It’s finally here. Hexworks’ brand new reimagining of 2014’s Lords of the Fallen is out now, beckoning you towards it, with the promise of brutal combat and tense exploration in an exquisitely crafted fantasy world.
Hexworks have certainly produced a dark and sprawling landscape here, brimming with beautiful and revolting elements, and one which undoubtedly stands head and shoulders above its slightly shabby predecessor.
But how does it measure up in a world stuffed full of other Souls-likes, such as Elden Ring, Nioh, Sekiro, Bloodborne, Lies of P, et al?
Time to strap on your ailing sword and board, dust off that gnarled catalyst, sharpen those rusty daggers and tie off that frayed bow string, and find out.
It’s time. Prepare to die. Over and over again.
Lords of the Fallen Character Classes
There are nine starting classes in Lords of the Fallen (ten if you include the bonus Dark Crusader class which can be unlocked after your first playthrough, or by making a ker-ching DLC transaction).
Each class has its own pros and cons, heavily armored classes being restricted in movement, lighter armored classes being weaker against damage, and so on.
The starting classes on offer in Lords of the Fallen are as follows:
- Hallowed Knight – A heavy, tanky, melee class that deals big damage in close-quarters combat
- Partisan – A melee class fighter less armored than the Hallowed Knight, but a little lighter on his feet
- Udiranger Warwolf – A light-armored and mobile melee class that deals a decent amount of pain, but is reliant on dodging to avoid damage
- Exiled Stalker – A DPS class that deals big damage with dual-wield daggers, but has very little in the way of armor or protection
- Orian Preacher – A mage class that specializes in radiance magic, and dealing damage from a distance
- Pyric Cultist – A pyromancer class that uses devastating fire magic to deal damage, but has little in the way of armour
- Mournstead Infantry – A well-protected melee class that specializes in spear attacks and javelin throws
- Blackfeather Ranger – A ranged class who specializes in bow attacks, and comes equipped with an axe for melee combat
- Condemned – A prisoner class, armed with a bucket and some rocks, and low-level armor. One for masochists who like an extra helping of challenge.
There’s no right or wrong here, and as you progress through the campaign you can spec into other areas and level up your character however you like.
My advice would be to pick whichever starting class looks the most fun and play through the relatively short prologue to see how it feels. If you’re not digging it, pick another and restart the game.
Everything can be unlocked or discovered in the main game, so you’ll get your chance to try it all out in time, but not until much later on. So make sure you’re happy to play through the first few hours with your chosen class.
Lords of the Fallen: Just Another Souls-Like?
Yes, Lords of the Fallen is a Souls-like action RPG. There are plenty of gameplay mechanics that will feel instantly familiar to fans of the genre, from the Estus-in-all-but-name Sanguinatrix, to the Vigor (read, souls) that you collect from your thrashed enemies, and then lose upon death.
Bonfires are called Vestiges here and are scattered unevenly across the world of Mournstead. These serve as your rest points, where you can refill your est..Sanguinatrix, level up your character, and warp to any other unlocked Vestige in the game.
So far, so Dark Souls 2, right?
Inventory management, item equipping, and so on will feel like a busman’s holiday for Souls veterans, and there are enough player statistics here to make an actuary feel jealous. The player interface is pretty good and easy to navigate.
Play through the prologue and you’ll receive a flurry of gameplay control mechanics, that are designed to quickly bring you up to speed with everything.
In all honesty, it’s a bit much, right off the bat. It felt jarring having gameplay automatically pause every two minutes, while large on-screen text prompts appear, telling you what to do next.
These prompts have to be manually removed from the screen, and it’s an early frustration that can have you screaming “JUST LET ME PLAY!!!” – rather than simply absorbing the information, as intended.
This start-stop intro made me realize how well-designed the on-floor soapstone prompts were in the Dark Souls games, and it’s a shame they couldn’t have found a better way to impart this information here, without it feeling so intrusive.
