Lord Of the Fallen is the definition of “Souls-Like” in every way. Its meticulously crafted combat and slow pace make it, arguably, one of the hardest games released this year. Is all that effort rewarding enough though?
Lord Of The Fallen is a re-introduction to the franchise which was originally released in 2014 (trying to grab the attention of FromSoftware fans even back then). It led the way to nearly a decade of several developers doing exactly the same thing with sub-par Souls inspired games, and thus created the “Souls-like” genre of gaming. This time, however, Lord of the Fallen does a rather good job of being creative and fresh, and gives the genre fans something they deserve.
Lords Of The Fallen
Platform: PS5 (reviewed On), Xbox Series, PC
Release Date: October 13, 2023
Lord of the Fallen has one particular gameplay aspect that makes it stand out from similar titles: a “dual world” concept. This perk can be as simple as lighting up new paths, or as complex as making simple enemies become brutal. Basically you explore the normal world, Axiom, but using your lantern you can enter a new realm called Umbral. This makes puzzles a little more complex because you might come across a dead end, but by entering Umbral a new path might open for you to explore. It leads to further exploration since you technically have two versions of a path; both of which offer secrets to find.
The interesting thing about Umbral is the longer you’re in it, the more complex it becomes. Enemies who are normally easily beaten in Axiom become harder in Umbral. When you get pulled into Umbral, either by entering certain areas yourself or dying, you need to find totems or checkpoints in order to escape. The longer you remain in the world, the harder the enemies become, so it becomes a task of flight vs fight.
Fortunately, the lantern can light up just small paths for you as well. You don’t need to fully enter the dark world, but instead utilize the lantern to figure out puzzles, open walls, or discover hidden areas. You can even utilize it to peak into the landscape to check for threats before fully entering yourself. Once, I came across a bridge and I had to light it up with my lantern as I walked. If I looked in the wrong direction or ran too fast, I’d fall down.
Overall, it makes for a really neat gameplay concept, though sometimes the two worlds collide, leading to a rather odd glitch for me. I opened a wall with my lantern, saw an enemy, and backed out. I lowered my lantern, which should have cut him off, but the enemy still somehow jumped through the wall to attack me. Generally speaking the game is polished, so maybe just a freak accident. Regardless, it’s cool how the enemies seem to literally be roaming about beneath my feet.
That being said, the game does offer some performance issues which make it more complex than it needs to be. The game is very meticulous about combat; dodging and attacking often require pinpoint precision. So when the game hiccups with frames, or slows down after a longer session, it can mess you up.
I had minor problems while playing alone, but in co-op the issues were readily apparent. In co-op there is also an issue with tethering to the host, if you stray too far away the game will load you within distance of the host again. It’s not an instant transition, however, and there’s no real way to see where the host is. This leads to you either sticking to their back, or dealing with constant loading.
My only other gripe during my playthrough, is something common to this genre. While the landscape is truly jaw dropping to look at, the design itself is very linear. You figure out puzzles on how to advance, but that’s the only way to advance. Oftentimes I found myself falling down ledges, or locked into pathways, meaning I only had one way to go: forward. Which is ultimately fine until you start exploring, looking for dark secrets, and find yourself traversing the same area over and over because you forget you can’t climb back over that knee high ledge behind you! This was more so a problem early on in the game when doors were locked though.
Overall though, the game does an absolutely fantastic job of world building and set pieces. There are interesting characters and enemies all throughout, with memorable bosses and battles at every turn. The aesthetic of the world is phenomenal, and every time something new is introduced it’s breathtaking to see.
It feels like nothing was really left behind with detail. The game offers nine “classes” to choose from. Each one has a drastically varied playstyles, allowing for different approaches in all aspects of the game. I like to be a fighter—up close and personal—so that’s the route I went, but it tends to lead to me learning how to dodge and counter better.
You can go the total opposite route and be a ranged magic user, which could use the entire arena at their will to attack enemies from a distance, and tend to be a better support character with healing. Obviously blending the classes with a co-op partner will tend to lead to a better experience if you can balance between the classes too.
Leading from that, the game has a massively in-depth crafting area for your character where you can build spells, upgrade weapons, and insert runes for special modifiers. This literally leads you down a playstyle path you can organically craft to fit just you as a player. You also unlock four additional classes as you play the game, which tends to allow multiple playthroughs to see how varied styles get you through.
As you progress and craft your style, you learn just how challenging the game can be. Confined to small spaces with annoyingly tough enemies, you might learn that you need a particular skill to ease the burden on you, but overall the game is just hard.
Enemies have crushing blows that take precision to dodge and counter, and being “swarmed” by multiple enemies can be frustrating. Interestingly enough, enemies are easily tricked into glitches because they can’t figure out how to move around these environments. It’s potentially why most dungeons are open areas with very little obstacles, because one small object could have enemies standing in place while you swing away. Cheesy? Yes. Necessary for scrubs like me? Also yes.
However, one small mistake and you’re dead…. Well, not quite. The game has an interesting concept where Umbral is the final destination for your character. If you die in this world, it’s game over. If you die in the normal world, you get dragged to this world where more enemies will attack you as you try to escape. As I stated before you need to find a checkpoint to get out, and the longer you’re there the harder it gets. It’s a fun “endgame” concept that gives you one last chance to redeem yourself.
The dual world design doesn’t end there either. You can utilize your lamp in combat to pull souls out of enemies as well, and their bodies become helpless imps as they scurry to get their soul back. When they lose their souls you can take a few swings at their helpless bodies, or you can place their souls in places they will either be unable to reach, or die trying. It’s a cool little mechanic that is exploited the further you move along. Later enemies have basically a shield, so instead of pulling their souls out, you need to shine your lamp on a nearby eyeball, which will rip their powers away and allow you to attack.
One more game mechanic I want to cover is the use of Vestige Seeds. Similar to other titles in the genre, this one basically puts you on paths where you need to trek minor enemies to get to an eventual checkpoint, usually after a rather hard boss battle. If you come across areas that you find yourself struggling to get past, you can place a Vestige Seed down to create a checkpoint for yourself. So instead of fighting over and over again, you can complete it, place the seed, and just move on slowly to the next checkpoint. It’s a neat mechanic that I think these games desperately need to adapt as the roguelike sequences is what normally turns me away from the games.
Overall this game doesn’t stumble like some previous souls like games I’ve played. I feel it does the genre justice, and does everything right with a few minor mechanical hiccups along the way. The world building is phenomenal, the bosses are terrifyingly gorgeous, and the battles are meticulous and frustrating. It’s everything you’d want from this style of game, and fans of the genre know what to expect. There are so many game mechanics that I can write a whole book about, but everything is done rather well. But the game is hard, like you’d expect, and for players like me it takes a lot of patience.