreme challenge, the game must always seem fair. To its credit, Eldest Souls does fight fair, with plenty of audio and visual cues to help you dodge attacks and fight back when it’s safe to do so. You’re blessed with a charge attack, the successful deployment of which – when fully charged – allows you to steal the health of your enemies or break through their shields, for example. There’s also a skill tree, with different paths of progression to suit your play style (though none seemed to match my play style of ‘awkwardly and repeatedly dying’).

Patience, experience and skill will, however, see you through – it’s a difficult but definitely very rewarding game.

With nine bosses to overcome in the game’s world, I may be stuck in the compelling gameplay loop and drenched in the amazing atmosphere of Eldest Souls for some time. Though I am not ashamed to admit that I haven’t quite managed to make it to the end, the variety and inventiveness of the game’s bosses – both from a visual standpoint and from the point of view of their devastating attacks – is keeping me pushing on.

Tough? Yes. Fair? Also yes. Beautifully realised? Most definitely. If you’re not intimidated or put off by an unapologetically brutal, challenging series of fights against huge, inventively designed enemies, then Eldest Souls might just be for you.

Many thanks to White Bear PR for providing me with a copy of Eldest Souls for review purposes.

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