Written by - Codiak
Updated: September 26, 2023
Posted: September 26, 2023
If the name Lords of the Fallen sounds familiar you might be remembering the 2014 lukewarm action-rpg by the same name. The team behind the game, CI Games, Deck13, and now Hexworks have essentially hit the ‘reset’ button in an attempt to take a second bite at the souls apple.
Lords of the Fallen by every measure is a Dark Souls game that very much looks to create something that players familiar with that series can latch onto. The game features a dark-gothic theme. The world is littered with grotesque enemies and larger than life bosses. Exploration is at the very core of the experience. And of course, you can’t forget about a risk vs reward combat system that feels beefy.
There have been numerous playtests out in the wild leading up to launch and almost everyone from critics to your average joe-off-the-street has said the same Lords of the Fallen is intended for a Dark Souls audience.
But as always, whenever we do one of these ultimate previews our goal isn’t simply to compare apples to apples, it’s to help break down the core gameplay systems that define the experience as we know it ahead of release.
Without a doubt one of the most striking things about Lords of the Fallen are the visuals. The game, built in Unreal Engine 5, looks better than pretty much every souls-game out there. The engine allows the developers a level of detail in the world that I feel is unmatched, but that’s to be expected when you’re constantly pushing the technical envelope, and have an ambitious team in the driver’s seat.
The game takes place in the fictional world of Mournstead, more than 1000 years after the events of the first game. The world is said to be 5 times larger than the original game, which understandably might not mean much to you if you didn’t know the first game existed in the first place. The world is built around three core pillars: fantasy, torment, and darkness and that’s how the team approached the design of the world. For the laymans eyes you’ll most likely just see Dark Souls, but underneath that veil is the first differentiating system that the developers hope will set Lords of the Fallen apart.
You see this game actually features 2 concurrent worlds: Axiom, the land of the living, and Umbral, the land of the dead. Thanks to the technology of today players are actually in both worlds simultaneously and through a clever device called the Umbral Lamp they can be standing in Axiom and peer into Umbral, not only seeing a second world, but interacting with it as well . It’s a clever system, one I believe will help define Lords of the Fallen, but we’ll talk about that a bit later on.
Your main objective in the game is crystal clear, stop the return of Adyr, The Demon God. To do that you must travel to 5 key points around the world and defeat the bosses that guard its secrets. Exploration will be a core pillar of the game, and lucky for us we’ve even seen a sneak peek at the map which is really quite interesting.
We can clearly see the 5 beacons, denoted by the red beams of light, that we’ll need to clear in order to progress the main story, but there’s so much more to discover outside of that, just like any good souls game. What I immediately notice is the sense of verticality within the game, and just a few looks at various clips released ahead of launch, and you can tell the game is leaning hard into that idea. Mournstead is quite literally built into the side of a mountain which gives the team a lot of freedom for interesting ways to present different parts of the world, while also using that verticality to create something that feels distinctly different from similar games.
I mentioned the two worlds, Axiom and Umbral, and to really understand Lords of the Fallen we need to understand how those worlds fuse together for the player. As you’re exploring the world of Mournstead realize that you’re actually traveling through 2 parallel worlds. You’ll primarily adventure in Axiom, the land of the living, but there will be a need, it’s unclear how often, to peer or even rip your soul and go into the Umbral realm. To do this you’ll need the Umbral Lamp, a powerful utility item you get at the start of the game. At any point in time, you can lift the lamp and direct its light to see into the Umbral Realm. Everything that you illuminate will become real while exposed which means you can interact with things on the other side, but fair warning, enemies also have a chance to strike back through the portal you create.
Using your lamp to look into Umbral will be invaluable as the two worlds are often interconnected. For example, you might be barred from exploring a certain area in Axiom only to learn that there is something in the Umbral realm preventing you from exploring further. The lamp provides you the tool to survey your surroundings, in two worlds.
