Originally published at: Review | Lords of the Fallen (2023) - XboxEra
2023 is the year of great Soulslikes not made by From Software. Last month we had Lies of P which scratched the Sekinoccio/Pinoccisouls itch. Lords of the Fallen is here, from new developer Hexworks, to fulfill your Dark Souls 3 needs. It’s technically gorgeous running on Unreal Engine 5, has tons of quality-of-life improvements (like seamless co-op), and plays great. Stellar music, an intriguing story, and a killer art style propel it to the top of the genre for me (soulslikes not made by From). While it does stumble a bit at the very end, it’s a small trip over its own feet. Lords of the Fallen knows what makes Souls games great and improves on them in some key areas.
My Sweet Adyr
Lords of the Fallen is a Sequel/Reboot for the franchise. You don’t need to know the rather basic story from the first game. You are a Dark Crusader, chosen by the previous wielder to control an Umbral Lamp. This lamp can peak into the world of the dead, which is an alternate reality occupying an almost “shared space” with the land of the living. Five Beacons have become corrupted, and you have been tasked with cleansing them to stop the historical big bad, Adyr. He is a God who was bested 1000 years ago and has been slowly but surely working his way back to power through his demonic hoard.
The story in the game is intriguing, obtuse (as all Soulslikes must be), and full of choice. We were given a review guide that told me the potential fates of various story characters, only for me to realize I never met them or none of it happened by the time I rolled credits. Lords of the Fallen is huge, and it’s easy to miss things in it during a review period. Those of you reading and playing post-launch will have the luxury of guides online to see all the endings and know how to finish the various quest chains. It’s a big, obtuse, wonderful tapestry that Hexworks has built here.
I got an ending that felt appropriate for what I had been choosing to do but also would be seen as “bad” by most. I’m curious to see what other endings are on offer, and the game does offer up new game +. That’s normally a great thing but they made one choice about it that I can’t stand. The game has Vestiges, a.k.a. your Bonfire equivalent. In new game + you only get one of the few dozens available in the main game, the one for your base. Other than that, you need to use temporary checkpoints the entire game, which require a currency of which you can only keep a handful of at any time. Wasting time is my biggest pet peeve in games, and this decision is one I hope they go back on quickly post-launch.
You’ll start the game by building your character, with various archetypes to choose from that any fan of the genre will be instantly familiar with. I went with a melee and ranged-focused Strength and Agility class. There are big shield-using beefy boys, fire magic freaks, holy bolt throwers, and stabby sneakthiefs. They even brought the “no gear or early stats so you can completely customize it” Wretch class in.
The main stats are:
The first are obvious, and each adds to your overall defense as you use it. Radiance is holy magic and Inferno is Rhogar Magic (aka fire). Even after reaching level 103 by the end of my playthrough and putting over 30 points into Vitality I still never felt that strong unless I was using a shield. Enemies hit incredibly hard for most of the game, and while you can feel like a God running through the early areas the latter ones are so full of mobs that I preferred the “run by everything to the next checkpoint approach” instead of trying to fight 15 mobs at once.
To level up, buy anything, or upgrade your gear you’ll need soul….Vigor! Every enemy you defeat or item you sell to a vendor will gain you Vigor, the game’s main currency. There are a few drops for upgrading weapons and armor (the latter of which I never unlocked, because this game is obtuse af), along with various PVP and Co-op currencies that can get you a mix of cosmetic and gameplay/build useful items.
There is a Blacksmith who (supposedly) offers up weapon and armor upgrades as well as Rune socketing. I found her way later than I should have, seriously I played for another 10 hours after passing her without realizing it. I never unlocked her ability to upgrade armor nor her ability to socket runes. I searched the entire map non-stop for hours after beating the game and still couldn’t find the items necessary, frustrating!
Lords of the Fallen has one amazing party trick. The Umbreal Realm is accessible at any time through use of your Umbral Lamp. The mysterious origins of this lamp and what it can do are a key part of the game’s mystery. It can be used to sneak a peak into the land of the dead, which lays on top of that of the living. Holding the left trigger and pressing X can pull you directly into this world, removing half of your HP and replacing it with Whither damage.
Whither damage is a white meter on your HP that can be replenished by hitting enemies. Another way to enter the Umbral Realm is to die! Whenever you are killed for the first time you’ll awaken with your half a health bar in the Umbral Realm. Many a boss fight saw me kill them while in here, and for both puzzle and combat use it’s an incredibly cool mechanic. The Umbral Realm is an H.R. Giger meets Gothic Horror-fest. It doesn’t change up every part of the main world but it is used to great effect in puzzles, where you are forced to enter the Umbral world to cross otherwise bottomless chasms or climb bone ladders to reach new areas.
Staying in the Umbral Realm means fighting its residents, and the more you kill over time the angrier “something” gets. An eyeball on the top right of the screen indicates the current danger level, and as it gets more and more filled it starts to turn red. Once the red zone is hit you better find a way to get out or you will be dead dead real soon.
The biggest part of any Soulslike is how good the combat feels. The original title was infamous for its insanely hefty, slow big boy movement. 2023’s Sequelboot is damned fast, feeling far more like Dark Souls 3 than anything else I can think of. I wore a mix of medium and heavy armor until I found a carrying capacity ring in the middle of the game, and my character could run like a methhead during a full moon.
