September marks the 10th anniversary of Dark Souls's original release in Japan, and it's hard to overstate its impact on the overall world of gaming. It's arguably the most influential game of the last decade. Game developers haven't been shy about taking ideas and inspiration from the iconic action-RPG—it even created its own subgenre.
In Dark Souls, experience points and currency are unified in a single eponymous resource, Souls. When you die, you leave behind a "bloodstain" at the location of your grisly demise that contains all of your Souls. If you die again, all your Souls are gone forever, which can be pretty rough when you just killed a hulking boss.
This idea of a "corpse run" has become popular across several different video game genres, from Metroidvania-style RPGs like Blasphemous to platformers like Shovel Knight. The constant threat of losing all or a large portion of your hard-earned resources gives these games serious tension, even as you close in on the ending credits.
Detailed lore and backstory have always existed in video game RPGs like Morrowind, but it was Dark Souls that really popularized discussions of "lore" among fans. Many aspects of the game's story are left purposefully vague or open to interpretation. A large portion of players will finish the game without (*spoiler warning*) realizing that the goddess Gwynevere is actually just an illusion, or learning the "truth" about the Chosen Undead from Kingseeker Frampt.
Enigmatic lines like "the flow of time itself is convoluted" prompt fan discussions on Souls forums even today. Adventure games like the critically-acclaimed Outer Wilds are essentially an exploration of lore and world-building extended to the length of a full title, and Dark Souls helped pave the way for that.
Dark Souls was not the first game to allow players to invade each other's worlds in order to do battle, but it's certainly one of the most notable. So-called "invasions" — or nonconsensual PvP — is still relatively rare in the world of games, but the Souls series introduced many players to the concept.
he recent hit FPS Deathloop features invasion-style PvP, where other players can swap places with one of your "Visionary" targets and try their best to ruin your day.
While many other RPGs feature missable content and context-specific quests, Dark Souls dials it up to the next level. Non-player characters will move without warning and even go Hollow as you progress through the game, leaving you bereft of their quests and items. These characters are also easily killable by the player — if you make the mistake of slaying Andre the Blacksmith, you might have to start all the way over.
More than any of these individual elements, the entire blueprint of Dark Souls and its sequels has become a distinct subgenre in itself. Much like The Legend of Zelda before it, these Soulslike games come in many flavors and fashions — from 2D sidescrollers like Salt & Sanctuary to outright spinoffs like the shooter Remnant: From the Ashes.
📷: Salt & Sanctuary
These games all bring their own individual twists on the formula to the table, but most of them still feature their own equivalents of estus flasks, bonfires, and even specific boss concepts like Ornstein and Smough. The Souls games might be endlessly replayable on their own, but there are so many Soulslike games at this point that you'll never have to go long without a tough challenge to overcome.