A Magic-Based Soulslike Is What This Hellish Genre Is Missing

Souls games focus a lot on melee combat, but I think it's time we got one that's all about spells.

Story Highlights

  • Magic has always felt secondary to pure melee combat in Souls titles.
  • But now, there are rumors of a potential magic-based Soulslike by FromSoftware in the works.
  • This is mostly speculation, but it’s fun to think about what a magic-based Souls game could look like.

Souls games are known for their amazing melee combat. Fighting an enemy is like a perfect to-and-fro, where you get an attack in, and move out of the way to dodge an incoming one. Magic builds, while still having the same groundwork, have always felt like the black sheep of these games to me. They break away from the usual rhythm of the Souls genre, and in a lot of ways feel either completely terrible or downright broken.

I feel part of the reason why is that magic always feels a tad foreign in Souls games. The crux of the series has always been its iconic melee combat. It’s why you’ve got so many other Soulslikes replicating it over the years. It’s the bread and butter. But think magic and incantations have their own place in these titles, and deserve to get a spotlight every now and again.

Earlier last year, there were rumors that FromSoftware’s next title might be a magic-based Soulslike. While this is mostly still speculation, I think this would be a wonderful time for the studio to overhaul some of its magic systems. And truly make a Soulslike that takes magic seriously, and turns it into a viable option that gels well with the overall gameplay. Here’s how I think that can be done.

Magic That’s More Accessible

When you get into the thick of things, Elden Ring has a ton of variety in terms of magic. Even just when it comes to flame-based spells and incantations, the game divides things largely in terms of the visuals and lore. But most of the abilities can still broadly be categorized into spells and incantations, which require Intelligence and Faith respectively.

Comet Azur in Elden Ring.
Comet Azur in Elden Ring.

Additionally, many of the spells, despite the cool lore and visuals, become available much later. While some decent options are there early on, the best of the bunch don’t really become available until much later in the game. And by that point, you can use these spells to mow down anything in your path because of how they strong are. Stuff like Comet Azur can trivialize many of the encounters in the game, instead of keeping them fun but also engaging.

I think a Magic-based Soulslike definitely needs to find a good balance between this. Giving players the best abilities right off the bat isn’t the best option. But then again, keeping them locked until the tail end of the game, when characters are already pretty overpowered because of their stats, just isn’t the play. Another way to solve this issue could be to have abilities that feel diverse and unique.

Diversifying Spells Into More Types

Elden Ring, which probably has the most diversity in its Souls-like magic system, features quite a lot of different variations of spells. However, in the moment-to-moment gameplay, gravity spells don’t really feel all that different from glintstone magic, for example. I think part of this has to do with the fact that the game doesn’t make use of utility-based spells that much.

Sorcery types in Elden Ring.
Sorcery types in Elden Ring.

When using magic, your end goal shouldn’t just be to deal damage to an enemy. I think a proper magic-based Soulslike definitely needs to focus on creating spells that can be used in combat to do more than deal damage. Elden Ring plays with this idea a bit with stuff like Gravity Well, which can pull enemies towards you in combat. But there is clearly a lot more room for experimentation here.

I think each unique sub-branch of magic needs to have its own specific passive that makes it unique. Spells can thus be chosen, not just based on their looks, but also on how they change the gameplay loop in a significant way. FromSoftware already has a ton of magical assets available from their previous Souls games. Now, it’s up to the studio to diversify the gameplay too, and make each magical subclass play different from the other.

The Gameplay Needs To Support Spell-Based Builds

One big gripe I’ve had with Souls games is how the button layout and casting haven’t changed much since the early days of Dark Souls 1. You still have to cast spells by painstakingly browsing through all the spells you have equipped. This can be quite troublesome during combat when every single moment can mean life or death. I think a magic-based Soulslike will require FromSoft to rethink how it handles its layout.

A mage build in Dark Souls 3.
A Mage build in Dark Souls 3.

Binding different abilities to different keys or buttons feels like the bare minimum, allowing players to easily cast the right spell at the right time, without having to scroll through a bunch of options. This is especially true if different types of spells are added, which include offensive ones, and more utility-based ones. Having different keys for different types of abilities can help keep things feeling smooth.

Plus with the whole game centered around magic builds, enemies can also be designed around this fact. Punishing players who might be playing too passively, or just generally behaving in a way that feels like they belong in a world of magic casters. As I said, the current Souls titles tend to feel like they’re made with melee combat in mind first.

While every now and again, the enemies might try out a new ability that counters magic, a lot of the enemies tend to fold pretty quickly when you use a stronger Sorcery or Incantation. It’d be interesting to see how FromSoftware or any other studio tackling the idea of a magic-focused Soulslike would involve these mechanics, creating enemies that truly feel like they belong in such a title.

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Danish is an opinion piece writer at eXputer who loves sharing his takes on the industry. He is a long-time PC gamer with a passion for delving into the discussion and discourse surrounding the titles that he plays. Often eager to jump right into the fold and formulate his take on the latest topics, his noteworthy presence on gaming forums, and keen insight help him understand the gaming community in a thorough manner. This helps him provide a more nuanced look into any topic or discussion.

Writes Opinion Pieces at eXputer || Education: Bachelors in Mass Communication.

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