You have two weapon slots, with a main and off-hand. One ranged/spell casting slot (those are called catalysts). Helmet, Torso, Legs, and Arms for your armor slots. Finally, there are two ring and one amulet slot. There are dozens of weapon types, and I had nearly 20 shields by the end of my playthrough. For casting spells you’ll need a Catalyst, which allows you to cast spells for each of their associated schools of magic. I had bows, crossbows, and over a dozen throwable items. My favorite weapon in the game was the Enhanced Dull Hammer.
It is a throwable that scales with STR and AGI, and being a character built around those stats it did insane damage. The final boss of the game found me using about 50 hammers to take him down, replenishing my ammo using consumables I had picked up throughout my run. I had a big old bonker of a hammer that did more damage but with a much higher risk of being hit. The amount of build choices is what makes any good Soulslike worth it and Lords of the Fallen has a ton of options.
The game uses a lock-on system for combat which works great in one-on-one or up to a few enemy fights. There are a lot of bosses, both unique and bigger versions of common enemies. None of them were particularly difficult. They always felt just hard enough so that I had to really focus up or in some cases go level up. The game is well-tuned, where every boss could seemingly be beaten by any build. Magic users were weak to my bonks, and the heavily armored foes went down thanks to the various ranged weapons I had and the different magic damage they provided me.
Blocking will give you some withered health while mitigating whatever your weapon or shield can do. Tapping block just before being hit is a powerful parry that contributes to your enemy’s stagger meter. Once an enemy is staggered you can pull off a hard-hitting move by pressing attack from directly in front of or behind them. The window on this attack is extremely short though, which led to me not getting it off as often as I was actually able to.
Where it faltered a bit was the late game when the devs throw upwards of 20 enemies at you at once, and they can kill you in 3 or 4 hits. I ended up just running passed huge swaths of enemies, rarely engaging outside of a specific few that I had to kill to move on. This was mostly in the literal last area of the game which was only an hour or two long. My previous 40+ hours felt great, especially in co-op.
Quality of Life Improvements, Good Looks & Great Sounds
Lords of the Fallen can be played entirely in co-op, no strings. There is a password system if you want to keep anyone from randomly joining you, but it’s not needed. Instead, you can go to any Vestige and just choose “beckon friends”. I would then go into my Steam friends list and invite them, they’d show up and we’d play together as long as we wanted. Only the host gets progress but the co-op summon gets to keep all Vigor and items they earn, along with a co-op-only currency. If they die and you can get to their corpse while no enemies are on top of it you can instantly revive them as well.
There are no currencies needed to summon, revive, or really anything. It’s fantastic and the times I got to play in co-op made what was already a great game that much better. The game is full of small but meaningful changes that help stop that feeling of wasted time that can be so frustrating in the genre. Only the host can initiate travel, and when the host dies or uses the lamp, you can go into the Umbral Realm. Enemies gain a bit of HP and deal more damage, and the game has a variety of spells that can buff or heal you and your partners. Boss fights mostly allow you to summon characters whom you have unlocked as potential allies throughout the story as well. You can even do this WHILE in co-op, giving the game’s boss fights a sort of “easy mode”. Co-op is so open and free that it should help those who feel overwhelmed by the difficulty of these games have a chance to enjoy them more.
Graphically the game is stunning. Running on a 5800x/7900xtx AMD rig I pushed 4k/90fps for most of my playthrough. The game does offer up FSR3, though I oddly found my performance worse with it running. If I was in an area getting 110 fps and then put FSR3 on my framerate would drop to 80 or below. It is an odd behavior for a feature that normally helps gain performance at the cost of visual clarity.
Visual effects are crisp, and the lighting is phenomenal. Each beacon area is its own distinct visual feast, from swamps to snow-covered hills, and gleaming religious compounds it all looks amazing. I have zero clue how it will look or run on Xbox, so make sure you find coverage of that version of the game ASAP post this embargo.
Animations are easy to read on enemies, with a distinct timing to most of them that I never struggled with. There were times in Lies of P and other Soulslikes that felt a bit “off”, but I never got that here. You can get locked into attacks if you button-mash, though. So you will want to stay patient and do your best to not panic. This is a dodge-fest like the Souls series, and while there is a pretty good feeling parry available even with the clean graphics and smooth animations it’s still tough to pull off in the heat of combat.
There is an incredible amount of visual variety on display, and it’s been put together by a team that is only three years old at the time of release. It is astounding to me just how big and dense every part of this game is, and it’s capped off with a gorgeous soundtrack that elevates it to heights rarely seen. Much like Lies of P the developers here “get it”. You need a mix of great combat, intriguing world-building, and incredible music. While the voice acting is far more hit or miss the music never falters. I found myself running around late-game fights when I knew I couldn’t win just so that I could keep listening to the bombastic and beautiful music.
Wrapping Things Up
Lords of the Fallen is a stunningly good game. Following a path set for it by Dark Souls 3 it nails every major part of what makes From’s games so damned good. Stunning visually, the art style and music are some of my favorites. While the very end does get too “big” for its gameplay this one is an easy recommendation to both the most hardcore Souls lovers and those who feel intimidated. Seamless co-op takes what is a great game and makes it a special one.
Time to Complete Campaign; 41.2 Hours on Steam
Time Played Post Completion Because the Game Rules: 10+