Written by - Codiak
Updated: November 25, 2023
Posted: October 12, 2023
So here’s the headline: Lords of the Fallen is one of the most immersive games we’ve played, period. The world building is second to none and the more we explored Mournstead, the more we wanted to keep playing. The absolutely stunning art direction, environmental storytelling, and introduction of a dual-world system never failed to impress and cement the overall tone of the game. Combat isn’t perfect by our standards, but the more we played the game the more we came to appreciate the action-forward approach to the souls genre that helps redefine what players can expect when they first load into the game.
We’ll talk about gameplay in a second, but there’s a feeling, outside of systems and storytelling, that always lets me know when I’m truly hooked on a game. In the case of Lords of the Fallen the more I played the more I became obsessed. The second I walked away from the computer I wanted to sit back down and grind out just a little bit more. It was a gnawing sensation that continued to build overtime and while the game didn’t hook me right off the bat, after about 10 hours I was in, on all fronts.
Lords of the Fallen is one of the most immersive games we’ve played…period.
So, what does Lords of the Fallen do well? For starters the world of Mournstead is absolutely gorgeous and the team, leveraging the power of Unreal Engine 5, they manage to create a world that is absolutely striking. The game leans heavy into the themes of dark fantasy, religion, and dread and because the game is built in UE5 those concepts can be brought to life in entirely new ways.
Of course, none of this would matter without the impeccable art direction and world-building and this is easily the thing about Lords of the Fallen that is most impressive. Each zone has a distinct theme, and within that theme the team manages to tell such a vivid story. Everything is centered around those 3 core themes, but the way they’re able to tell environmental stories and take the world and make it interesting to explore is truly what kept me hooked on the game.
One of the first zones you’ll explore is called Pilgrim’s Perch and it’s essentially a series of interconnected platforms built onto the side of a mountain. Along the way you’ll run across all manner of twisted pilgrims on their holy journey but every step of the way you’ll be one misstep away from a deadly fall.
The sense of wonder and environmental storytelling that captivated me from the beginning almost never waned as each zone offers its own twisted take on the developer’s vision of dark gothic fantasy.
I honestly can’t understate how incredible this aspect of Lords of the Fallen truly is. Every time I was frustrated by something within the game, and yes, we’ll talk about that too, I was immediately sucked back in by the world.
To add onto that the HUB area, Skyrest Bridge ends up being a true hub with almost every area somehow magically dumping back to where you started. From a level design perspective this blew us away and even now, trying to understand how they managed to pull all of those pieces together boggles the mind. On many occasions I would blurt out, “No way we’re back at Skyrest” because I genuinely had no idea how the team pulled it off, but they did. It’s not necessarily a game changing moment, but when you arrive back at Skyrest it offers a unique moment of respite as if you’ve just conquered something and you’re arriving back home for a hot meal and a shower. It just feels good.
To double down on this the team introduces a dual reality system, the realm of Umbral. Throughout the game you’ll be forced to peer, or full on rip your soul into this realm and navigate the same environment with drastically different characteristics. Not only is this dual reality system impressive from a technical standpoint, but it creates such an immersive experience for the player. Utilizing your umbral lamp you’ll locate secrets, discover alternative routes, and ultimately fight an entirely different set of enemies, often guarding some valuable loot.
The game also understands one of the biggest drivers of Souls games, lots of interesting loot. The team throws so much at players it’s almost staggering. Bear in mind that every enemy in the game has a chance to drop some of their signature gear. Couple that with the fixed items found around the world and, yeah, it’s a bit nutty. The team is clearly proud of this aspect of the game, because they revealed Lords of the Fallen has 194 weapons and shields, 76 spells and catalysts and 339 armor pieces. I don’t know of a single game that has handcrafted that much unique loot and to give the team some kudos we’re not talking about simple reskins, there is genuine effort to make each piece of gear look and feel different and I think souls fans will appreciate that.
Lords of the Fallen also gets certain aspects of combat really right. Magic for example is wickedly satisfying to use, and as someone that started the game as an Orian Preacher and went full on radiant build throughout his entire first playthrough, I feel like I can confidently say magic is fun to use. Some other combat systems really hit the mark.
A small example of this is how the team handles ranged weapons. Instead of each individual projectile being consumed on use, you actually get to slot the projectile type as a permanent fixture of your kit. You have a limited “ammo” resource, but you can simply replenish that with different ammo pouch consumables in the game. Not only does this allow for deeper build-crafting, not dependent on expendable weapons, but it also makes finding things like arrows and throwing knives more fun because you know they’ll be a permanent option as you build out your kit.
