Back in 2014 when the Dark Souls franchise was relatively new, the original Lords of the Fallen tried to become the first “soulslike”, hoping to catch on to an emerging trend. It was however released to middling critical reception. Most saw it as a weak imitation of FromSoftware’s magnum opus. I never got around to playing Lords of the Fallen as the community’s opinion on the game soured my interest towards it. Now in 2023 where the term “soulslike” is all the rage with many games trying to become the next Dark Souls successor, and yet it comes with a lot of expectations. With the release of the new Lords of the Fallen, developer Hex Works attempts to write the wrongs of the original game. Now at the time I’ve been writing this review I have not finished the game and I’m still debating whether or not I will even finish it. I wouldn’t blame that entirely on the game itself though as when I play a “ Dark souls” like game I tend to hold my souls for as long as possible because the rush of getting the most amount of souls before I die is an addiction. Unfortunately it’s now become a massive grind to get more souls in Lords of the Fallen. Usually I’d use multiplayer but the game is very rarely populated with players to join weather that be server issues or people just not online. I may still return because the gameplay, setting and world design are just that good. So consider this more of a opinion piece then a review.
Initial impressions started off relatively well as I instantly got to grips with the controls and the strategic use of defending and attacking which will come easily to anyone who played a Dark Souls game. Combat is a constant juggling act as unlike your typical Dark Souls game you will occasionally have to go to “the umbaral realm” which is one of the main selling points of the sequel/reboot. Underneath the living world (axiom) there is an alternate undead-like realm called the Umbral that you access with a lamp or when you fall in battle. You can enter this alternate realm at any time or use the lamp to scope out what is ahead but be careful, because if an enemy within the realm sees you they can instantly drag you in with one attack. The environment of the Umbral is filled with corpses and the huge skeletal remains of enemies scatter the landscape. Within the umbral realm, combat is a constant as enemies are always coming, you will usually fight at least 5 enemies at a time with a mix of weaker to more elite enemies. Some enemies in this realm can cause “Wither” damage that can cut your health in half. This plays like bloodborne where you still have a chance to gain back that health by not getting hit. The umbaral realm is a fight for survival as the longer you stay their the more dangerous it becomes but the larger the multiplier of souls you will receive. It’s a constant risk/reward mechanic. Will you stay for bigger payout or will you get out as soon as possible as there is only a few places that allow you to exit the umbral realm.
This dual-world mechanic has kept the game from getting overly stale as it’s always fun to find a secret path to a brand new area or even a treasure. This unique mechanic does bring me back to when I first started Elden Ring where the map was completely blank giving me a sense of unknowingness as I had no idea how massive this world can be. And in a way the umbral realm gave me that exact same sense of exploration, obviously not to the degree as Elden Ring where I lost literal months to the game and its world.
Visually both the realms, Axiom and umbral are striking, this is probably one of the most beautiful games that I’ve seen on the current generation of consoles. Axiom was once a land of vibrancy and life but years of combat have turned it into a world of darkness and death, after decades of war with a powerful god adyr who was destroyed long ago, but his influence is still lingering and his servants wish to bring about his second coming and its up to you to either stop him or allow his return to happen. It does have many of the elements that dark souls has used to depict a world on the edge of madness but this plays like a fromsoftwares greatest hits as it takes cues from bloodborne in some of the location design and the dark souls franchise alike. The way this spills over many locations is astounding and the massive hulking hand of the evil god Adry looms over the player, emphasizing the threat he poses to you and this world.
But my initial impressions very slowly diminished as I played more. Because to be a soulslike comes with a lot of expectations and lords of the fallen takes all of the wrong influences from Dark souls. Being difficult does not constitute a dark souls game and neither does cheap deaths. Plenty of enemies push you off the environment, and it has annoying platforming and bosses that use cheap tactics.The lock-on mechanic can also be incredibly frustrating as at times it tends to bug out and stop tracking the enemy you want and lock onto a random enemy. In a particular boss fight locking on became impossible when the boss kept running out of the range of the lock on and I could not tell where he was coming from. On that note boss fights aren’t all that exciting, sure they look visually interesting but they just don’t give me that same sense of intimidation that fromsoftwares would. Narratively the game does have what makes the dark souls games interesting as it uses location and item descriptions and vague dialogue from NPCs to help sell this world. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t have enough to keep me invested as there are very few interesting NPCs within the world, and the story itself is just not all that engaging to be a part of.
When the game was initially released it had been reported to have a number of performance issues. However, I didn’t notice many issues outside of the multiplayer that had some serious issues when it came to connection stability and even after finding a fellow player it became a nightmare of stuttering frames and terrible hit detection. To this day trying to find a game takes a very long time which begs the question did it sell well? Or Is the server issues still apparent? The game is cross platform however
To bring this article to a close, will I continue this game? Maybe? I honestly don’t know. I’m at that point in the game where every enemy is just a test in endurance to kill and the story and its characters leave me with very little want to continue. Yet the combat and the dual world mechanic are what keep my interest for hours. Would I recommend it? Yes, I would but it will take a lot of grinding and a willingness to look past some gameplay issues. If I was to rate this reboot I’d say it’s a very impressive second attempt but the technical faults and annoying gameplay choices make it a difficult game to recommend to everyone.