Lords of the Fallen was already a game, one that came out nearly 10 years ago by developer Deck13 (Atlas Fallen) and publisher CI Games. It was fine, but felt too much like a lackluster facsimile of FromSoftware’s Dark Souls formula to have much of an identity of its own. CI Games is back, though, with newly founded studio Hexworks to take another stab at Lords of the Fallen. And this time around, at least based on the previews, it sounds like a stellar Soulslike might be in the offing.
Out on October 13 for PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X/S, Lords of the Fallen is a third-person action-RPG with an interesting conceit: With the help of the Umbral lantern, you can reveal secrets hidden in the land of the dead while still traversing the world of the living. But should you die and end up in Umbral—which will happen since this is a Soulslike—you’ll still be able to fight for your life for the chance to return to Axiom. Die here, though, and you’ll start back in the land of the living having lost your XP. Typically Soulslike stuff, but that two-realm implementation offers a new perspective for the genre, something the previews call attention to.
So, considering the game comes out in two months, here’s a roundup of what early players are saying about Lords of the Fallen and how, as many of them purport, it’s sounding like an exciting Soulslike worth paying attention to.
After playing the opening hours of 2023’s Lords of the Fallen, our journey through this nightmarish world was eerily familiar, yet filled with a current-gen polish that games like the Dark Souls trilogy and Bloodborne could only dream of. Our initial impressions were that the game felt a lot like the PS5 remake of Demon’s Souls, which is not a bad thing, but from an aesthetic point of view, Lords of the Fallen leans even more heavily into the grimdark setting.
I’ve played a couple of hours of new Lords of the Fallen and crucially, I can tell you it’s: good. If you’ve played a Soulslike before—or as Hexworks wisely describes the genre, which extends to Nioh, The Surge, and the rest, tactical action-RPGs—it’ll be immediately familiar. You can create a character from one of several preset classes, ranging from glass cannon mages to sword-and-shield warriors, with some more lore-y archetypes in between with a little clan-based backstory behind them: a raven-like archer, a brawler with a twist of wolves.
The moment-to-moment in my Lords of the Fallen demo ticked most of the Souls boxes I have when it comes to combat, but this game distinguishes itself in its concept of dual worlds. Axiom, the land of the living, is more or less the “normal” dimension, but it exists in parallel with the Umbral realm, the land of the dead. The two realms run simultaneously as you play, which takes advantage of tech on latest-gen platforms. It’s similar to The Medium or Titanfall 2‘s Effect and Cause mission, but spread across an entire sprawling dark fantasy world.
What surprises me most, however, is Umbral. This is the realm of the dead and exists parallel to Axiom. It can be accessed at almost any time, in real-time. But, once you’re there, you must fight through its more challenging enemies to reach an access point that brings you back to Axiom. While you can select to explore Umbral on your own, Lords of the Fallen will bring you there almost every time you die. Dying gives you a second chance in Umbral, where, if you survive, you can reach the realm of Axiom once more. This eases the usual challenge of the genre—mind you, Lords of the Fallen is still extremely tough—but also opens up a unique playground for puzzles I welcome.
By tapping into two distinct worlds at once, Hexworks completely revamps how we view death in a Soulslike. Lords of the Fallen turns the most infamously iconic, eternally frustrating thing about a FromSoftware game into more than a second chance: It’s a second world, one that functions entirely differently from the place we start out in. The result is a varied combat experience in a truly untamed universe, one that pulses with unknown wonders and its fair share of chills—no matter your familiarity with the genre.
There’s a great fluidity to Lords of the Fallen’s combat too. You can seamlessly flow from light attacks to heavy attacks, and can even change weapon stance in the middle of a combo as well. I could start with two light attacks, press the stance switch button, and do another light attack, I’d get a unique attack in which my character seamlessly goes from a dual-wielded slash, into a two-handed thrust. This is even better when you add magic to the equation, as you’re able to easily swap between melee and magic attacks even mid-combo. It opens the door for a lot of freedom of expression through combat, which is something you don’t see all too often in the Soulslike genre.
While in the Umbral world, enemies slowly become more aggressive and powerful, but the XP multiplier increases as well, amping up the risks as well as the rewards in an enticing way. Being able to respawn allowed me to progress much faster and alleviated some of the frustrations that come with the genre. The Umbral world also offers access to shortcuts and gives you wild abilities that mirror Jedi powers. Lords of the Fallen is at its strongest when it leans into the mechanics of the Umbral world.
Umbral also softens the difficulty level of its chosen genre—up to a point. If you die in Axiom, you are resurrected in Umbral, then given another chance to defeat your enemy before you give up the ghost completely and need to corpse-run from the last Vestige to reclaim your Vigor (Lords of the Fallen’s souls). This doesn’t refresh your healing items, though, and the longer you spend in Umbral, the more Dread builds up, and the trickier things get. Enemies get tougher, and increasing numbers of zombielike creatures materialize in your path—they’re easy to kill, but their presence complicates the battlefield considerably.
Outside of exploration, you can use the lantern to rend a baddy’s soul from its body, then batter it for extreme damage. You can’t do this all the time, as you’ll need to power the lantern up to do it. This can be done by bursting pustules in the Umbral realm and sucking up the resultant juice, but if you can’t find a pustule, you might encounter an enemy with a blue glow—which means they’re invulnerable unless you reveal their parasitic Umbral companion floating alongside them. Hoover this critter up and not only can it power your soul attack, it will also remove their pal’s aura of invincibility.
The game is not as obscure as its FromSoft progenitors, and that works in its favor, because when you’re being pulled in two directions and interrogating the tension between worlds, you want a sense of what’s going on, and where to go. Lords of the Fallen is all about playing as a heathen, shunned by the world for embracing a dark lantern that allows them to traverse the realms of light and dark. It’s all about being sacrilegious, defying the common knowledge and tasting the forbidden fruit. If you wanted to do away with subtext, you could say it’s what Hexworks is doing in discarding the commonly held beliefs around how death should work in this genre. How traditionally hard it must be. But the studio eschews that. And the result, at least at this early stage, is unique and compelling.
My time with the 2014 version of the game was quite frustrating. While the review is no longer live—the site I wrote it for is now defunct—I essentially said that, although the game had a compelling narrative, its cumbersome gameplay and unintuitive systems made for an ultimately forgettable experience.
The previews of the new Lords of the Fallen reboot are based on just two hours of gameplay, so a lot of questions will remain unanswered until the game drops in October. But based on everything I’ve read so far, Lords of the Fallen is sounding like it’ll be a pretty solid take on the Soulslike style of game.
Lords of the Fallen launches on October 13 for PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X/S.