To say Lords of the Fallen is perfect just wouldn’t be true, and all of my issues point back to one system, combat.
Now to be crystal clear before we dive into this topic the team has tweaked combat a number of times throughout the two-week creator/tester period, things already feel different, and I’m sure things will continue to change, so keep that in mind as we break this down.
While good and engaging, combat is also something that, on numerous occasions, was the source of much frustration. We touched on this in our first impressions video up on the channel, but now that we’ve got more than 100 hours of combined time split between myself, Livid, and Shmo I think we’re ready to really break this down.
For starters the game throws a metric ton of enemies at you, and the further in the game you get, the more challenging those enemies get. In classic souls fashion you’re often fighting these enemies in relatively small encounter areas and as you can see that doesn’t always make for the most engaging combat. It’s a lot of dodging, backstepping, and parrying to win and if you’re in Umbral don’t forget to factor in the host of undead enemies also now in the mix.
A lot of enemies isn’t outright bad, but in combination with, what I feel is personally my biggest gripe in the game, it becomes a problem. What I truly couldn’t stand is how long the recovery time was after nearly every attack or interaction in the game. Everything just takes too long to reset, and I mean everything from the charged-up sword attacks to the magic, and even to small things like the animation that happens when you go and pick up your dropped vigor. It’s one thing to dance between evading and attacking a single or a couple enemies like in a typical souls-like, but when you have so many enemies coming at you with almost random attack triggers, one long recovery can lead to numerous instances of damage. It’s infuriating and if the team just cut back on the tail end by even .5 seconds it would alleviate a ton of the combat frustrations in our honest opinion.
While not an outright negative I will say that Lords of the Fallen combat might not be for everyone. The game feels more action-forward than any souls game I’ve ever played. The increased number of enemies, the myriad of combat options you have; I realized about halfway through my 50ish hours with the game that I just needed to go on the offensive, and while that wasn’t always practical once I put myself in a position to play the game more like an action-souls I actually found a lot more success. Lords of the Fallen doesn’t play quite like Dark Souls, but it doesn’t really have to when its combat is distinctly different. There are definite moments of jank, like when an enemy continues to pivot to track you mid swing, or when a projectile magically curves in mid-air to track your movement, but more often than not the team gets it right, and with a little tweak post-launch they could have a solid combat system top to bottom.
After reaching the furthest points in the game I will also say that Lords of the Fallen throws you into some truly bullshit combat scenarios, and while it’s satisfying to conquer those moments, it ultimately encourages players to run through those challenges because they’re almost not worth engaging in. For example, there’s a particular spot I’m thinking of where you have to fight 4 or 5 magic-wielding pilgrims as well as one of the elite bell head enemies on top of a small castle tower. Add onto this the Umbral enemies that factor in since you have to be in Umbral and you’re talking about a truly absurd scenario. The team is also archer obsessed, and in that same zone is when this problem really becomes an issue. Ultimately you can navigate around these frustrations but at some point, you realize that it’s more bs than challenge and that makes for some moments of frustration.
If you’re planning on playing co-op, and yes, the game has full co-op, realize that the system isn’t perfect, and leaves a lot to be desired for the guest. Unfortunately, the host is the only one who can obtain a majority of the loot in the game world and outside of random drops from enemies the guest can’t collect anything. This is a huge miss in our opinion and while we may be an outlier, a team of two that likes to play games together when given the option, it felt like such a letdown and almost discouraged us from playing together. The inability for the guest to reap the same rewards as the host just feels bad, especially when the co-op gameplay is, outside of that, incredibly smooth. We even talked directly to the developers about this, and it doesn’t sound like much will change on this front for a number of technical and design reasons so, it is what it is.
I do also want to point out that during our time with the game we ran into an array of bugs ranging from hard crashes, specifically in the snow biome, to enemies stuck in the environment. This impacted our experience in various ways but for the most part these were cosmetic, and I will commend the team on really being locked in with the small community testing the game ahead of launch because throughout that early period the team addressed and even fixed a number of critical issues. They are even doing passes on the combat. I expect the team will continue to plug away at these post launch.
It sounds like a lot, but truthfully the more I played the game the more I just adjusted to the different elements of Lords of the Fallen combat. Some of it is correcting for some jank in the system, but most of it has to do with understanding that the game just plays differently than say Elden Ring. Honestly, it hardly mattered because after about 15 hours in I was hooked and nothing, no a horde of enemies, no annoying bugs, nothing was going to stop me from playing this game.
