The original Dark Souls took the gaming world by storm in 2011, distinguishing itself by stepping away from the established norms, clichés, and tropes commonly seen in modern-day AAA games. Its fame is owed in no small part to the much-lauded difficulty, which also tends to be grossly over-exaggerated.

However, Dark Souls was not the first game of what many refer to today as the “Soulsborne” series. In this article, we will be listing all of the games that the franchise encapsulates in the chronological order of their release, and we will also be providing a short overview of each one.

Demon’s Souls

dark souls timeline

Release Date: February 5, 2009

Platforms: PlayStation 3

Demon’s Souls is an often-overlooked PlayStation 3 exclusive game. It was the precursor to Dark Souls and it laid the groundwork for all the “Souls-like” games to come.

The key elements were the heavy focus on stamina management during combat, respawning enemies, and the possibility of losing valuable XP (souls) upon death. Above all else, it had that particular style of storytelling and overbearing atmosphere that we have come to associate with the Souls games today. All of this made Demon’s Souls a highly unique and challenging game that was truly ahead of its time.

However, this experimental approach was both the game’s biggest strength and its greatest weakness. The combat feels quite unpolished, and by that, we don’t mean just the hitboxes and animations that didn’t age well, but also an overall lack of balance between different classes/playstyles. In addition, while the game has a number of interesting bosses, there are just as many uninteresting ones that don’t come anywhere near what can be found in the later installments.

Many regard Demon’s Souls as an underrated, visionary masterpiece that would spawn numerous great games during the coming years. And true enough, while the game never received much popularity outside its niche and feels quite clunky and unrefined, its significance cannot be overstated. But when viewed independently of the series that it led up to, we mainly appreciate Demon’s Souls for its rich world, beautiful environments, and a truly haunting atmosphere.

What We Loved

  • Superb atmosphere
  • Memorable environments
  • Introduced many experimental elements that would later define the franchise

What We Didn’t Like

  • Unpolished gameplay
  • Unbalanced playstyles
  • Not many memorable boss fights

Dark Souls

dark souls chronology

Release Date: September 22, 2011; May 24, 2018 (Remaster)

Platforms: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch

Now, we get to the Holy Grail of modern gaming that so many swear upon today. By building upon the foundation set by its predecessor, Dark Souls managed to redefine the modern action RPG and attain cult status only years after its release.

So, what is it that made Dark Souls great?

For one, there was the difficulty which it is primarily known for. Where so many games today hand the player everything on a platter and go out of their way to ensure that they are not inconvenienced in any way, Dark Souls made the player work to earn their victory, which made the game ever so satisfying to play. It was difficult but (mostly) fair, and seldom did the challenges posed require more than patience and some thought to overcome.

But the genius of Dark Souls does not lie merely in the difficulty itself, but in how well it ties into the overall theme and plot, as well as how it permeates nearly every layer of the game. The mythological story is delivered through short pieces of cryptic dialogue and item descriptions that are easy to overlook. However, should the player – once again – put in some effort, all the pieces fall into place to tell the story of the dark, dilapidated land of Lordran.

Of course, the game is not without its fair share of flaws – even though Demon’s Souls did come two years before it, and even though Dark Souls did a lot to improve upon it, the combat still remained fairly clunky and unrefined.

On top of that, there were bugs galore to be found, the original console releases were plagued by performance issues, and the PC port that followed a year later was borderline unplayable without the use of mods.

What We Loved

  • Best world/level design of any Souls game
  • Unforgettable mythological story
  • Improved combat system
  • Many enjoyable boss fights

What We Didn’t Like

  • Combat still quite unrefined
  • Poor performance on PS3 and Xbox 360
  • Terrible original PC port

Dark Souls II

dark souls order

Release Date: March 11, 2014; February 15, 2015 (Remaster)

Platforms: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows

Dark Souls II is widely regarded as the weakest link in the franchise that has very little to offer when compared to both the games that came before and the games that came after. The reason for this was mainly that the majority of the team that had created the original Dark Souls was off working on Bloodborne, and the lack of their input is painfully evident.

