The Lords of the Fallen franchise attempts to recreate the challenging yet rewarding gameplay loop popularized by Dark Souls and other FromSoftware titles. The original 2014 Lords of the Fallen was an early soulslike that failed to match the masterful design of its inspiration. Now in 2023, developer Hexworks aims to reinvent the series with a complete reboot simply titled Lords of the Fallen. This reimagining promises improved combat, level design, and a fresh story while still adhering closely to the Dark Souls formula.
In this review, we will analyze if Lords of the Fallen succeeds in honoring its roots while also bringing something new to the table. Does it stand out in the crowded soulslike genre saturated with copycats, or is it just another inferior knockoff trying to cash in on FromSoftware’s ingenuity? We’ll examine the gameplay mechanics, environments, enemies and bosses, technical performance, and overall design philosophy.
Our goal is to determine if this reboot is worth playing for fans of punishing action RPGs, or if they are better off sticking with the genuine article from Hidetaka Miyazaki’s studio. Read on for the final verdict on whether Lords of the Fallen soars as a worthy successor, or falls flat as a flawed imitation.
A Gloomy World of Monsters and Dual Realities
Lords of the Fallen unfortunately does little to establish an intriguing story or vivid world beyond serving as a flimsy justification for gameplay. What sparse plot exists feels underdeveloped, acting as a thin excuse to kick off the adventure rather than truly pull players in.
The setting leans heavily into oppressively gloomy aesthetics and a dark fantasy atmosphere saturated with horrors. You’ll explore decrepit villages, ghostly ruins, and decomposing castles while battling deformed undead, violent knights, and other twisted monstrosities. This perpetually dreary backdrop invokes the atmosphere of early Dark Souls areas, but lacks the weird imaginative touches and environmental storytelling that made FromSoftware’s worlds feel alive. It often seems Lords of the Fallen relies on sheer bleakness rather than true vision.
That said, one original idea does affect the experience: the existence of two parallel realities known as Axiom and Umbral. Axiom represents the mortal realm players start in, while Umbral is a shadowy underworld only accessible through death or the use of a magical lamp. This dual world structure impacts exploration, as secret passages, platforms, and puzzles only visible in Umbral provide hidden routes and items to discover. It also affects combat, as enemies native to Umbral pose an invisible threat that can ambush the player even while not fully transported there.
Unfortunately, these dual realities that showed promise in trailers never feel fully capitalized on. The Umbral realm adds some welcome puzzling but is ultimately underutilized. Despite the foundations of an interesting lore built around these dueling planes of existence, the lack of storytelling depth leaves the implementation feeling gimmicky rather than essential to the experience. Like much of Lords of the Fallen, a kernel of something greater feels lost behind flawed execution.
Familiar Yet Refined Combat Marred by Checkpoint Issues
Given Lords of the Fallen is positioning itself as a spiritual successor to Dark Souls, it should come as no surprise that its core gameplay mechanics borrow extensively from FromSoftware’s formula. Fans of punishing action RPGs will instantly recognize the methodical, stamina-focused combat built around carefully timed dodges, blocks, and strikes. Many factors like the control scheme, UI elements, health and stamina management, character progression, and more are lifted nearly wholesale from the Souls playbook.
Yet Hexworks has also injected new ideas to refine the well-worn combat loop. The “wither” system deals temporary damage when blocking attacks without a timely parry, forcing more aggressive play. You can also actively deplete enemy “posture” bars to open them up for visceral strike counters. Factor in weighty, responsive melee and a quick-swapping magic system providing versatile ranged options, and the result is gameplay that is undeniably Souls-like yet polished in its own right.
The varied magic spells and extensive crafting system also allow deep character build opportunities. Whether you favor sorcerous might, holy power, or plain steel, you’ll find options to tailor your warrior. This enables exciting experimentation and replayability.
However, one new system misses the mark. Vestige Seeds allow planting personal checkpoints, but these items are severely limited in number. This forces tedious repetition of large areas when supplies run dry. The inability to teleport directly back to your spawned vestiges also hampers exploration. Ironically, this system intended to empower players instead becomes an exercise in frustration.