Now that we’ve tackled the good and the bad, I really want to just talk about this game and the things that surprised me about the experience. First and foremost was just how massive Mournstead is. It’s hard to describe, and frankly even show, but throughout my first playthrough I had to remind myself that Lords of the Fallen isn’t an open world game, and that’s a testament to the team’s world design. Each region is about two times bigger than I thought it would be and, on many occasions, I found myself falling into the trap of thinking I was almost at the end of a zone only to be surprised by entirely new sections that would take an additional half-hour to an hour to clear.
There’s one part of the game that really stands out. It’s a deep cave that takes you further and further underground, eventually ending at a pretty awesome boss fight. Livid and I did that entire thing together and because of the relatively few checkpoints we spent a good 3 hours working our way through the cave system just trying to reach some semblance of a resting point. I’ve genuinely never been “tired” after playing a game, but on multiple occasions I would wrap up for the night mentally exhausted and that’s because Lords of the Fallen just forces you to be “on” at all times.
In Axiom that pressure isn’t quite so severe, but the game doesn’t give you a ton of checkpoints, and the ones that you can place down yourself are often few and far between. If you don’t space out your healing and end up running dry too quickly, you’ll end up spending the next few minutes paranoid of a deadly attack because you know it just took you 30 minutes to get to that point. Sure, you’ve got a sort of fail-safe, being sent to Umbral, but that’s no walk in the park either. The dread system, which constantly builds over time while you’re in Umbral, will send enemies to hunt you down and that’s something no souls game has even done before. It’s not even comparable to invasions so don’t @ me because the pressure that comes with not having a second to breathe while you’re hanging onto your life really does add such an interesting dynamic to the gameplay.
Underscoring all of this is just the sheer impressiveness of the world design, both in Axiom and Umbral. I know we talked about it before, but moving from region to region, and having the world almost unfold for you because of the game’s linear nature is truly one of the highlights for me. Another example of how the team just nails this comes later in the game. I was fighting my way through the Leprosarium, finally reaching what I thought was the end, when I entered a tower only to realize the entire thing was a fragmented mess that I would have to navigate down one layer at a time, and oh by the way it’s stuffed to the brim with archers, leper elites, and random enemies.
Every time, every time I thought a zone was coming to an end I was wrong and because of the team’s ability to continue to evolve the look and feel of a zone throughout your progression it kept me hooked even if things did run a bit longer than I was used to. The umbral realm adds another twisted dimension to this, but because we were always trying to work quickly when in the land of the dead it was a bit more challenging to stop and survey the sights. That being said there’s no end to the twisted structures and maligned visages that dot every square inch of the Umbral realm. On its own it’d be impressive but coupled with Axiom not only do you have 1 immaculate dark fantasy world to explore, but we’re spoiled with two.
We couldn’t have a brutally honest review without talking about the game’s systems, and there is a lot to unpack here. I wanted to call this section Old School Systems, New School Twist because there’s a lot that’ll feel familiar when you play Lords of the Fallen, but there’s also some modern twists on systems I think work well.
I mentioned it before, but I think the sheer volume of gear deserves its time in the sun. Hundreds of weapons, shields, armor, spells, and more and from the start of the game to the end every time I picked up a new item, I got that small hit of dopamine that’s so important in a loot-centric game. It’s staggering how much gear you find in Lords of the Fallen, and it was clear the team designing all of these items has a clear passion for the work and an understanding of the game’s core themes. Items range from overly grotesque to awesomely radiant and at no time did I ever lose that sense of excitement when finding and exploring different items.
What’s not great about this system is the gear management. There is currently no way of organizing your gear other than the predetermined tags and that often makes sifting through weapons and armor a real chore. This can easily be addressed in a patch and with so much loot to obtain we hope it will be cleaned up as part of a quality-of-life update.
Where loot hits on a different level is in the game’s Remembrance system, which is now the only way I think boss loot should be handled moving forward, it’s simply just that good. When you kill a boss and activate the Stigma, or story moment nearby, you’ll gain the bosses remembrance which you can use at Mohul, a vendor, to gain access to a set of gear associated with that boss. Lords of the Fallen gives the player exactly what they want here. Oh, you just killed that hulking Paladin, here’s his entire set of armor, weapon, and some spells you can purchase.