It’s by no means a deal-breaker, but it does make for an irritating start to the game.
Get past the prologue, and things begin to improve considerably as the world opens up.
Lords of the Fallen clearly draws much inspiration from the Dark Souls franchise, with similar character-building elements, comparable combat mechanics, and the same kind of tentative exploration you’d find in the FromSoft canon.
However, there is one main gameplay element that separates Lords of the Fallen from Dark Souls and saves it from being a straightforward love letter to the series.
You Can Stand Under My Umbral-Ella
What sets Lords of the Fallen apart from its peers is the parallel world of the Umbral. This undead realm can be peeked into at any time, by lifting your lamp and scanning it around the environment.
During your traversal across Mournstead you will stumble across many apparent dead ends, where the path ahead seems broken or hidden. This is where Lords of the Fallen’s dual-world mechanic comes in.
In a move reminiscent of the excellent Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver (hands up, any older gamers in the house), the solution to most of these environmental cul-de-sac puzzles usually lies in the world of the dead, the Umbral.
Stuck on where to go next? Shine your lamp around you, to see if an alternate path is presented in the Umbral realm. With your lamp held high, you can step from the world of the living (the Axiom) into the world of the dead, and forge ahead.
There are a few things to note when traveling through the Umbral in Lords of the Fallen, however.
Your health will halve once you step through into the Umbral. You cannot leave the Umbral until you find a Vestige that allows you to return to Axiom, and if you spend too long there, you’ll attract the attention of zombies, who will pursue you in large numbers.
Spend even longer there and you will be actively hunted by one of the vicious Reapers that dwell there, for trespassing into their realm.
A dread meter appears on the right-hand side of the screen to indicate how visible you are to Reapers in the world of the Umbral. Blazing like the Eye of Sauron, once this ocular meter fills up, you know it’s time to get the heck out of dodge.
On the plus side, lingering in the Ubral increases the amount of Vigor that you gain from enemies. The risk/reward nature of exploring the Umbral works to Lords of the Fallen’s advantage, fleshing out the world, and giving it its own identity.
The Umbral is a neat gameplay twist that makes Lords of the Fallen stand out from the competition. It adds depth to the exploration and ratchets up the tension as you move through the world.
I Love Lamp
Traversing across to the Umbral isn’t the only use for your lamp in Lords of the Fallen. It can also be used in combat.
Throughout the world, you’ll find enemies inhabited by parasites (signposted by a blue health bar above their heads). These parasites will buff the strength of mundane enemies to levels that make most of your regular attacks useless.
However, lock onto them and shine your Umbral lamp in their direction, and you can rip them free from their host with ease. Once you have separated the parasite from the host, you’ll have a few seconds to kill the parasite before it’s able to reinhabit the host.
Assuming you’re successful in doing so, you’ll be left with a standard enemy to deal with. Make an example of them, and run them through in whatever manner seems best to you.
Your Umbral lamp can also reveal windows to past events in the world. As you venture through Mournstead, you’ll occasionally stumble across Stigmas, remnants of past traumatic events.
Shine your lamp on these Stigmas and you’ll be treated to a replay of those past events, providing you with an insight into what’s come before.
Combat in Lords of the Fallen
One of the big gripes in 2014’s Lords of the Fallen was the combat. It seems unkind to call it a complete mess, but if the cap fits, wear it, as they say.
It was janky, uneven, and beyond frustrating. Compare it to the original Dark Souls, a much older game, and it still came up way short. It suffered countless frame drops and stuttering, and the less said about the camera, the better.
So what’s it like here?
Well, mercifully, it’s greatly improved from the original. Yet it isn’t perfect. It’s hack-and-slashy in a way that lacks the finesse of any of FromSoft’s Souls titles. And while the framerate remains steady, the inconsistent in-game camera can often make close-quarters encounters a real misery.
That said, the parry system works well, and dodging is relatively easy to master. Enemy attacks are well-telegraphed, giving you plenty of time to react, and combat in Lords of the Fallen as a whole is rather more forgiving than with some of its peers.
