Clones: we’ve all seen them. As MMO players, we saw a whole generation of MMORPGs “WoW clones” attempting to cash in on World of Warcraft’s success. Deck 13 had the label thrown at their first game, Lords of the Fallen, a dark fantasy RPG which played it close to the Dark Souls formula. This week they released their second action RPG, The Surge, and are hearing it again. As we enjoy these games becoming a whole new sub-genre, it’s about time we stop looking down on RPG clones.
That word, clone, isn’t a nice one. It might be accurate in the broad strokes, but it’s used to dismiss games that could actually be good. It’s also a necessary term. We live in an age where one hit game spawns a hundred copycats. They’re low rent, Unity asset chop-ups hoping to make a quick buck. They water down the ecosystem and deserve to be dismissed. In the case of RPGs that follow Dark Souls’ path, the word clone doesn’t always mean the bad things it’s usually associated with.
From Software accomplished something few game studios ever do: they created an entire new sub-genre with their Dark Souls series. They did this on the back of countless other RPGs, of course, but their unique blend of difficulty, limited resources, bonfires, and death penalties resonated with gamers in a way few series ever do. Today, we have games stealing individual elements (difficult enemies and death penalties) and those who take the whole approach and wrap it in their own dressing.
The Surge is one of the latter. From the time it was announced, there has been a lingering air of dismissal in certain corners of the internet because the game is copying Dark Souls. These people clearly believe that if a game is a clone it’s obviously a second-rate coattail rider. While that may be true some of the time, it doesn’t work as a rule, and it’s pretty cynical way to look at the AAA space.
The Surge is a very similar game, but also fairly different in some meaningful ways. Looking at the overarching design, it is remarkably similar to Dark Souls. There are safe rooms (bonfires) and limited health injectables (estus flasks). Enemies are brutal and if you die you lose your tech scrap (souls) and need to retrieve it. So many of backbone RPG mechanics are stripped straight from Dark Souls.
It’s a “clone,” so that’s no surprise. But here’s the deal, The Surge actually feels pretty darn different. It’s faster paced, for one. It’s slower than an “action RPG” but more responsive than Dark Souls by a pretty good amount. Like Lords of the Fallen, it pretty much throws gear and schematics at you, which I find instantly more rewarding than anything from From Software. Attacks are more flashy, and the ability to target specific body parts transcends the flash of battle-ending decapitations and becomes a full on mechanic to acquire new gear. It’s setting also completely changes the atmosphere of the game. In short, it’s a faster Dark Souls in space with everything that entails.
When a type of game becomes its own genre, we naturally accept them as clones and should stop caring. It just becomes a type of game. Every platformer Mario clone. Every RPG is a Dungeons and Dragons clone. Every shooter is a CoD clone, and so on and so forth. (I know those aren’t actually the first games in their field).
So what do you think - are we at the point where Souls-likes are their own genre?
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