FromSoftware’s Dark Souls series is one of the most iconic in the modern era of gaming, but all three games in the franchise are not created equal. From Dark Souls to Dark Souls 3 there were massive changes made to the way character attributes worked, how players were able to level up, and even whether or not there was a magic meter. All three Dark Souls games have their own pros and cons, but there is a clear order as to which Dark Souls title is the worst, and which Dark Souls game is the best.
For the purposes of this assessment, all three games in the Dark Souls franchise are being considered with all DLC included. While this is important to mention for clarity, it is equally important to say that these rankings would remain the same whether or not the DLC was available, as the base game experience for all three titles is surely enough to get a feeling of each game and its mechanics.
This ranking will also not include Demon’s Souls, as it was not a part of the Dark Souls trilogy in anything other than spiritual inspiration. The same goes for Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and Bloodborne which, although not Souls-titled games, are often looped in with the Dark Souls franchise.
Dark Souls 2 is not a bad game, but it is the worst game in the Dark Souls series. There are multiple reasons why Dark Souls 2 doesn’t have the same game feel as the rest of the titles in the franchise, but the most obvious change was notably because the series’ director Hidetaka Miyazaki stepped back to work on other projects during its development, leading to Dark Souls 2 being the only game in the franchise directed by Tomohiro Shibuya and Yui Tanimura instead of Miyazaki himself.
Odd choices in gameplay mechanics, such as enemies dying permanently after a certain number of kills and a much linear world structure, also made Dark Souls 2 stand out as being not quite on par with the rest of the Dark Souls games FromSoftware released.
Dark Souls 3 acted as sort of a celebration of both the Dark Souls franchise as a whole as well as Demon’s Souls, bringing in elements from all three of the previous games together in one entry while also embracing the more frantic combat of Bloodborne to create the fastest, most responsive Dark Souls game available.
Dark Souls 3 is also the prettiest Dark Souls game, and although its world design doesn’t quite reach the intricately satisfying heights of the original title the game still features a massive explorable world filled with homages to other FromSoftware titles along with a deluge of original content. If anything, however, Dark Souls 3 relies a little too much on what came before, which is why it doesn’t feel quite as ingenuous or unique as the best Dark Souls game ever made.
It may sound obvious, but the original Dark Souls is the best Dark Souls game ever made. From the incredible level design which constantly twists and turns into itself to the intricate-but-obscure plot which must be pieced together through inventory descriptions, convoluted NPC dialog, and level design, Dark Souls excels in nearly every category. Players have the ability to build any sort of RPG-style character they desire, from a flame-wielding Pyromancer to a stoic Knight or a fragile Sorcerer, and they have an incredible amount of freedom in how they choose to tackle Dark Souls’ many boss fights and locations.
Every Dark Souls game has their own best and worst qualities. Dark Souls 2 has some incredibly memorable areas, even if the path players take to get to them are somewhat linear, and Dark Souls can be frustratingly obtuse even though there are likely three or four paths a player hasn’t yet explored. No matter which game in the Dark Souls series players start with, they are definitely in for a great (if somewhat difficult) experience – but if they’re judging the whole series from one hour with Dark Souls 2, it may be worth picking up another version.