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This 2D minimalist soulslike perfectly understands why the genre works

Since Dark Souls exploded, adding a whole new chapter to the RPG playbook in 2011, soulslikes have been a dime a dozen. Every man and his dog has taken a swing at the formula – where the game world’s friction goes against the player any way it can, with no care for how they’ll react – and quite a few games have done a decent job. Lords of the Fallen, Nioh, and Lies of P are just some of the bigger examples. But when we talk about soulslikes, we’re almost always looking at them through a lens of third-person action roleplaying games. So what would happen if we removed an entire dimension from the genre: how would it play, and would it even work? This is a question Void Sols wants to answer, and it’s the most unique spin on soulslikes I’ve ever played.

“There are a lot of people that want to be Fromsoft, a lot of people that want to make the next big Dark Souls. We were just realistic about it,” Finite Reflection lead developer Kartik Kini tells me as I wrestle with Void Sols’ controls on a Steam Deck. “No one’s really playing with abstract visuals that also have this level of depth of gameplay […] while still maintaining all the things that people really liked about the soulslike game genre.”

A top-down, minimalist soulslike, the public demo for Void Sols is available for you to try now – including the first level of the game alongside a vertical slice with more mechanics baked in. From my time with the demo, it became immediately clear that Void Sols has a deep understanding of what makes the combat and world of a soulslike work, despite losing an entire dimension to play with. The combat has an expert sense of weight, pace, and speed while the visual and audio design makes everything readable and easy to get to grips with.

Void Sols wants you to creep around enemies, explore for secrets, and take your time in combat. If you go into a room without thinking, you’ll quickly be overwhelmed and even the invincibility frames from your dodge won’t save you. Void Sols is hard, as most soulslikes are, but the difficulty doesn’t come from an inherent challenge, it comes from you not understanding the world, enemy attack patterns, and the traps that can lie in wait.

“A soulslike isn’t defined by just difficulty,” Kini explains. “It’s defined by this indifference that the world has to you. The world has these rules. It just exists. They narrowly skirt the border of power fantasy and whatever the opposite of power fantasy is where the world is just like, ‘Oh, that’s nice.’”

Part of this friction, in the original Dark Souls especially, comes from how much the game doesn’t tell you. There are invisible walls, completely new areas you can miss, and a breadth of mechanics you can pass over simply by not engaging with the world on its own terms. Void Sols does something very similar, as I discovered you can deflect projectiles back at enemies with a well-timed swing, and you can even get some enemies from different factions to fight each other, making your life just a bit easier. When you discover these hidden mechanics and play into them, Void Sols suddenly becomes a lot easier – you still can’t spam attacks when out of stamina though, as much as you might want to.

Void Sols interview: a dark room with shapes fighting

Void Sols has the bonfires, pickups, and more that soulslike fans will adore, but it isn’t just the visual design that’s minimalist – the breadth of weapons, consumables, and items has been stripped back too. You still have a lot of build choice, but you’re not going to be picking between three swords that are similar, for example. Instead, everything feels more deliberate, and while these RPG game build mechanics are in there, Void Sols is less about essential min-maxing and more about finding what works for you.

“We didn’t want to do things just because this is what the genre does. Every design decision, we were like, ‘Does this game need it?’ And let’s try removing it. And if we remove it, and it’s still fun, great. Let’s not waste our time on something just because it’s a convention,” Kini explains.

There are also some much less immediately obvious ideas in Void Sols I’d like to gush about at least, as boss music layers with each phase and the world, while 2D, adopts this dark but vibrant art style that combines 2D and 3D elements in a way I’ve never quite seen. That style really is emblematic of the whole game, as while it looks like a 2D soulslike on the surface, there’s so much more depth to the lighting, visual style, and presentation.

With release currently slated for the fourth quarter of 2024 and the free demo available now, Void Sols is absolutely a soulslike you need to try for yourself. From what I played of the demo it’s abundantly clear that Finite Reflection has a true understanding of why the genre is so popular, which gives me a lot of hope for the full launch.

If Void Sols sounds like your thing, you’ll want to check out even more indie games we’ve picked out for you.

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