When seeing is simply not enough you can use the power of the lamp to rip your soul and enter the Umbral Realm completely. This is dangerous for multiple reasons. For starters when you die in Axiom you’re sent to the Umbral Realm. Consider it a second chance at life, but once in the Umbral Realm, death is final, and if you make a mistake you’ll be respawning back at your last checkpoint. While in the Umbral Realm you’ll also have to contend with a whole host of undead enemies that will constantly try and kill you.
The team hints at enemies constantly pursuing you while in the Umbral Realm, which could add another layer of complexity to an already tumultuous situation. Nevertheless, exploring the undead world will be a huge part of the Lords of the Fallen experience. Players will be able to bypass areas of Axiom that are off limits, discover Umbral’s own set of secrets and, I would imagine, they’ll be more than a couple of bosses that challenge players, only accessible in the Umbral Realm.
The Umbral Lamp also holds a powerful combat mechanic, one that allows players to rip the souls of enemies, and either damage them or manipulate their position to great effect. There is a limit to how often players can do this, but from all the footage we’ve seen this is a powerful way to deal massive amounts of damage to enemies and bosses alike. Based on the enemy it’s used on the soul rip will even incapacitate enemies while their soul is being torn from their body. Eventually it will return to the host, and combat will continue as normal.
If it’s not clear, the Umbral Lamp and its connection to the Umbral Realm play a central role in the gameplay experience and while both flirt with death, it’s a relationship we’ll clearly have to master if we want to have any chance of beating the game.
I mentioned before that Lords of the Fallen is a game created for dedicated fans of the genre, specifically those that enjoy the Dark Souls series, and that’s clear when we consider how the start of the game will transpire.
When loading in players will be met with a rudimentary character creator system. I’ve always found the aesthetic side of this to be rather pointless as our avatars ends up fully armored after just a few hours, but it’s a system we’ll have access to, nonetheless. In the case of Lords of the Fallen we’ll be able to manipulate the head and body, and each aspect of the creator will give players a limited number of choices for how they want their character to look. The game does employ a blending system for both the head and body, which does give players some more finite control over the way their character looks, but as with most games in the genre the system is relatively limited.
Lords of the Fallen will also feature 10 classes at launch, the same number offered in Elden Ring. These impact a character’s stats and starting equipment, but much like a Dark Souls the starting class really only dictates how you approach the game right out of the gate. You will be able to change up everything as you explore Mournstead, gather new gear, and gain power to level up.
That being said you’re no doubt interested in the various classes so here we go:
The jack-of-all-trades, the Hallowed Knight is the game’s well-rounded class. Equipped with a sword and board you’re pretty much looking at a blank slate here, a class that’s medium encumbered that you can outfit, and level up based on your specific playstyle, whether that be for beefier weapons, or to be in-tune with radiant magic
The Hallowed Knights starts with the short sword, knight shield, grenades, a healing over time consumable, and heavy armor.
With a massive longsword the Udirangr Warwolf is an all-out offensive powerhouse that strikes with unbridled rage, attempting to stagger and defeat foes with sheer brute force. Right out of the gate the Warwolf can even set his weapon ablaze, augmenting it with fire damage.
The class starts with a long sword, throwing axes, fire salts, and medium armor.
Easily the class I’m most interested in checking out, the Partisan brings a wide array of combat potency to the table, from devastating melee capabilities to powerful one-shot ranged potential. There’s a little something for everyone here, but it’s clear the Partisan is all about staying on offensive, never giving enemies a chance to recover and regroup.
The class starts out with a flail, knight’s shield, crossbow, consumable for stamina regen, and heavy armor.
The Mournstead Infantry is an interesting class that performs best at the extreme range of melee combat. Wielding a spear, they can poke and prod enemies while preventing them from putting too much pressure on the player. That being said their starting damage ceiling is a bit low, but they make up for it with their range.
The Mournstead Infantry starts with a spear, light shield, throwing javelins, a healing over time consumable, and heavy armor.
A ranged archetype with two types of arrows at their disposal. Their goal should always be to engage from a distance first and then, if the enemy does manage to make it into melee range, finish them off with an attack from their axe.
