— Gunfire Games

We all know the Soulslike formula by now. You get a big sword, venture into some gloomy castle or wilderness, and hit a bunch of monsters with it, resetting to a checkpoint and losing progress if you’re defeated. But hear me out — what if you could do all that with guns instead of a sword? That’s the pitch of Remnant: From the Ashes and its sequel, Remnant II (which was nominated for Best Action Game at this year’s Game Awards), both of which came to Xbox Game Pass this month.

To be fair, Remnant getting stuck with the description “Dark Souls with guns” is a little reductive, but it’s not inaccurate. As with any Soulslike game, it involves trekking through hostile terrain from checkpoint to checkpoint, gaining currency as you slay monsters that will be lost when you’re taken down unless you can take it back from the foe who got the best of you. It also bears the grim and gritty aesthetic that characterizes so much of the subgenre.

The biggest, most noticeable change is, of course, the guns. Fighting with firearms instead of melee weapons changes Remnant up in some major ways. Rather than the often methodical battles in Dark Souls, firefights in Remnant are chaotic, testing your ability to dodge hordes of creatures descending on you from every angle without losing your aim.

It also features procedurally generated levels, as opposed to the meticulous level design and enemy placement of Dark Souls. While I generally prefer the feel of intentionally made, static levels, procedural generation actually works quite well for Remnant. Each time you return to a level, you can face an entirely different challenge based on the environment’s layout and the places where enemies will spawn to attack you. That puts the focus in Remnant on replayability.

Remnant’s randomness even extends to bosses. Each level has a set of bosses that can potentially appear as a final challenge. That fact blew my mind the first time I replayed a level expecting to waltz through the boss fight after learning how to beat it the first time only to be confronted with a brand-new horror bearing down on me.

Boss fights are also where another unique aspect of Remnant shines — its multiplayer. While you can technically play the whole game solo, you’re missing a lot of its charms if you do. I’ve never been much of a fan of competitive shooters, but after fighting my way through Remnant’s levels with a squad, I feel like I have a better handle on what makes them so appealing. Standing back to back, mowing down waves of enemies approaching from either side of a tunnel sells the feeling of clinging to your team for survival as few games can.

In co-op, you can also take better advantage of Remnant’s classes, which include typical fare like a medic, a sniper, and a melee expert. The differences between these really shine in a team, with medics keeping everyone else alive as the more combat-oriented classes take down enemies with their unique skills.

Everything I’ve said about Remnant applies to both the original game and its sequel. In most ways, Remnant II is a refinement of the first game, doing everything the original does but better. The combat feels more impactful, the bosses are more impressive, and your characters can grow in more interesting ways. But there is one new aspect to Remnant II that gives it a major leg up over its predecessor — a dog.

Remnant II introduces the Handler class, a gunslinger who works in tandem with their trusty canine companion. The Handler makes playing solo much easier, as your pet can distract enemies while dishing out plenty of damage and even healing the player. With a group, the Handler and their pup have team-wide buffs that can heal and speed up the whole squad.

But more importantly, playing as the Handler gives you a dog. Trudging through the hostile worlds of Remnant II can be a harrowing experience, but just having your trusty pet at your side makes it much more palatable. And to answer the most important questions: Yes, you can pet the dog, and no, the dog will never go to “a farm upstate.”

Though they’re very similar games, I recommend playing both the original Remnant and its recent sequel. The variety in enemies, level design, and class abilities is substantial enough to make each worth exploring. Even if you’re not normally into multiplayer shooters, diving in with a full squad is definitely the way to go. And please, remember to pet the dog.

Remnant: From the Ashes is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC. Remnant II is available on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, and PC. They’re both included with Xbox Game Pass.

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