Also On: PS5, Xbox Series X
Publisher: CI Games
Another day, another Souls-like. In the increasingly crowded genre that From Software kicked off in 2009, it is getting harder and harder to stand out. Add to that the release of the utterly exceptional Lies of P last month, and Lords of the Fallen was fighting an uphill battle at release. Luckily, while not quite as polished or exceptional as Lies of P, Lords of the Fallen manages to distinguish itself amongst the sea of Souls-likes through some truly amazing art direction, build versatility, and the ability to shift between the Axiom physical world and the Umbral spiritual realm to solve puzzles, traverse the environment, and even survive combat encounters.
This realm-shifting mechanic is the real star of Lords of the Fallen (which, it is important to note, shares the same name as the previous entry from 2014, while only being oh-so-very loosely related). This mechanic fits into every aspect of Lords of the Fallen, from exploration where you peer into the Umbral world with your lamp, to combat where you switch between realms to gain an advantage (or, disadvantage) against foes, to the story itself, which revolves around that very mechanic. The ability to see into and enter the Umbral realm brings a new layer to traversal and exploration and rewards a slower pace and discerning eye.
Another highlight of Lords of the Fallen is the sheer variety and versatility of the different builds, with each playstyle being nearly equal to all of the others as long as you take the time to actually learn how to use them (looking at you, pyromancer). None of the potential builds here will be anything new or surprising to longtime Souls players, but the way Lords of the Fallen carries itself lends a fresh feel to each of these classes.
Listen, you either fall into one of two categories. You have played a handful of these kinds of games and know exactly what you’re getting into, or you’re a brand new player and this is your very first Souls-like. If you are one of the former, you’ve got this! Lords of the Fallen is one of, if not *the* easiest entry into this genre that still retains a level of difficulty. You will most likely enjoy this game, but may not find yourself invested enough to FINISH it, as it ends up being rather long once all is said and done, clocking in between 30 and 50 hours depending on how much exploring you do, how tough some of the areas are, etc. If you’re in the second group I mentioned, I can’t honestly recommend this as your first Souls-like. Go back and play Dark Souls: Remastered, which is still the gold standard for getting started with these games in my opinion. Lords of the Fallen throws a LOT at you and expects you to be somewhat familiar with the genre from the outset.
In addition to that, the extended time it takes to actually finish this game and the pacing issues that plague the second half make this a tough sell to folks who aren’t already heavily invested in these kinds of games and starving for something new. Lords of the Fallen has a habit of introducing a mini-boss and then making that just a regular enemy immediately after that. Souls games frequently turn mini-bosses into enemies, sure, but typically it’s hours later after you are much stronger and they really do just become standard foes. Lords of the Fallen throws them at you in waves shortly after beating them for the first time. They don’t present much of a challenge aside from the simple fact that they take quite a while to take down, which artificially pads the length of certain areas. Couple that with a somewhat sporadic and frustrating checkpoint system, and I found myself running past a lot of stuff that I simply didn’t want to deal with at the time.
Sprinting through areas to avoid unnecessarily spongy enemies is not ideal, because the areas are the best part of Lords of the Fallen! This game was advertised as the first “True Next-Gen Souls-like” and it absolutely lives up to that. Lords of the Fallen is GORGEOUS, running in Unreal Engine 5, it stuns and impresses on every level as you play through it. Peering into the Umbral realm and seeing it fade in and out of your lamplight is pure sorcery, and that is just the beginning. Lords of the Fallen took my breath away over and over again with the gorgeous level design, incredible character models, and stunning armor/weapon designs. The beautiful areas are beautiful, the foul areas are utterly foul, and everything in-between manages to impress on that same level. The art direction demands your attention and exploration, and richly rewards you as you play.
None of this is to say the game is bad, because it isn’t! And to be honest with you, the receptiveness to feedback that the team has shown in the short time since launch, and how quickly they patched out the performance issues on PC (which bear no further mentioning than that, now that they have been fixed) makes me think that some of this will get taken care of in the near future! I can see enemy density being adjusted, I can see some of the absurdly spongy health bars getting knocked down a good bit to help with the flow of combat, I can see some adjustments to checkpoint placements, etc. There is a LOT to love here with Lords of the Fallen, and I am genuinely optimistic about the legs this game has, and the potential it has to really go far.
Note: Hexworks provided us with a Lords of the Fallen PC code for review purposes.