What a weird, strange journey for Lords of the Fallen. The original launched nearly a decade ago and tried to honour FromSoftware’s impeccable Dark Souls series. Since then, we’ve had dozens of takes on the genre, including Lies of P, Wong Lo: Fallen Dynasty, Nioh, and Lords of the Fallen.
Lords of the Fallen, an action RPG that borrows heavily from the Souls series, presents itself in a way that immediately feels like stepping into familiar territory. You begin the game by witnessing a heroic figure discarding a mystical lamp – the Umbral Lamp – before it unexpectedly lands in your character’s prison cell. This seemingly insignificant object catalyzes your journey.
Been There Before
The early stages of Lords of the Fallen offer an engaging experience. You explore a decrepit dungeon, where enemies are thoughtfully placed to introduce you to various Souls-style mechanics. You also briefly interact with the Umbral Lamp. The environments are beautifully crafted and resonate with a sense of familiarity that fans of the genre will appreciate. This feeling persisted until after encountering the first central boss, The Hushed Saint. Now, let’s discuss the positives before we dive into the game’s shortcomings.
The exploration and presentation in Lords of the Fallen closely mirror other Souls games, making it difficult for a casual fan to differentiate between them. There’s an emphasis on verticality, hidden enemies, mimics, water hazards, and even those iconic bare feet camera shots. It’s all there.
The central hub, Skyrest Bridge, feels akin to Roundtable Hold or Dark Souls 3’s Firelink Shrine. It’s teeming with friendly characters who assist you in upgrading gear, selling items, and delving into the plight of the Lampbearer – that’s you. Faith and Intelligence builds (Radiance and Inferno) alongside the standard Strength, Dexterity (Agility), Endurance, and Vitality stats allow you to play as several character builds that can take on enemies close or from afar. Each weapon scales off specific stats, making choosing the right weaponfor your build crucial.
Lords of the Fallen Wears Its Inspiration On Its Sleeve
Instead of feeling empowered to conquer the lands of Umbral or Axiom, I often found myself sprinting through them. It’s not that the game is overly complicated; it’s more that it frequently feels unfair. While I relish facing formidable adversaries and conquering seemingly impossible bosses after numerous attempts, I don’t enjoy battling through a hallway or staircase teeming with ten enemies, including a miniboss I just defeated, now reduced to a standard mob. The finicky lock-on camera adds to the frustration. My motivation waned as the game progressed, and I recycled the same few enemy types. The once-exciting adventure now felt artificially extended.
Playing through Lords of the Fallen’s extensive journey was an erratic experience. I started captivated by the world of design, enthralled by the two-realm mechanic, and engaged by exploration and combat. I enjoyed discovering secrets and shortcuts in Mournstead. However, the game and my enthusiasm hit a wall around the halfway mark. The enemies became repetitive, secrets and shortcuts mundane, and exploration and world design started feeling stale.
Even the bosses, typically the highlights of Souls-like games, failed to captivate me in the latter half. Two, in particular, stand out as some of the worst I’ve faced in recent memory. It wasn’t because they were tough – they weren’t – but because they were unenjoyable. Hexworks’ attempt at something different, like an unreachable boss requiring the defeat of various exploding minions, felt like a forced experiment.
The generous dodge system makes battles feel predictable, even against formidable bosses. In a Souls-like game, challenging fights are expected, not simple dodge-and-win scenarios. Herein lies the problem – the game compensates for the forgiving dodge mechanic by extending the duration of battles. While you can evade several attacks and land a hit or two during an opening, enemies possess enormous health pools, especially bosses. Your attacks, particularly with lighter one-handed weapons, seem about as effective as tossing pebbles at a T-Rex. This is why running past enemy groups to reach a checkpoint becomes a go-to strategy. When you encounter an enemy you’ve previously faced as a boss, you know it will be a lengthy, tedious ordeal, making fights feel drawn out.
Fantastic World Design, Confused Levels
Let’s take the game world for example: yes, it is large and interconnected, and finding shortcuts is always a pleasure, but at the same time, in some areas, its level design is somewhat confusing (this is the case with the swamp, lower Calrath and the Ice Feud). Furthermore, such a large game world is not matched by an equally large variety of enemies; sorry to say that in the first ten hours of play, we certainly don’t miss much if we haven’t seen all the enemies the game offers. The bosses are also largely disappointing; going from the excellent boss fights of Lies of P to those of Lords of the Fallen is a real blow, especially as we frequently encounter bosses we’ll soon face as regular enemies (but with less life). It also doesn’t help the occasional inaccuracy of some hitboxes, sometimes excessive tracking, not particularly interesting fight design and the rare AI that decides to go for a coffee; it once happened to me that, once the NPC who was helping me had died, a boss kept on beating the air while completely ignoring me, as if the NPC was still around.
As much as I enjoy the overall world design and aesthetic, some elements can take you out of the experience. For starters, there were instances where I was not sure where to go, not for lack of attention but because the world can feel a bit too large at times. This, combined with trying to keep enemies at bay, sometimes left me wandering in circles. And when you have two worlds essentially vying for you, getting lost isn’t tricky.
Lords of the Fallen’s big gimmick is the Umbral lamp you use to look into the Umbral, the world of the dead. You’re mainly working through Axiom, the world of the living, with the opportunity to hold the lamp in front of your character. It reminds me of The Medium, and it’s a pretty neat gimmick that I hope we see more of. In addition to giving insight into another realm, you have a second shot at life if you die. With the Umbral Lamp, you are transported to the Umbral Realm and given a second shot at succeeding; only you have the wither effect applied, halting your health. To restore health to complete, you must take on enemies or use your Umbral Lamp to draw health from enemies.
And if you struggle, you’ll want to invest heavily in Vestiges. From the start, you’ll realize that Vestige Seeds are a precious commodity in the game. You can buy them from an Umbral vendor in the central hub area, but they aren’t cheap. These seeds act as checkpoints, saving progress and preventing catastrophic losses. I quickly learned the value of keeping a stash of these seeds on hand after experiencing the agony of losing substantial progress due to a lack of checkpoints.
Lords of the Fallen shows promise and delivers an exciting adventure but falls short of providing a consistently engaging Souls-like experience. Its familiarity with the genre’s giants is both a strength and a weakness. While it starts strong with compelling world design and mechanics, it stumbles later, succumbing to repetition and uninspired boss encounters. Despite its potential, Lords of the Fallen ultimately leaves much to be desired.
[The publisher provided a copy of the game for review purposes.]
Reviewed on: PlayStation 5
Review: Lords of the Fallen
Lords of the Fallen shows promise and delivers an exciting adventure but falls short of providing a consistently engaging Souls-like experience.
Combat is visceral and engaging
Excellent dual-world mechanic with the Umbra Lantern