The class starts with an axe, a bow, oak arrows, poison arrows, a light shield, and medium armor.
All offense with very little room for error, that’s what the Exiled Stalker is all about. This rogue-style class engages enemies up close, deals damage in a whirl of flashing steel, and disengages before anyone or thing is the wiser. According to the developers it’s an advanced class that requires a steady hand as it’s lengthy combos could open the player up for damage if not executed correctly.
The Exiled Stalker starts with two daggers, throwing daggers, poison salts, and medium armor.
Really the perfect class to combat the demonic evils infesting Mournstead, the Orian Preacher is a follower of the Radiant and thus wields its magic in battle, smiting enemies and cleansing the land of twisted evil. According to the developers this is another advanced class.
The Orian Preacher is equipped with a hammer, a light shield, a radiant catalyst, a small manastone consumable, the healing radiance spell, and light armor.
Almost counterintuitive to the plot, the Pyric Cultist is a follower of Adyr, and revels in the demon-god’s return. Their obsession with Rhogar, or fire magic, makes them dangerous from a distance, but up close they can maneuver their powerful polearm to deliver lethal blows to any enemy that survives the fire. This is another advanced class mainly because the starting area features numerous enemies that are resistant to fire damage.
The class starts with the cultist staff polearm, Rhogar catalyst, infernal orb spell, a small manastone consumable, and medium armor.
If you like pain and suffering then you’ll love the Condemned, the game’s token “naked” class. If you like a challenge and consider yourself to be an expert souls-player then this will be the class for you
The Condemned starts with a broken bucket weapon, throwing rocks, and light armor.
The Dark Crusader is Lord of the Fallen’s poster boy, a class tailor-made for the dark gothic themes of the game. The class is deadly up close, with some of the best melee capabilities early-on in the game. The kicker, this class is only available if you order the deluxe edition of the game. You will eventually unlock this class by simply playing the game, but if you want it right out of the gate, you have to pay.
The Dark Crusader’s starting gear is the Crusader Greatsword, Crusader Heavy Armor, and Rosary Catalyst.
As is clear each class comes with a different loadout, but thanks to some early game footage we know the full range of what players can equip once the gear becomes available.
Each character will have access to:
It’s also worth pointing out that Lords of the Fallen has a very straightforward stat system. As players level up they’ll be able to increase the affinity in:
Those last two stats, Radiance and Inferno, feed the game’s three schools of magic:
Here’s the cool thing about magic in Lords of the Fallen. Every spell you see used against you can be learned. Every enemy has a chance to drop an item that would allow you to use their spell, and as far as bosses are concerned, the developers have said you can use soul rip to extract an item from each boss that can be traded to a specific NPC for either a piece of gear, or that bosses unique spell. It’s not clear exactly how this is going to work, but with around 30 bosses said to be in the game we’re looking at a healthy amount of unique and interesting spells to master.
As you might expect each school of magic is distinctly different, and each taps into the theme of the god it’s associated with.
Holy and pure and while there are certainly some offensive capabilities a majority of the spells revolve around healing and buffing the player.
Bombastic and chaotic, centered around fire. Players can hurl firebombs, shoot out jets of sustained flame, and even call in the hounds of hell to assault an enemy with streams of fire. It’s all offense all the time.
A unique combination of the two schools. Spells often cover a larger area and are powerful but they’re slow moving, or on a timer and that means a player’s mastery of the spell is going to be more important than anything.
Regardless of what school of magic you want to tap into you’ll need the right catalyst, an item we talked about when discussing classes.
If magic isn’t your thing you’ll need to rely on a myriad of melee and ranged weapons to defeat the demonic and undead enemies blocking your path, and here again Lords of the Fallen will feel familiar, yet distinctly different thanks to a number of small, but impactful changes to the combat formula.