A well-timed parry will stun your enemies, allowing you to move in close for a visceral attack, and each player class comes with a unique ranged attack to keep foes at bay, giving you space to breathe and strategize.
Die in combat, and you’ll be given one last chance to cleave your enemy in twain, a la Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. You’ll shift into the Umbral, and have one last gasp to stick it to them before you expire.
Fail to do so, and you’ll evaporate into dust, losing your accumulated Vigor, and you will resurrect at the last Vestige or Seed Bed that you visited.
Lords of the Fallen’s Multiplayer
There is multiplayer in Lords of the Fallen, but…(sigh)…it’s complicated.
You can jump in and out of multiplayer at any Vestige site, or any Seed Bed that you’ve planted (essentially a player-generated Vestige site). This distinguishes it from Souls games, where special in-game items are required to initiate the multiplayer aspects.
You can choose to invite a friend or a random player into your game to co-op with. You can also choose to assist another player in their world or choose to invade their game instead.
Additionally, Lords of the Fallen also allows for crossplay between console and PC, but with one main caveat.
Any console player can play with any PC player. A PS5 player can play with another PS5 player. And an Xbox player can play with another Xbox player. But, PS5 and Xbox players cannot play together.
You can only play co-op with one other player, too. The guest player will retain any items won during multiplayer in the host’s world, but won’t progress any further forwards in their own campaign.
If the host dies, then you both die. But if the guest dies, they can be revived by the host, once your enemies have been vanquished. Plus, the host has sole control of entering the Umbral realm.
And, yes, there is PVP too. So invasions are possible, for any players who want to test their chops against IRL foes.
It’ll be interesting to see how the multiplayer aspects of Lords of the Fallen are fleshed out (if at all) over time. It’s a real shame that only one other player can join your game, and an even greater shame about the cross-play restrictions.
Seeing as games like this tend to live or die based on the strength of the multiplayer system, it definitely feels that more could have been done here to ensure the game’s longevity online.
Lords of the Fallen: Fallen From Heaven, or Fallen From Grace?
Lords of the Fallen is not an open-world action RPG. Think Dark Souls, where you tread a linear gameplay path through the campaign, but with areas that loop back on one another, via a central hub.
There’s plenty to admire in this game, with in-game environments rendered beautifully, it’s a feast for the eyes. You’ll find all the usual terrains to traverse, from sprawling dungeons, castle ramparts, devastated villages, dank swamps, and more.
Plus, there’s the ever-present world of the Umbral, casting an even darker and creepier lens on your surroundings. The level design is a high point for me, it’s well crafted and urges you to play on, delving deeper into the world.
Graphically, it looks decent, though not exactly jaw-dropping. Some areas look absolutely stunning, while others can’t help but look a little grainy and untextured.
Movement is noticeably better than Lords of the Fallen’s ill-fated 2014 predecessor. You don’t feel like you’re wading through treacle here, and animations are much more fluid by comparison.
That said, it does still feel a little janky if I’m honest. Combat frustrates and excites in equal measure, with some deaths feeling cheap and dirty. The parry and dodge mechanics are occasionally a little inconsistent, and the collision detection still seems a bit off in my opinion.
Strategizing in combat is essential, as it’s all too easy to find yourself overrun. Even low-level enemies manage to hit like a freight train, so it pays to exercise caution in any encounter. If all else fails, you can always just run past most enemies.
There’s more than enough variety in character classes and playstyles to justify a second or even a third playthrough. Character customization is deep and satisfying, giving you plenty of scope for growth.
Despite its shortcomings (including its occasional lack of polish), Lords of the Fallen is a compelling dark fantasy adventure with lots going for it. It can’t begin to compete with the dizzying heights achieved by the likes of Elden Ring, but it doesn’t try to.
Instead, it remains an enjoyable action RPG that will appeal to most Souls fans, painting an intriguing world on its dark canvas, that’s just begging to be explored.