There aren’t very many videogames that can incite torrents of excited internet chatter from a handful of blurry screenshots, but From Software’s Souls series has always been pretty special. Since 2009’s Demon’s Souls gained recognition on the strength of its complex world and unforgiving gameplay, players have obsessed over the minutiae of each entry to the franchise. At no other time has this been clearer than last weekend. Nine muddy photos heralded the arrival of Project Beast, a game speculated by just about everybody to be a PlayStation 4 exclusive Souls title. The pictures don’t show much—there are a few gnarly-looking dogs, a shadowy player character holding what looks to be a blunderbuss, and a shot of one the series’ iconic fog doors—but that hardly seems to matter. People are already buzzing about what’s next for From’s acclaimed franchise.
I’ve had a rocky relationship with the Souls games. I played (and adored) Demon’s Souls around its release, entering into the experience without knowing much about it. Despite very much liking the refinements and design innovations introduced by its spiritual successor Dark Souls, I eventually had to swear it off after finding myself becoming frustratingly preoccupied by one of its hardest boss fights. Yet, just in time for Project Beast to surface, I picked up Dark Souls II and have found it a great mixture of the two previous games. The combination of older systems and a handful of new mechanics seemingly geared toward accessibility make the game not only a lot of fun to play, but also a distillation of the studio’s past work. I like Dark Souls II an awful lot, but it also very much feels like the terminal point for the concepts that have formed the series’ identity to date. By embracing design decisions that worked in Demon’s Souls (like a central “hub” area that breaks up exploration) and Dark Souls (bonfires as checkpoints), Dark Souls II exists as a happy medium between the two previous games. This combination and refinement of older gameplay systems works well, but also begs the question of what direction the series will take in the future.
Even though I (and everyone else) know too little about Project Beast to make any grounded predictions regarding what kind of game it will be, there’s little doubt that it’s the next entry to the Souls series. And this makes me wonder what direction From Software can take after releasing a game that has already served as the ultimate iteration of its previous work. But what would that even look like?
Hidetaka Miyazaki directed both Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls, the two entries that brought serious change to the series, and his absence from the latter game’s sequel has been duly noted by fans. Miyakazi is likely heading up development on Project Beast, though, and this means that if the Souls games are set to branch out from convention in a significant way, it will probably be with its next release. Dark Souls was similar to Demon’s Souls in many fundamental ways, but it also introduced a host of new ideas that served as clear distinctions between the two titles. If Miyakazi is directing Project Beast, then we can anticipate another shake-up that re-thinks what has come before.
This is, I think, the best-case scenario. If Project Beast is nothing more than a prettier version of past Souls games it will still be a big deal. Seeing the imaginative environments and gruesome monsters that From is so gifted at creating rendered in higher detail should be enticing enough to attract attention. All the same, I’m hoping that a new Souls title will offer a bit more than another helping of an already great thing. I want a game that recaptures the sense of bewilderment and awe that first playing Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls offered. I want the future of the series to offer something that From Software has shown itself capable of delivering in the past: a game that is too weird and wonderful to have been made by anyone else.