Overall, the well-honed combat and character progression capture the essence of what makes soulslike RPGs enjoyable. A few missteps like the vestige seeds hold back the experience somewhat, but the satisfying core loop maintains the series’ addictive nature. Lords of the Fallen succeeds as an evolution of tried and true mechanics even if it lacks major innovation beyond visual polish and smart quality-of-life improvements.
Meticulously Crafted Levels Buried in Gloom
One area where Lords of the Fallen stays true to its inspiration is the intricately interwoven level design. The haunted environments you’ll traverse have clearly been crafted with care, encouraging methodical exploration to uncover hidden passages and shortcuts that loop back satisfyingly.
Each locale feels persistently dangerous thanks to the placement of traps and lethal enemies. Scoping out new areas demands patience and vigilance, as charging ahead blindly frequently ends in death. This tense, rewarding loop of inching through the unknown epitomizes what fans love about Soulslike games.
The various areas also cover all the expected gothic fantasy tropes, including decrepit villages, snow-blanketed ruins, decaying castles, torch-lit mines, and poisonous swamps. Some vistas can be striking in their crumbling grandeur, but a pervading atmosphere of gloom means most blur together in a monotonous parade of gray and brown.
One exception arises when utilizing the Umbral lamp to shift into the parallel ghost realm. Platforming challenges and environmental puzzles uniquely visible in Umbral provide secrets and shortcuts to discover. The dimension-shifting mechanic adds welcome variety to exploration compared to most Soulslikes’ more linear progression.
Sadly, technical issues like texture pop-in and framerate hitches can disrupt the joy of discovery. Furthermore, while each zone is intricately assembled, the overall world lacks the interconnectedness and sense of place provided by memorable locations like Anor Londo or the Erdtree.
Nonetheless, the addictive loop of carefully pushing further into Lords of the Fallen’s challenging spaces persists. The combination of intricate design and demanding combat maintains the series’ trademark tension, making each yard of ground gained feel earned. Players seeking knotty dungeons rich with secrets will find some satisfaction here. Just don’t expect substantial environmental variety or technical polish to match FromSoftware’s intricate worlds.
Familiar Foes and Disappointing Demigods
Lords of the Fallen populates its world with a range of lethal foes clearly inspired by the bestiary of Dark Souls and Bloodborne. You’ll clash with undead villagers, fiery knights, plague-infested rats, and other horrors that feel directly lifted from FromSoftware’s worlds. The resemblance goes beyond basic enemy archetypes into specific creatures like dragon-riding knights with obvious nods to Dragonrider bosses.
This unabashed mimicry robs many encounters of surprise, but the enemy design remains competent. Each new zone introduces fresh threats with distinct attack patterns to master rather than just boosting regular foes’ speed and damage arbitrarily. The responsive melee combat system also makes dispatching any resistance, whether a shambling corpse or hulking abomination, feel fair and rewarding.
Boss battles make up memorable milestones, though again, most boast very humanoid, armor-clad designs that seem like budget versions of Soulslike originals. However, these duels do succeed in providing an exhilarating challenge. Each demigod-like adversary has well-telegraphed but punishing attack chains requiring precise dodging and patience to overcome. Victory feels earned against these lethal warriors.
Sadly, that feeling of triumph is fleeting, as bested bosses immediately join the rank and file enemies afterwards. This bizarre decision erodes their uniqueness unceremoniously. Even worse, it feels like a cheap artificial difficulty increase rather than thoughtful game design.
The regular foes can also overwhelm in large groups, especially in cramped spaces or when paired with ranged support. The sustained, dense onslaughts push the boundaries of fairness at times. Patience, crowd control abilities, and judicious retreats become mandatory.
While the familiar cadre of fiendish foes captures the essence of Soulslike gameplay, Lords of the Fallen relies too heavily on difficulty spikes over truly innovative enemy design. Still, combat remains responsive and intense enough to drive continued mastery against its lethal line-up of adversaries.
Unreal Engine Can’t Mask Technical Shortcomings
Given the positive buzz surrounding early reveals, it’s disappointing Lords of the Fallen fails to deliver a smooth technical experience. Even with the power of Unreal Engine 5, frequent immersion-breaking issues hamper the quest.