In essence, Dark Souls II is the classic “more for the sake of more” sequel. Sure, it has some truly memorable locations such as Majula or Heide’s Tower of Flame, but ultimately, the bulk of the game’s content just feels bland and uninspired. This includes everything from the story and level design to the majority of the bosses.

Also, we simply can’t leave out the serious graphics downgrade that had to be made so that the game could be released on the last-gen consoles, only to get ported to the current-gen less than a year later.

But I could drone on and on about how exactly Dark Souls II misinterpreted what made the first game so special. The point is, it’s not a bad game, but it simply fails to live up to the reputation of the other entries in the franchise. In the end, the game’s main saving grace is the sheer amount of content that it has to offer.

What We Loved

  • Lots of content
  • Some memorable levels

What We Didn’t Like

  • Grossly outdated graphics
  • Uninspired overall design
  • Misses a lot of what makes the rest of the franchise great

Bloodborne

dark souls 3 timeline

Release Date: March 24, 2015

Platform: PlayStation 4

While Bloodborne is not a “Souls” game per se, it still follows the Souls formula and expands upon it in a unique way, so we feel that it should definitely be on this list. While the Souls games encouraged the player to play it safe and punished recklessness, Bloodborne ditched shields in favor of guns and introduced a more high-risk/high-reward playstyle.

Parrying itself was less risky, the trick weapons had two modes with distinct movesets that could be switched between mid-combo, and the ability to regain health by attacking an enemy immediately after receiving damage all made Bloodborne a fluid and exhilarating experience. Needless to say, this also made for some truly nerve-wracking boss fights, and there’s no shortage of those.

Now, not only that but Bloodborne also succeeded in creating a new, memorable world that managed to seamlessly blend Gothic and Lovecraftian horror in one beautiful Victorian-era inspired setting that was packed with the kind of detail never before seen in any of the previous games.

But of course, none of the Souls games are perfect, and Bloodborne’s main shortcoming is its Chalice Dungeons i.e. the procedurally generated levels that players can go through in order to find better blood gems that are used for upgrading weapons. Even though they may be a good concept on paper, the Chalice Dungeons didn’t work all that well in practice. Quickly, they devolve into the kind of bland grinding which is the exact opposite of what we would expect to see in a FromSoftware game.

What We Loved

  • Unique and memorable world
  • A creative and fluid combat system
  • Beautiful detail-packed environments
  • Top-notch art direction

What We Didn’t Like

  • Tedious and grindy Chalice Dungeons
  • Grinding is pretty much mandatory for the endgame
  • Some boring levels

Dark Souls III

dark souls series timeline

Release Date: March 26, 2016

Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows

The third and final installment in the Souls series was Dark Souls III, a game that, upon closer inspection, seems to be an amalgamation of almost everything that was good about both the original Dark Souls and Bloodborne.

The highly Bloodborne-esque art direction makes the game very visually distinct from the previous installments in the series, all the while the combat becomes more fluid and fast paced, eliminating all of the clunkiness that plagued the pre-Bloodborne Souls games. The boss design, too, borrows a lot from Bloodborne, so the boss fights are generally very fast-paced, contrasting the slower bosses of the older games.

Story-wise, Dark Souls III is a standalone game, although those who haven’t played the first one might find the narrative a wee bit complicated – as if the storytelling of these games wasn’t already complicated and confusing enough.

Now, some hardcore fans of the original didn’t take well to Dark Souls III, primarily because of all the inspiration it derives from Bloodborne. And true enough, it undeniably feels far less oppressive than the first game when there are so many open environments that allow for carefree roll-spamming. Still, the game remains second only to the original Dark Souls when everything is taken into account.

What We Loved

  • Highly refined, faster-paced combat
  • Breath-taking sights and environments
  • Some of the best boss fights in the series

What We Didn’t Like

  • Doesn’t work well as a standalone game narratively
  • More reminiscent of Bloodborne than Dark Souls

The Final Word

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And that would be all the “Soulsborne” games released thus far!

FromSoftware has multiple new games coming up, most notably Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, which sheds the RPG elements of the Souls formula and adopts an entirely action-based approach. Furthermore, Bloodborne 2 will probably come out for the PlayStation 5 in a few years, while a return to the Dark Souls series, apart from any potential future remasters, remains highly unlikely.

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