Lords of the Fallen is back. Despite having the same name as a game released in 2014 Lords of the Fallen is a brand new game in the same game world. Think of it as a reboot. The original Lords of the Fallen was one of the very first “Soulslike” games. I admit that I never really got into that game. The husky characters and clunky feel put me off. The developers at Hexworks and publisher CI Games wanted a second chance at creating something in this universe. They have done their homework this time as Lords of the Fallen presents a visually stunning dark fantasy world, rich in atmosphere and challenging combat mechanics that is worthy of the “Soulslike” title. Thankfully the hefty character models and clunky controls from the original are gone. The game excels in its environmental design, with intricately crafted dungeons and landscapes that beg exploration. Overall the lore is compelling, but the narrative delivery is somewhat lacking. Combat, while rewarding, can be unforgiving, potentially alienating newcomers to the genre. Additionally, some encounters feel unfairly punishing, leading to frustration, fortunately that familiar and satisfying sense of accomplishment is right around the corner if you just stick to it and persevere. Despite these critiques, Lords of the Fallen succeeds in capturing the essence of its inspiration. With a more polished control scheme and a refined balance between difficulty and accessibility, it has the potential to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with its genre counterparts.
Combat in Lords of the Fallen feels very much like combat in the first couple of Dark Souls. I feel like this is the common style in most Soulslike games. You have your light attack and heavy attack. One-handed, two-handed, and dual-wield weapon grips. You can hold down the heavy attack button to charge a more powerful attack. There is a running attack and weapons also have an alternate attack that triggers when pressing two buttons at once. You can block and parry which opens up the possibility of a grievous attack which is a powerful counterattack. As a whole the combat system is very solid, which could easily be attributed to how closely this game replicates the combat found in Dark Souls.
There is a vast assortment of weapons and items to satisfy all players’ curiosities. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the combat is the ranged attack system. Not only do you have your bows, crossbows, and catalysts for magic, but there is also a throwable weapon option for players. Each category of ranged attack allows you to assign three different ammo types or spells. The player has a typical mana bar for magic but instead of using a normal style ammo system, Lords of the Fallen uses a refillable system that is shared between all the different ammo types; essentially, when shooting a crossbow the ammo comes from the same pool as when you are throwing a rock. Each ammo type is assigned an ammo value – the stronger ones cost more to use. Ammo can be refilled in two ways. Resting at a vestige (this game’s version of a bonfire) is the first. The second is using an ammo pouch out of your inventory of consumables. Overall I think this system fits perfectly with the game and it is one of a few ways this game outshines its inspiration
The visual feast presented in Lords of the Fallen is nothing short of breath-taking. The dark fantasy setting is meticulously crafted, offering a world rich in detail and atmosphere. Every environment feels alive with a grim beauty, from crumbling castles and burning villages to poisonous swamps and foreboding dungeons. The lighting effects and character designs contribute to an overall sense of immersion, pulling players deeper into the umbral abyss. I couldn’t tell you how often I brought up the in-game photo mode to snap some pics.
The stunning graphics are the perfect complement to the intricate and varied level design within the land of Mournstead, which in the Soulslike tradition contains plenty of interconnected environments. Each area has its own unique look and feel, and they are designed to be both visually stunning and challenging to navigate. For example, Forsaken Fenn is a vast and treacherous swamp filled with poison-wielding enemies, while Pilgrim’s Perch is a towering mountaintop fortress reaching treacherous heights. Lords of the Fallen makes great use of verticality. Many areas seem like they make full use of their allotted space in the game’s world. This verticality adds to the challenge and makes the world feel more three-dimensional and realistic, as the architecture and landscapes look natural and “believable” in the game world.
Adding to the allure of the level design are a number of shortcuts and hidden areas. These shortcuts can be used to bypass difficult sections of the game, while the hidden areas often contain valuable items and secrets. This encourages players to explore the world carefully and rewards them for their curiosity. Another alluring aspect is the “seamless” world design, meaning that there are no loading screens between areas. This makes the world feel more cohesive and immersive.
