Hexworks has rebooted its Souls-like action-RPG, and we've spent the last week exploring its parallel worlds and facing all manner of tough foes.
With Souls-like games being all the rage at the moment, it can be all too easy for some titles to completely fade from people's memories. Released back in 2014, the original Lords of the Fallen, for me at least, is one example of this. It provided a competent take on the Souls-like genre but was never cherished in the same regard as genre classics such as Nioh and Salt and Sanctuary. Almost a decade later Hexworks has developed a reboot of the series, but can this one achieve glory, or is it doomed to repeat the same fate as its predecessor?
Right off the bat, I was impressed that Lords of the Fallen offers players nine distinct character classes to start off their journey. These include a dependable all-rounder Partisan class, an incredibly tanky Hallowed Knight class and a Pyric Cultist class, which is proficient in performing inferno spells. Each of these classes come equipped with their own armour and weapon loadouts and set of starting stats to suit a variety of playstyles.
Lords of the Fallen distinguishes itself from other Souls-likes, as it features two worlds layered on top of each other that players can alternate between using a magical lantern. When traversing the world, you'll often find a roadblock in the land of the living known as Axiom and will have to switch to Umbral, which is the realm of the dead. By lifting up your lantern you can peek between realms, but you'll occasionally have to fully transition to Umbral if there's a pathway present, for example, that isn't otherwise available in Axiom.
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Spending too much time in Umbral though has its consequences. This unearthly realm is populated with monsters that aren't otherwise seen in Axiom and they become even more deadly as time passes and your level of Dread builds. Whilst stuck in Umbral, it gives Lords of the Fallen a bit of a survival horror flair, as you're always rushing to find sparsely placed statues to be able to escape the steadily increasing danger. If you die in Umbral there's also big consequences, as you'll forever lose the Vigor (Souls equivalent) that you're carrying.
This dual-world concept also spills over to the game's combat. Similar to Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, you can return from the grave and have another stab at overthrowing your enemies if you are slain whilst in Axiom. Once your lantern is charged, you can also use a move called Soul Fray which drags an enemy's soul out of their body enabling you to dish out some big damage. Another neat element is that some enemies will have their health protected by another entity in Umbral, so you'll have to switch between realms and banish them with your lantern.
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As well as introducing some fun new concepts, Lords of the Fallen also masters the basics of combat. The game tries to run at 60fps giving a sense of fluidity to battles and your attacks have a real sense of weight behind them which is something that is greatly enhanced by the DualSense controller (on PS5). From axes, to swords, and spears, there is a great variety of weapons that you can equip yourself with and these can be wielded either with one hand or two hands, depending on whether you want to prioritise damage or speed.
It does stumble though in ramping up the difficulty far too early and I fear that this could work to deter players with limited patience. Each Souls-like has a "skills check" boss designed to test players to see if they've mastered the game's mechanics, but this came as early as the first main boss. This boss has sweeping ranged attacks, a second phase, and attacks that are capable of sending players to the grave with one shot. To overcome this threat, I found myself having to meticulously study its attack patterns and experiment with my loadout.
Another of Lords of the Fallen's shortcomings (at least at the time of writing) is its performance. Frequently the framerate would slow down to a nauseating pace and this would enable enemies to get a cheeky few hits in before the game had a chance to recover. The game's cutscenes and loading screens also stutter and lack a sense of fluidity, which works to pull you out of the immersion. I did play the game in a pre-launch state, so I'm hoping that these issues can be fixed before the game is given a final release.
One final thing I'd like to point out is that Lords of the Fallen features multiplayer features such as the ability to play with friends in uninterrupted online co-op. With the game's servers being inactive in the pre-launch build I was unable to test these features out, but I imagine having a friend along for the ride would help alleviate some of the challenge. The lack of co-op was also a point of criticism for the first Lords of the Fallen, so it's great that the developers have listened to feedback and implemented the feature.
Lords of the Fallen is a solid Souls-like that goes beyond being just another genre copycat. Its combat feels fluid and has plenty of depth due to its nine starting classes and its dual-world concept literally helps to add another dimension to its combat and exploration. Let's just hope that the game's performance woes are patched out ahead of release, as they currently provide an extra element of frustration in a game designed to test your patience.
8 / 10
Combat is deep and fluid. The dual-world concept is creative. It includes uninterrupted co-op.
Performance issues can be nauseating. The initial difficulty curve is a little too steep.