The most egregious problem is inconsistent framerate with regular stuttering and slowdown. Frame pacing suffers noticeably in busy areas or during high action boss fights. This makes properly timing dodges or parries a frustrating exercise in luck rather than skill. Dying repeatedly to a boss because the game can’t maintain responsiveness feels unfair.
Other glitches like texture pop-in, broken enemy AI behavior between encounters, crashes, and locked abilities further mar the experience. Hexworks has worked diligently to patch and optimize stability since launch, but fundamental performance woes persist.
It’s a shame, because occasional vistas showcase the potential visual splendor of Unreal Engine 5. Particle effects like snow drifts and volumetric lighting lend eerie atmosphere when not chugging. But much of this visual promise feels lost behind technically deficient execution and the oppressively dreary art direction. Even more disappointing is a subpar mandatory film grain effect that leaves the presentation feeling muddy rather than enhanced.
Soulslike titles require precise, responsive controls to feel fair yet challenging. Sadly the myriad technical issues and performance inconsistencies in Lords of the Fallen mean playing well feels out of the player’s hands too often. These problems absolutely need addressing before the game can provide a smooth, rewarding experience that properly honors its namesake.
A Flawed Soulslike Struggling with Identity
Stepping back to look at Lords of the Fallen as a complete package, it becomes clear the game competently replicates vital elements of the Soulslike formula but stumbles when trying to forge its own identity. The strategic real-time combat, interconnected worlds ripe for exploration, and satisfying difficulty curve capture what makes this genre so addictive. Yet when it attempts to evolve beyond mimicking FromSoftware, half-baked execution hampers the result.
Innovations like the Umbral realm show promise but feel undercooked rather than fully integrated into the experience. The same applies to new mechanics like wither damage and parrying posture. Meanwhile, missteps like the vestige seed system demonstrate risks in deviating from tried and true Soulslike design.
Perhaps most critically, Lords of the Fallen’s bleak, dreary setting lacks the bizarre originality carved into the DNA of Souls worlds. It feels more like a mod adding a Dark Souls aesthetic to a generic fantasy rather than a fresh universe with its own stories to tell.
Of course, fans of Soulslike games desperate for a new hit may enjoy Lords of the Fallen despite its lack of identity. The core loop still provides tense, addictive punishment that adheres closest to Hidetaka Miyazaki’s vision. But with technical shortcomings aggravated by unfair difficulty spikes, most players are better off revisiting the ingenious works that inspired this flawed copycat. Lords of the Fallen mimics greatness but rarely achieves it, recommending the game only to genre devotees able to overlook its deficiencies.
Lords of the Fallen
Lords of the Fallen is a mixed bag. It succeeds at recreating the precision combat, secrets-filled levels, and brutal challenge that define the Soulslike genre its based on. When channeling Hidetaka Miyazaki's formula, it can be grimly enjoyable in a familiar way. However, when trying to innovate, it usually falls short due to underdeveloped ideas, technical shortcomings, and oppressive art direction. Fans of Dark Souls starved for a new adventure may be able to overlook the flaws thanks to a strong core loop. But for most players, Lords of the Fallen is simply an inferior imitation rather than an evolution of the games it strives to emulate. You're better off seeking out the genuine articles that inspired it.
- Polished combat mechanics.
- Dual-reality mechanics provide a fresh twist.
- Intricately designed environments that encourage exploration.
- Combat is refined with new ideas like the "wither" system and depleting enemy "posture" bars.
- Extensive character build opportunities through varied magic spells and crafting system.
- Stays true to the Soulslike formula in terms of challenging gameplay loop.
- Some visually striking areas showcase the power of Unreal Engine 5.
- Unchecked difficulty can feel unfair.
- Underutilized innovations, such as the Umbral realm.
- Oppressively dreary atmosphere.
- Lacks the imaginative touches and environmental storytelling of its inspirations.
- Technical issues like framerate hitches, texture pop-in, and other glitches.
- Vestige Seeds system feels more frustrating than empowering.
- Relies heavily on difficulty spikes rather than innovative enemy design.
- Feels more like an imitation rather than a fresh take on the Soulslike genre.