The final selling point of the level design in Lords of the Fallen is the Umbral realm. This is a twisted reflection of the real world, filled with traps and obstacles. Think of it as a second dimension that is always there just not visible to the naked eye. The “realistic” appearance of the world is gone, the underlying layout is still there but a majority of the world is now covered with creepy statues and other architectural additions, most of which look like a twisted combination of Lovecraft and H.R. Giger. In order to navigate the Umbral Realm and defeat monstrosities within the player must make use of their Umbral lantern. This is an off-hand equippable that can be held up to display a cone of blue light which reveals the umbral realm. Be careful, however, as enemies in the Umbral can grab and pull you into that realm while you have the lantern raised. Some can even attack or pull you through when your lantern is down. If you die in the Umbral then you will return to the last vestige lantern you used and will lose all your vigor (the experience/currency), but just like in Dark Souls you can return to where you perished and regain the lost vigor. You can enter the Umbral at any time using your lamp but the Umbral also acts as a sort of second-life mechanic, as once you lose all your health you rise again in the Umbral essentially giving you a second chance.
The Umbral is not just a physical force; it is also a psychological one. It can prey on the fears and weaknesses of its victims. When in the Umbral realm there is a small meter on the right side of the game’s HUD that slowly fills over time. This represents your sanity. The longer you stay in the Umbral more and more enemies begin to spawn in. One benefit to this is that you earn more experience as the gauge fills. This culminates in a ferocious red grim reaper that appears as soon as the gauge fills completely. I’m assuming at some point my character will be strong enough to fight off this foe, but as of this writing every time I’ve encountered this enemy it has quickly disposed of me.
There are a handful of other interesting mechanics related to the Umbral lamp. While in the Axiom (the normal realm) you can hold your lamp up and pass through doors that would only be open in the Umbral. The same thing goes for bridges in the Umbral – just aim the lantern at the floor so that the bridge appears below your feet and you can walk across air. Be careful though because taking a hit from an enemy will break your concentration causing the lamp to extinguish and your temporary footing to vanish, plunging you to the ground. One of the most helpful uses of your lantern is its ability to plant vestige seeds that create a temporary vestige resting spot. These can only be planted in designated areas (marked by white flowers in the Umbral). This allows you to create your own checkpoints, but you can only have one out at any given time. The consumable item used to create these temporary sanctuaries is somewhat scarce so you have to be a little strategic in your placement and use of the seeds.
You can use the umbral lamp in combat as well. While an enemy is targeted the player can perform a soulflay with the lamp. This briefly pulls the soul out of the enemy. Attacking the vulnerable soul will cause wither damage to the enemy. Some enemies will have a blueish forcefield and white health bar. You won’t be able to damage these enemies until you use your umbral lamp to dispose of the force field. The game does an excellent job of encouraging the use of these mechanics throughout various combat scenarios. Players get a quick crash course in all of these mechanics in a tutorial at the beginning of the game. I have to admit that at the time I was somewhat overwhelmed by all the different mechanics, and it sort of put me off of the game at first, if I didn’t have to review the game I might have bounced off the game at that point and moved on to something else. Fortunately, this review pushed me back to the game and my admiration for it quickly grew.
One of the most important components of a Soulslike is great boss fights. While Lords of the Fallen has its fair share of boss fights, some of which are rather memorable, I wouldn’t go so far as to say they are “great” as a whole. In fact, I felt like a few of the earlier bosses were a tad underwhelming, which apparently is a sentiment shared by many players as Hexworks released an update just yesterday buffing the majority of the bosses. As a whole Hexworks has been very active in terms of updates and has even released a road map detailing when they plan to release small free content updates over the next year. It’s always a great sign when a developer sticks with a game and produces additional free content; hopefully, this will attract more players to the game and they can continue to add content past their current roadmap.
Lords of the Fallen successfully builds upon its predecessor, delivering a dark fantasy epic that captivates for much of its playtime. With its refined mechanics, exquisite art style, and an atmospheric world full of intricately designed levels, it stands as a worthy entry in the action RPG genre and is more than deserving of its “Soulslike” label. Despite a few minor challenges for newcomers, the game’s immersive experience and depth make it a must-play for fans of the genre.Become a Patron!
This game was reviewed based on Xbox S|X review code, using an Xbox S|X console. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.