| Played on a CLX Gaming PC |
When the original Lords of the Fallen launched back in 2014, I was left with an impression that although the developers didn’t nail the Souls formula, they seemed utterly passionate about their new IP. At the time, the game looked visually great and played relatively well, albeit needed immense tuning in its mechanics. CI Games believes in their project so much that they poured in a bigger budget for a canonical refresh 9 years later, not even slapping a 2 on the title. This time around developer Hexworks brought us a game that not only respect the Souls-genre in maximum pedigree, but also managed to flesh out the overall world building of the series with immaculate effort all while looking astonishing within UE5 engine. Lords of the Fallen would have been my second favorite Souls game if not for one vital flaw — corrupted saves. I have lost my progress though Mournstead twice, both having well over 35+hrs of meaningful progress. It halted my review flow and because of that I can’t give it a final score. Though, there are some hallmarks I would like to talk about because at the end of the day, once this issue is finally resolved, Lords of the Fallen can stand tall amongst the greats.
This point forward I’m going to talk about the game as if I didn’t encounter the save corruption glitch.
9 years after the release of the original, Lords of the Fallen 2023 emerges as a monumental refresh to the IP, bringing great care to the Soulslike genre — seamlessly blending traditional elements with innovative mechanics, culminating in an experience that might lead one to believe they are playing Dark Souls 4. Hexworks have exhibited a commendable level of dedication and reverence for the source material, exemplified by their meticulous attention to detail in areas ranging from hit detection to RPG mechanics. The original LotF showcased excellent potential for its world-building, and this time it’s realized to such a degree that I’m inclined to say it stands toe-to-toe with Elden Ring. The level of work put into the parallel worlds between Axiom (land of the living) and Umbral (land of the dead) that players can seamlessly traverse is beyond commendable. This is integrated via gameplay called the Umbral Lamp, which allows players to peer through these realms; I can’t emphasis enough how well it is executed because it’s built around all facets of Lords of the Fallen; lore, gameplay, puzzles and boss battles.
Lords of the Fallen lore runs deep with interesting characters and voice acting alongside its world-building. The stage is set long ago when a demon god called Adyr ruled the world for eons and after a long-fought battle against humanity, it falls; to prevent its return, an order called The Hallowed Sentinels is formed to create beams of light to protect the world from ever seeing darkness again. Not long after, a malignant cult that worships the demon god managed to harness its essence that was strong enough to bring ruin once more. You are a Lampbearer, a crusader of darkness whose sole purpose is to bring light back into Mournstead. This foundation brings life to the overarching world rich with intriguing aspects and undertones. Thankfully LotF is teaming with great voice actor portraying dread and despair while trying to find ways to fight against it. A lot of the world is told through the eyes of the Umbral Lamp, a mechanic that allows you to peer through the dark realm. Aside from it being used in combat and puzzles, echoes of the past can be found that gives deeper perspective to the world around you include bosses before they succumbed to their twisted fate.
This translate to the visuals and environmental design — the people of Hexworks deserves a raise because my goodness is Lords of the Fallen a very pretty game. Utilizing UE3’s excellent Nanite and Lumen tech has pushed its presentation through the roof. Umbral’s art direction is a striking testament to the developers’ creativity, characterized by an eerie fascination with hands and grotesquely deformed humanoid structures. This macabre aesthetic choice adds a layer of unsettling atmosphere to the game, immersing players in a world that is as haunting as it is captivating. Bosses, gear and enemy designs are spectacular — There’s a clear and painstaking approach to the work behind Lords of the Fallen and I respect it greatly. The only drawback I found in this department was its NPC character model, particularly the players design; they’re not the best and it stands out even more when everything else looks immaculate. But overall, I can’t praise them enough. Now, I’m aware that there’s performance issues regarding Xbox Series consoles, but Hexworks has worked diligently releasing patches to rectify issues — I think over 5 in just a couple days after release; that’s impressive. I played on CLX Gaming PC with an RTX4090 card and while I didn’t have issues regarding frame stuttering, running the game settings at ~4K80fps + Ultra settings + DLSS 3 is a bit shameful considering the cost of this GPU, so I could imagine the issues players with lower end models may be facing.
