Just because a game is known for being difficult doesn’t mean it can’t also be relaxing. I’ve long used the Souls series to unwind and destress after a long day. Here, I wanted to look at 10 objectively difficult games that prove even the hardest titles can be relaxing.
10 Hard-as-Nails Games to Unwind and Destress to
10. Casual Matchmaking in Counter-Strike 2
First and foremost, turn voice chat off (unless you find the community’s toxicity and mic spam amusing). As frustrating as Counter-Strike 2 can be when everyone is trying their brains out, I’ve almost always had an absolute blast playing in the unranked playlist and going for wacky plays or generally being suboptimal. Sure, some of your teammates will get frustrated, but there’s nothing on the line, and they need to lighten up.
9. Late Game Monster Hunter
Monster Hunter is notorious for having a tough and grindy endgame, with many monsters capable of one or two-shotting you with ease. Master a particular monster fight, however, and everything changes. Grab your favorite weapon, load into a hunt, and turn your brain off, letting your muscle memory do all the work.
Hell, I’ve had like three other distracting audio and video streams going while I fought Master Rank monsters in both World and Rise, but because I knew the fights by heart, none of them took more than a few minutes, and I had a great time.
8. Devil May Cry 5
Come to think of it, this entry could very well be DMC3, 4, or 5. They’re all brain-blastingly difficult at greater difficulties, and they all come with a Virgil DLC. That’s doubly true on higher difficulties. Like Monster Hunter, though, if you have a boss’ patterns down, it’s almost therapeutic to style on them, try new combos, or just play DMC5 in a way you’re not as comfortable with. Knowing that if things go wrong, you can quickly default to what you know best makes this one perennially relaxing.
7. Escape from Tarkov
Yes, I know that there are almost no chill moments in Escape from Tarkov. But for me, every time I load into a Scav raid, I can let my guard down and just wander the map, looting as I see fit. I don’t really care too much if I die. Not only have I lost nothing, but maybe I was in a really good fight that I only lost because of gear disadvantage. Oh, well. Don’t sweat the smaller stuff, I say.
Special mention to all my friendly Scav brethren, out there to have a good time and lend a hand. “Do you need anything?” is a Scav anthem, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve said, “He’s nice. I like him,” aloud to no one.
6. Nioh 2
Nioh 2 is a lot like Devil May Cry. Once you have a solid understanding of the bosses and how to navigate the levels, you can basically turn your brain off and combo anything into oblivion. The big difference with Nioh is the gear system. With the right build — or one you just enjoy using — you can easily trivialize almost every fight in the game, even if you aren’t an absolute chad. Ask me how I know.
5. Unranked Street Fighter 6
Casual matchmaking in any historically difficult game is a great way to relax. But on top of that, you can play characters and use strategies you’d never even think about taking into ranked. Even losing to a perfect K.O. is only so frustrating when there’s nothing on the line unless, of course, you’re like me and flub every conceivable input. But this list is about games you’re good at. Ones you can use to relax. And fighting games can be the perfect salve after a long day.
4. Armored Core 6
Prepare for a pattern. Like I said in the intro, I’m the kind of weirdo who’s used the Souls games as a relaxation tool for more than 10 years. Armored Core 6 is at the “bottom” of my FromSoftware chill playlist because of its mission and gameplay structure. I find it difficult to truly turn my brain off and just enjoy the ride when missions are relatively short and action-packed. That said, bullying the prototype AC and rookie pilot remains one of the fastest and most amusing ways to play the game, and I can’t recommend it enough.
3. Demon’s Souls
Demon’s Souls is the first game in the Soulsborne series and the effective originator of the entire Souls-like genre. As such, it’s rough around the edges, boasts some of the least mechanically interesting bosses in the series, and is by far the most straightforward game in From’s more recent library.
However, the mechanics are unique even by the standards of more recent titles. Giant lard monster with a shining golden bird for a head? A tough boss that happens to be actually blind? Both Demon’s Souls exclusives. Oh, I should also mention: it’s probably the easiest Souls game of the bunch, provided you don’t die too much while you’re human.
2. Elden Ring
Elden Ring‘s greatest strength is its world. Discovering the seemingly endless Lands Between captivated me and the entire gaming world back in 2022. Thousands and thousands of players still brave its challenges today. Getting lost in Elden Ring, even the Limgrave starting area, remains a magical experience, and even if there are threats on all sides, simply exploring the world and its wonders always puts me at ease. Forget about the bosses for a moment and just ride Torrent north through Liurnia or the Altus Plateau.
1. Dark Souls
No game has ever caused me as much grief or brought me the same levels of joy as the original Dark Souls. Playing it now is like wrapping myself in a warm blanket in a blizzard — it always hits the spot. Originally, I spent almost 40 hours getting my teeth kicked in, screaming at my monitor that “That’s not how arrows work!” … alongside all sorts of other nonsense.
Now, though? I can beat Ornstein and Smough with one hand, parry Gwyn into oblivion, and make Artorias look like child’s play. While all the games on this list are great for relaxation if you know them well, for me, there’s no game better than Dark Souls.