8 Non-Souls Games to Play Before Elden Ring

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Two huge genres clash in Elden Ring: Souls-likes and vast open worlds. You could play a lot of games to prepare for the mashup, but today we’re talking about (probably) five of the best.

Each title listed offers something we can expect from Elden Ring, either through systems, world, worldbuilding, story and lore, or player interaction.

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The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

  • Developer: Nintendo
  • Platform: Nintendo Switch

No list of open-world games is complete without Breath of the Wild, but its inclusion here serves two purposes.

The latest Zelda entry increases the difficulty and obscures the world’s lore in equal measure. Elden Ring won’t be as opaque as previous Souls games, nor might it be as difficult, but FromSoftware’s promised a huge amount of player choice nonetheless.

Both Breath of the Wild and Elden Ring are departures from norms established with previous series and related entries. No Zelda game save Wind Waker has been fully open world, and Wind Waker’s world is incredibly sparse even compared to Breath of the Wild

Like the Zelda games, most From Souls games flirt with being open world but always run right up to the line without crossing it to embrace total freedom. Elden Ring shakes off whatever chains remain, experimenting with the freedom a vast play space allows.

Horizon: Zero Dawn

  • Developer: Guerilla Games
  • Platforms: PC, PS4

Where Zelda offers a set of simple tools that offer infinite possibility, Horizon Zero Dawn is more systematically complex with fewer total options. Elden Ring, bound as it is by at least a few Souls conventions, looks to be of a similar stripe.

Even if some of the restraints are off, I doubt you’ll be catapulting yourself with a downed tree in Elden Ring. Playing Horizon will help familiarize you with complicated systems and a few optimal ways to use them.

For instance, the interplay between different weapons and how you use them to approach difficult enemies is central to both Horizon and Souls. There's rarely a one-size-fits-all approach, even if there are better strategies and setups.

There's also the need for optimal movement based on your knowledge of the machine you're fighting and how to best use your limited inventory in a fight.

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Hollow Knight

  • Developer: Team Cherry
  • Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch

Hollow Knight will teach you the value of exploration and lore-finding. Like Elden Ring, or indeed any of Miyazaki’s masterpieces, you won’t find all the answers to Hollownest’s mysteries in one playthrough. Your first go-around also won’t be as welcoming if you try to barrel through without seeking alternate routes and hidden treasures. 

The storytelling of Hollow Knight takes a few cues from the Souls series, too. As such, understanding the world of Elden Ring’s Lands Between will be easier if you’ve taken the time to decode this entry on our list even a little bit.

The process at least will be more familiar: finding a trail of breadcrumbs and seeing where it leads, guided by bits of lore here and an NPC's cryptic sayings there.

Monster Hunter Rise

  • Developer: Capcom
  • Platform: Nintendo Switch

Monster Hunter and games like Elden Ring share a few things, but here, we’re looking purely at weapon variety. Every weapon in Monster Hunter requires a unique playstyle, making them more like classes than mere pieces of gear.

Souls games don’t go that far, and Elden Ring likely won’t either, but if the Lands Between are as expansive as we’ve been promised, the volume of possible loadouts and builds is bound to be enormous. 

With so many options, there are sometimes difficult choices in how you approach encounters. A two-handed greatsword might deal incredible single-hit damage, but you’ll be vulnerable thanks to the slow attack speed. Small weapons can deal serious damage as well, but only if used in a specific combo.

Add in magic and what looks like a Weapon Art system in the trailer, and there are some serious decisions to make in Elden Ring. Monster Hunter will help you get acquainted.

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Death Stranding

  • Developer: Kojima Productions
  • Platform: PC, PS4, PS5

All we’re looking for here is moment-to-moment atmosphere. Combat, mechanics, storytelling, aesthetic — Elden Ring and Death Stranding don’t share much.

The apocalyptic, oppressive feeling, though? Pretty spot on. While our review of Death Stranding wasn’t particularly positive, playing it before Elden Ring will nevertheless give you an appreciation for what isolation feels like, as well as show you what a vast, broken world might be like to live in.

Kojima's latest also shares the tone of Miyazaki games. Both titles exude the feeling of true isolation in a world that's both long past its prime and filled with people and creatures that hate you. There's also the pervasive sense that your character is The Chosen One, whether they like it or not.

Guilty Gear Strive (Or Other Fighting Games)

  • Developer: Many (Example: Arc System Works)
  • Platform: Many (Example: PS4, PS5, PC) 

Elden Ring’s combat will never be as deep mechanically as a traditional, 1v1 fighting game Guilty Gear. Even so, playing any of that series — or any fighting game title — will nevertheless help you get ready for PvP in the Lands Between.

Souls combat takes more than a few ideas from fighters, from spacing to true combo to neutral, so you best familiarize yourself with them now. The main difference is, in a Guilty Gear or Street Fighter, your character is the toolset and the only deviation is in how you play them vs. how someone else does.

In a Souls-like RPG, your weapons and abilities are your "character" and the body you control is a vector to experience the world through them.

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Nier Automata

  • Developer: Platinum Games 
  • Platform: PS4, Xbox One, PC

One of Elden Ring's most defining traits is bound to be its inscrutable narrative. Though the world comes from George R.R. Martin's mind, from what we've seen, it will take hours and hours to fully unpack the mysteries of the Lands Between.

The Nier games aren't quite so opaque, but they are tremendously weird and filled with symbolism and strangeness that gives even the densest Souls-likes a run for their money.

The combat in Automata is a pared-down variant on Platinum's normal fare, so the gameplay is closer to Elden Ring as well. It wouldn't surprise me if there were unexpected sentiences in the Lands Between too, though whether they'll sing "This cannot continue" together is anyone's guess.

Honorable Mention(s): Any of the Pixel Souls-likes

  • Developer: Many (Example: Motion Twin, The Game Kitchen, Live Wire)
  • Platform: Many (Example: PS4, PS5, PC, Switch) 

Ok, so we're going to cheat a little here and include some Souls-likes you may not have heard of to try as well. Here's a quick list of pixel art games that draw at least some (usually a lot) of their inspiration from the Souls games:

  1. Dead Cells (pictured)
  2. Skul: The Hero Slayer
  3. Ender Lillies
  4. Salt and Sanctuary
  5. Blasphemous
  6. Curse of the Dead Gods
  7. Titan Souls
  8. Eldest Souls

The list goes on. Many such titles do have their own charms and twists on the genre but pare them down to their core, and the Souls influence is almost palpable.

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There are no doubt many, many viable games I've not included on this list. This collection is based on games I've played personally and that act as a fair point of comparison. Let us know which games you'd add here while we wait impatiently for Elden Ring.

Published Jul. 6th 2021

Contributor

John Schutt has been playing games for almost 25 years, starting with Super Mario 64 and progressing to every genre under the sun. He spent almost 4 years writing for strategy and satire site TopTierTactics under the moniker Xiant, and somehow managed to find time to get an MFA in Creative Writing in between all the gaming. His specialty is action games, but his first love will always be the RPG. Oh, and his avatar is, was, and will always be a squirrel, a trend he's carried as long as he's had a Steam account, and for some time before that.

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