The Umbral Embrace
The controls are as expected for a Souls game — all the usual button layout except for one element, the ability to swap between your magic hand for the Umbral lamp by pressing up or down on the D pad (I play controller with these games.) As a Lampbearer, you can peer through the Umbral realm which offers unique twist to combat and puzzles. That means when you’re using it to explore the dark realm to solve environmental puzzles, enemies can attack you and pull you in, giving you that great sense of unpredictability. When you die in Axiom, you’ll resurrect in Umbral which acts as a second wind mechanic — though your health is halved due to a debuff called Dread which leaves a portion of your health in white but can get regained via subsequence attacks. This innovative mechanic sets Lords of the Fallen 2023 apart from its peers and reinforces the developer’s commitment to pushing boundaries within the Soulslike genre. As you would expect from a game of this caliber, boss fights in Lords of the Fallen are nothing short of spectacular. So much so that after your tutorial boss, you are faced with an Malenia-inspired boss called Pieta, She of Blessed Renewal that’s coupled with excellently designed attacks that’s just the right amount of difficulty. You’ll face a wide range of foes such as a demon that’s reminiscent to an Easter Island head which rips its face open and launches Dread energy at you to a 3-headed dragon that’s ridden by a 4-armed demon. One of the biggest selling points for me is how meticulously crafted each boss encounter felt and with great effort to rival the biggest in the genre. I’ll dive into it more soon, but the controls are incredibly responsive and precise with minor flaws that when combined together, Hexworks delivers a spectacular experience for fans of the genre. It’s meticulous and thoughtful and I love it all.
Back to the Umbral Lamp mechanic. Beyond its role in peering through the Umbral plane, the Lamp can be utilized to latch onto enemies, extracting their souls and pulling in any direction for a debuff called Wither; not only does it drastically reduces their health with subsequent attacks, but also sets the stage for devastating blows with co-op partners. With the ability to pull enemies (even some bosses) to any direction leaves room for awesome moments. There are difficult enemies in LotF and ones that are brutes that charges are not my favorite. what I love to do is bait them to an edge and dodge just right enough so I can pull them with my lamp off the edge for ez-farms. Furthermore, the lamp plays a crucial role in puzzles and platforming sections, seamlessly integrating itself into the gameplay without losing focus. That also applies to some boss battles that would appear to have infinite health but is being protected by an Umbral overshield that can only be destroyed by peering into the dark side. This level of complexity doesn’t overwhelm the player but enriches it. This is one of the highest praises I can give to Hexworks and I can only hope that the top-end developers of the genre take note from this.
UPDATE: A review key was provided to me and due to technical issues regarding both my save files getting corrupted, I can’t in good faith give it a final score. This has been communicated to my contact — I am grateful for the opportunity. As of this writing, the developers have addressed numerous issues including the one I faced — so in time I will come back to Lords of the Fallen and perhaps update this written review. Until this, here’s a snapshot of their review accolades from other outlets.
Inputs has been revamped to feel more familiar to Souls players compared to the sluggish 2014 counterpart — a clear indication that the studio has learned a great deal since; It’s snappier, much more precise and responsive with slicker animations. You can single or two hand any weapon, distribute stats to duel wield even the heaviest weapons, each with their own stat scaling; there’s no swapping between weapons though, and the frametime could use some tuning regarding summersaulting because man, I can summersault my way out of anything at medium encumbrance.
Build crafting in Lords of the Fallen mirrors the approach seen in iconic titles like Dark Souls and Elden Ring. Players have the opportunity to mod abilities and weapons, allowing for a personalized playstyle that caters to individual preferences. This level of customization empowers players to experiment and fine-tune their characters, adding a layer of depth to the gameplay experience. The inclusion of mementos from defeated bosses is a familiar aspect in the Souls genre — it allows for players choose between boss specific gear and magic, but this time Lords of the Fallen allows players to obtain everything provided they have enough currencies from joining co-op sessions and gathering enough Umbral Scourings. This allows for a lot less tedious farming and more engaging with great respect to players time. There’s a lot of distinct currencies to lookout for that can only be acquired in specific ways such as invading players and eliminating them or helping others in their quest — and most are used to gain additional cosmetics such as armor tincts (changing gear color) and multiplayer specific armor sets from PVP and co-op. Speaking of multiplayer, LotF has probably the best servers I’ve played in this genre — there isn’t as much invading/players joining compared to more popular titles but when you invite a player, they will stay connected through and through with zero lag or interruptions.
While Lords of the Fallen excels in numerous areas, it is not without its limitations. The absence of player hints/messages may lead to moments of frustration for those seeking community interaction/clues. Additionally, the restriction to 2-player co-op, though supplemented by a 3rd NPC during boss fights, may deter those desiring a more socially integrated experience. The absence of a dedicated co-op/pvp initiation method outside of Vestiges (bonfire) is a bit cumbersome — additionally, the lack of Factions for specialized quests and rewards, and the limited exploration radius during co-op from the host are areas where the game could see potential improvement.
Nevertheless, Lords of the Fallen is an exemplar of the Soulslike genre, masterfully blending traditional elements with innovative mechanics. Its meticulous attention to detail, reverence for the source material, and commitment to pushing boundaries within the genre make it an exceptional title. While it may have a few minor limitations in multiplayer functionality, these are outweighed by the sheer brilliance of its design and execution. This game is a must-play for any fan of the Soulslike genre, and it sets a new standard for what can be achieved within this space.