Offering up a ton of options and then giving the player the autonomy to spend currency to get exactly what they want creates such an incentive to find and kill every boss in the game it honestly fueled our ambitions as we progressed. As I mentioned before I leaned hard into radiant magic so when Pieta’s light sword became an option as well as her angel summons, I immediately scooped them up and didn’t look back. There are so many options out there and boss items represent the pinnacle of that loot experience in the game.
Now as someone that loves boss fights, I couldn’t be happier that the reward for defeating these powerful enemies is their gear. That’s something I wish every game embraced the way Lords of the Fallen has, but sadly the range of boss encounters is pretty varied. Overall fights are just a bit too easy and that’s largely in part to all the combat mechanics players have at their disposal. Ranged and magic attacks trivialize a large portion of the encounters and while bosses all have a gap-closing mechanic it’s pretty easy to work around that. Some fights are incredible top to bottom and once again the world design and environmental storytelling helps set the tone. When all of the pieces come together things just click, but there are a few fights that just leave a little to be desired, not a lot, but a little. Like I said it’s a spectrum, but at the end you’re rewarded with some really interesting loot so it’s worth it.
All of that awesome gear obviously feeds into the game’s combat system, which I’ve already talked about quite a bit, but where an old school system gets a new school spin is with the introduction of the Umbral Lamp. Outside of your melee, ranged, and magic attacks the additional ability to rip the souls from enemies is a really welcome change of pace. The team never balks at the opportunity to throw an elite enemy at you when you’re dangerously close to a lethal fall and while there’s risk there, there’s also opportunity. Ripping the souls of enemies and throwing them off ledges and cliffs is not only satisfying, it’s almost required in some instances and while the controls aren’t always perfect, more times than not you can manipulate the soul to go the direction you want resulting in a kill. Alone this system might get stale, but in combination with all of the other combat options the team gives you, it’s the perfect finishing touch to the combat.
The Umbral Lamp is your gateway into the Umbral Realm and here again the system is taking the tried-and-true system of discovery and secret finding and putting a completely new spin on the idea. Because Lords of the Fallen takes place in two concurrent worlds the team can hide things in a way no developer has been able to before and that’s true innovation. In Axiom a secret may lie out of reach, but in Umbral a new pathway emerges giving you access to what you seek. There are moments where Umbral is a bit tedious, mainly because of short sections of the game where you’ll flip into the undead realm just to get across some small gap or move through a fence, but those moments are few and far between and the majority of your time in Umbral is meaningful.
Exploration as a whole in the game is just made better thanks to the dual world system. Don’t get me wrong there’s plenty to discover if you just stay in Axiom, but by weaving in a second world the team has so much flexibility to lead the player through the game world it almost becomes overwhelming. On many occasions you’ll have to make a decision which path you want to follow. Sometimes those paths will take you to entire new areas and then you’ll have to decide whether to go back or continue forward. Other times those secret pathways will bob and weave throughout the world and dump out into previously explored areas. The team manages to balance a lot of exploration with tight level design which makes for an interesting experience for the player.
Lords of the Fallen is a must play game, full stop. This year has had some stellar souls-like releases like Remnant 2, Lies of P, and now Lords of the Fallen joins that list as one of the best takes on the souls genre we’ve experienced outside of a FromSoft game. While there are certainly some small moments of frustration it’s nothing compared to the epic experience of exploring Mournstead, leveling up your lamp bearer, and taking the fight to the evils that plague the land.
The team nails so many aspects of the game from immersive storytelling to exploration, to core gameplay systems, and while the combat might not be perfect, the team has, and I imagine, will continue to make small changes to make it even better. The more I played the game the more it grew on me and at the end of my first playthrough I was still hungry for more and that’s a sign of a good game.
Lords of the Fallen is a must play game, full stop.
If you’ve been on the fence about Lords of the Fallen, I hear you, but trust me when I say once this game releases people are going to fall in love. It took a few hours for us to get to that point, but once we changed our frame of mind and adapted to the nuances of the game, we were all in. The world design absolutely steals the show, and the environmental storytelling is that perfect blend of dark, twisted, and vague that’s almost synonymous with the genre, but it works, and it’s kept us locked in for the remainder of our time with the game.
Lords of the Fallen is available for PC, Xbox Series X & S, as well as the PlayStation 5. There are three distinct versions of the game, with the deluxe and collector’s edition offering mainly extra trinkets and baubles that you can display somewhere in your house. The deluxe edition does give you access to the Dark Crusader class from the start, but you can unlock that normally and we’ll have a full article breaking that down around launch.