First and foremost, players will be able to lock-on to enemies, that’s a given. There will also be a dodge roll mechanic and by all accounts this is much more forgiven than we’ve seen in other souls games with a range I would classify as charitable. There’s also a parry system, which again is very forgiving. Players will be able to hold the parry button down ahead of any attack and successfully parry an incoming blow. It’s not clear if there is a perfect-parry window, but based on everything we’ve seen the Lords of the Fallen system is much more casual-friendly, absorbing more damage while requiring less skill to execute.
From here, things start to look and feel different. Based on the weapon you’re wielding and the stance that you’re in, something we still don’t know anything about, players will have a unique attack out of a dodge. This is the perfect retaliation maneuver after dodging an attack and should give us the perfect way to engage offensively.
There’s also a kick feature which can be used to knock enemies off of ledges, remember that verticality I mentioned before, as well as deal some slight posture damage.
There are also different multi-hit attacks that will change depending on the stance you’re in. These are often the highest damaging attacks a player has access to.
There’s also the soul-rip system I mentioned before, triggered by the umbral lamp. This is charge-limited but is clearly one of the most powerful maneuvers in the game, simply because it allows you to wail on the spirit of an enemy almost care-free for a few seconds.
Finally, there’s the game’s posture system. When players use charged heavy attacks, parry an enemy attack, or kick an enemy they take posture damage. If their posture breaks then they’ll be opened up for a high-damage attack that will kill most inferior enemies, and severely damage more elite enemies.
There’s a lot I’m personally excited about here, mainly the number of systems that are designed to help more casual souls players. I think Lords of the Fallen is setting up the combat to be forgiving and in my book that’s fine because I’d rather see a wave of new people get into the genre thanks to systems that make their experience more enjoyable. Could that mean more veteran players have an easier time with the game, absolutely, but I think opening up the genre for a new generation of players is a much more noble undertaking.
Lords of the Fallen has a lot going for it, and if early impressions media outlets and creators are anything to go off of then the game is shaping up to be fantastic. One thing that I’m really excited to experience is the full-game co-op feature. Playing alongside a friend for the entirety of the game is something I think a lot of souls players will relish in, and it appears that will be possible in this game. A word of warning though, loot is shared across both players, which means you’ll have to work as a team to figure out who gets what, outside of key items of course. I’m also excited that cross play between PC and the Xbox and PC and PlayStation will be a thing, and while sadly Xbox and PlayStation players won’t be able to play together it’s great that there is some functionality at launch.
It’s also great to see the trend of massive, almost god-like bosses at the center of the gameplay experience. The development team has made a point of showing off fights like Tancred and Reinhold ahead of launch, which feature larger-than-life characters, as well as cinematic moments that help elevate the immersion factor. These are the types of fights I want to see in a souls game and with around 30 bosses confirmed for the game my hope is that every boss encounter is unique and challenges players on this larger scale. If co-op isn’t your thing you can still summon NPCs to assist in combat, and while we haven’t seen this in action yet, the developers have confirmed it as a system within the game.
If you do manage to defeat the final boss a New Game Plus (NG+) has already been confirmed for Lords of the Fallen, and it comes with some substantial changes to the base formula. According to the developers:
What’s not clear is if NG+ will introduce any sort of meaningful carrot for players to hunt down, new loot for example. Luckily players will be able to continue exploring after they’ve beaten the game the first time, if there are still other things players would like to do before entering NG+.
It’s clear that Lords of the Fallen is not trying to necessarily reinvent the wheel when it comes to souls games. Like many developers before them, they’re attempting to tap into a genre many, across the world, enjoy, while injecting their own twist on the formula.
Where Lords of the Fallen is incredibly enticing, at least to me, is its beautiful world, made possible by Unreal Engine 5, the concept of dual realities, and the lower bar to entry for more casual players. I don’t think Lords will be an easy game, far from it, but I’m hoping that with some slightly looser tuning of core systems the game will be more accessible to those that may have written off the genre in the past.
It’s an exciting opportunity in a year where souls-like games really haven’t had a huge presence, so if the team can execute, I think we’re looking at a late year hit, but as always, time will tell.