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July 2022


Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Dear Villagers
Developer: Retro Forge Games
Release Date: June 2, 2022


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Switch/PS5/PS4/XSX/XOne/PC Preview - 'Souldiers'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on April 14, 2022 @ 6:00 a.m. PDT

Souldiers wraps Metroidvania exploration, crunchy Soulslike combat and precision platforming into one gorgeous pixelated package.

At first blush, the Souldiers plot makes me think of Valkyrie Profile. You play as a nameless soldier of a kingdom that's sent to war. After what appears to be a betrayal by a royal magician, you and your fellow soldiers fall into a deep cave. Moments later, a glowing Valkyrie appears and informs you and the troops that you're all dead, and it offers to take you to another world where you can continue to adventure. Since the alternative is rotting in a forgotten grave, you set off to the other world.

Souldiers is unashamed of being a Metroidvania title. As soon as you boot it up, you'll see a lot of familiar gameplay elements: nonlinear level design, hidden secrets, and items to power up. All of the genre standards are here. It's not a criticism; from what we've seen of the game, Souldiers looks like it has the potential to be an excellent addition to the genre.

The core combat and exploration in Souldiers are built in the veins of many modern action games. You can attack, block, dodge, parry, and manage your stamina in addition to your health, or else you'll be vulnerable. Don't mistake it for feeling like Dark Souls, since the combat feels more in line with a Castlevania game; the stamina meter serves as a limit on blocking or using certain abilities. It's very easy to pick up and play, and on the default difficulty mode, it doesn't feel unfairly punishing.

Souldiers has three different playable classes: Archer, Mage and Scout. Archer can fight at a great distance and can dodge effectively, but they can run out of arrows, and you need to hit an enemy with your thrown bow to regenerate them, or else you must wait a longer period of time for them to recover normally. Mage is the weakest of the three with regular attacks but has incredibly powerful magical spells, so this class rewards careful positioning. Scout is a warrior who wields a sword and shield and specializes in defense and strong, reliable close-range damage, but they're weak at longer range.

Each class has a distinct skill tree that upgrades throughout the game. For example, Scout gains the ability to do a parry with their shield, and that can open up a devastating counterattack. Archer can unlock a dodge that has a much smaller window than the usual dodge but means they can instantly plant three arrows into the enemy. New attacks and passive bonuses are unlocked further down the various paths to grant you more flexibility around what you want to focus on.

In addition, there are powers that you can gain with new exploration options. You can find special elemental crystals that allow you to change your character's damage type, so you can target enemy weaknesses and unlock different options. For example, Fire means that your attacks can burn spiderwebs in your path or light candles to see in the dark.

The level design feels quite strong. The very first area is a sprawling underground complex with many branching paths and hidden items. I'm used to the tutorial areas in these types of games being straightforward, but after a short tutorial pathway (complete with simple boss), you're thrown right into the thick of things. This works entirely in the game's favor, so if you've ever played a Metroidvania title, you'll be right at home. It's a relief to get something meaty early on because it means the game has put its best foot forward.

I'm a big fan of Metroidvania titles, and Souldiers left a very positive first impression. The gameplay was easy to pick up but had welcoming amounts of depth, and the level design rewarded exploration and thoroughness. Add in some utterly charming 2D sprite graphics, and I was delighted throughout the entire preview. If the final version is as strong as our preview build, then it has real potential to be a new classic in the genre. We'll have to see when it comes out on May 19, 2022, for the Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S.

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