Lords Of The Fallen - Fall Me Twice (Review)
Lords of the Fallen
Released: October 13th, 2023
Publisher: CI Games
Systems: PC, PS5 (reviewed), Xbox X/S
2023’s Lords of the Fallen is not a rerelease of 2014’s Lords of the Fallen. It is not a remake either. It is not even a reboot, since that would imply some level of meaningful connection between the two productions.
While this release can trace its long and troubled development all the way back to a planned Lords of the Fallen 2, I struggle to call it a sequel, spiritual or otherwise. It lifts some lore from the original game, but for all intents and purposes, this could have been called anything else, and maybe it should have.
The original Lords of the Fallen was neither good nor possessed of a name worth exploiting. It was only notable to begin with because it was one of the earlier Soulslike games before the genre got swamped, and it’s largely been consigned to obscurity since. Obscurity is where it belongs, really.
For whatever reason, someone out there thinks the name is bankable, which is mildly sad from a creative standpoint - Lords of the Fallen 2023 is strikingly superior to its namesake and deserves to stand on its own. It’s engrossing, packed with a staggering amount of content, and when it’s at its best, it plays like one of the finest examples of its genre.
When it’s at its worst, however, it exemplifies everything developers get wrong about said genre.
Amusingly, while Fallen 2023 feels absolutely nothing like a successor to Fallen 2014, it comes off as a pretender to a different game entirely. That game is none other than Dark Souls itself, the very reason titles like Lords of the Fallen exist to begin with.
When I point this out, I don’t mean to say it’s “a bit like Dark Souls.” Most Soulslikes are. No, what I mean is that if you told me this was a high quality fangame calling itself Dark Souls 4, I could believe you.
After creating your own character and choosing from a series of starter classes based around the usual combat stats of strength, dexterity, cleric shit, and wizard shit (those last two being Radiance and Inferno here), you’re thrown into an obligatory ruined kingdom, tasked with carrying a magical lamp and using its death-cheating properties to defeat the diabolical forces of the demon god Adyr.
It's the perfect setting for a thoroughly bonkers theocratic religion full of people whipping themselves. Hot.
Combat, checkpointing, leveling up, exploration, quest progress, lore acquisition, weapon upgrading, and level design are all lifted directly from the Dark Souls blueprint with varying degrees of success and a scattering of mostly minor deviations. This is all fine if we follow the golden rule - if you’re not gonna do it fresh, do it well.
Lords of the Fallen does it quite well indeed. Except when it doesn't.
Overall, its mechanics are well put together, and while highly derivative, it’s firmly become one of my favorite games to have dropped off From Software’s branches. Combat nails a methodical pace where every attack is a committed tactical decision, there’s a ton of weapons and spells to play with, including viable ranged options for both Strength and Dex builds, and the “rally” system cribbed from Bloodborne, used here to regain health lost from blocking, is nicely done.
That said, Hexworks clearly took away a number of very wrong lessons from the game they so clearly admired, mistaking challenge for cheap shots and substituting a sense of healthy paranoia for straight up trolling.
By far the worst thing Lords of the Fallen does is ambush you constantly. It’s a problem many games like this have, the tendency to hide enemies around corners so frequently it stops being scary and becomes exhaustingly trite. Worse, the environments are full of perilous walkways with platforming sections and multiple enemies have ludicrously effective shove moves that send you flying.
You can practically hear the developers giggling while hiding tons of the pushy wankers next to lethal chasms.
This game’s approach to Mimics is indicative of how funny Hexworks thinks shitty surprises are. Rather than chests that transform into monsters, Fallen's Mimics are invisible cockbags that lure you in with basic item pickups. Using your lamp, which is supposed to find hidden things, explicitly doesn’t work on them. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the bait items move when you respawn, just to trick you further.
Mimics do have a tell - a very subtle one - but unlike Mimics in other games, the obscurity of that tell combined with the severely high damage of their sneak attacks and aforementioned extra tricks makes for a distinctly un-fun experience that turns every item pickup into a chore of cautiousness. Whoever conceived of these mimics is a bad person.
Adding to all this pressure is the extreme volume of enemies with projectile attacks. Whether you’re dealing with nasty little spell-slingers or those fucking crossbow cunts, you’ll face a ton of harassment from ranged fire that can take off huge chunks of health. It’s exactly what you don’t need during those platforming sequences.
Boss battles, however, serve the worst ambushes of all. Fallen’s bosses are liberally and unevenly spread across the map, and many of their arenas are built to appear unassuming until the trap's sprung. You’ll be exploring, or sprinting frantically under a hail of magic missiles, and suddenly find yourself locked into a fight you weren’t prepared for.
I’ve been surprised by bosses in many games before, but never with such frequency. Also, some boss battles occur so soon after each other you barely have time to breathe.
That last point is tragic because everything occurs in a gorgeous world full of varied, evocative locations, and I just want to spend more time exploring. One particular area starts with a truly stunning cliffside view of a woodland drenched in sunlight, and I was so excited to see more. Disappointingly, I didn’t get to, because the bridge leading me there collapsed and sent me into a boss fight in a big hole. This occurred not five minutes after the previous boss fight.
One mitigation of the game’s frequent untrustworthiness is its aforementioned dual-world mechanic. The extra chance it offers on death certainly helps.
Lords of the Fallen takes cues from Soul Reaver, laying a hidden reality underneath its regular one. The so-called Umbral realm, a world of the dead, is a haunted version of the living world hued in blue, covered in spooky eyes, and crawling with endlessly spawning nightmare creatures. It serves as an important saving throw - should you die in the normal world, you get back up in the Umbral one, retaining your progress.
The catch, obviously, is that you get no extra chances in Umbral form, so dying again means a trip to your last resting point and an obligatory trek to your death spot to reclaim your dropped XP.
You can leave the Umbral world by resting at a checkpoint or using resurrection totems helpfully dotted around the map. One neat thing is that you can use your lamp to peer into the other realm, with everything the light touches peeling away to reveal its Umbral counterpart. You can use this to walk over bridges that only exist Umbrally, but any creatures revealed can see and attack you.
The lamp can also be used to enter the Umbral world at will, though you can’t freely leave it the same way. Doing this is required sometimes, as certain areas can only be access in the dead version of a locale. For example, you can traverse lakes and rivers Umbrally, since that world has no water. It’s also useful for farming XP - there’s a modifier that increases your rewards the longer you spend dead, though things get more dangerous as a result.
Of course, Lords of the Fallen loves to keep the pressure up, so if you spend too long in Umbral form, you’ll start getting chased by powerful monsters that will almost certainly shank you cold in seconds. Lovely.
I mentioned this game was gorgeous, and by god it truly is. The use of color, particularly autumnal shades, is so good, while the environments all look lavish and memorable. Monster designs are terrific, as are the many varied weapons on offer. It’s all draped in overwrought religious imagery that I simply adore, with themes of penitence and flagellation throughout. So much equippable gear is covered in thorns clearly designed for pious discomfort.
Lords of the Fallen’s deliciously masochistic aesthetic is matched only by the Blasphemous games.
One thing I adore is just how committed Fallen is to the “Fashion Souls” mindset. There’s so much cool clothing and armor to wear, with a particularly wonderful offering of extravagant helmets and masks. While a few too many of them are skimpy enough to reveal your character’s ratty drab underwear, one cannot fault just how wild the outfits can get. You want to look like a creepy doll or a BDSM-flavored Pyramid Head? This game has you covered.
Co-op is a big part of the adventure, which is good because some of those bosses really edge toward unfair in a one-on-one encounter. Unlike many of its genre peers, Lords of the Fallen offers a true co-op experience, allowing players to stick together the whole way through instead of just teaming against bosses.
I love this. Sadly, multiplayer was busted for a while after launch so I only got to enjoy it fully in the latter half of the game, but teaming without limitations or caveats has added a level of joy I wouldn’t have gotten from a more restrictive experience. On the flip side, dickish players may invade and fight you with similar freedom, which can be a real hassle.
One thing I really appreciate about co-op is that it’s great for finding a tour guide. Beautiful though Fallen’s world may be, it’s really bad at showing players where to go. It’s easy to get lost, a fact made worse by the lack of a real map. You pick up map items, but they’re little more than vague doodles of landmarks with a bit of lore attached. The world map is a straight up fucking joke that shows key locations in relation to each other but doesn’t show you how to get to any of them.
Bless those players who helped me get through some of the more intricate areas. I really appreciated getting to follow their lead.
Now, in my time with the game, I've been impressed at how smoothly it runs, and was rather surprised at the level of polish, especially since the last installment was choppier than Ric Flair. Further surprise awaited me when I learned from others that they'd had a terribly buggy game on their hands. It's worth noting, then, that the PC version especially seems rather plagued with issues, but speaking just for myself, on PlayStation 5 I rarely encountered a problem save for the occassional instance of target lock-ons failing to work. Certainly be warned if you try it on other systems.
Lords of the Fallen comes with some big caveats - it's designed to ambush the player in really snide ways, its boss distribution is erratic, and it really needs a proper map. Despite these annoyances, I’ve been utterly entrenched in a beautiful world, hooked on solid gameplay, and inspired by exquisite art direction. The persistent multiplayer is a treat, while the two-sided world makes for some clever navigation. It might be fundamentally unoriginal, but it heaps of ton of stuff onto that foundation.
I feel compelled to say again - this has pleasantly become one of my favorite Soulslikes.