As a Souls fan, HEXWORKS and CI Games’ upcoming Lords Of The Fallen has been one of my most anticipated games of the year, and after spending more than an hour playing the game at London’s WASD x IGN this month, it looks to be exactly what I had hoped for.
Wanting to make the most of my time with the game, I skipped past the character creation screen and quickly selected what looked like a Strength starting class, with several other options available to pick from. Like a true Souls-like, the game began with a lengthy cutscene offering details on the game’s story, while remaining obtuse enough to keep you guessing and wanting to learn more.
Lords Of The Fallen is set in the land of Mournstead, which has fallen into disarray following the resurrection of demon god Adyr, who you must overthrow by exploring the interconnected world, utilising a range of weapons and magic, and levelling up your fully customisable character.
Wandering Off The Beaten Path
Once I was plopped into the game, I began my journey through Axiom, following the single linear pathway the game presented me with. Along the way, I acquired plenty of items, mostly consumables, and tore through a majority of enemies with ease. I frequently ran into forks in my path; one progressing the game and the other leading to some fun loot, so the game rewarded me for exploring as much as I could, and it was genuinely fun exploring the game’s gorgeous but decaying world.
I eventually came up to the first boss. As someone who’s completed all FromSoftware games bar Sekiro and Dark Souls II (I got halfway through the latter but too many new games came out so it’s on hold!), I didn’t find the fight too challenging and managed to down the boss on my first try.
Now, some of you hardcore Souls fans are probably throwing your arms up at that, but there was still a challenge to the fight, and by the end of it, it was a me or him moment. You’ll also be very happy to hear that upon defeating the tutorial boss, I was immediately rushed by another who swiftly killed me while I sheepishly hoped that no one around me saw the death (I’m fairly sure they did!).
As I continued my time with the game, I explored more of Axiom, including countryside outskirts, dilapidated villages, and what appeared to be an old castle. I followed the game’s linear path, branched off onto side paths, rested at Vestiges (Lords Of The Fallen’s equivalent to Bonfires, which can also be created at certain points in levels), created my own, died to mobs of enemies, enacted my revenge, and levelled up a bunch of times via Vestiges. It’s all the usual stuff you’d expect from a Souls-like, but it was arguably some of the most refined I’ve experienced.
Fighting, Fighting, And More Fighting
Combat was fast, fluid, and responsive, more akin to Dark Souls III than the original game of the franchise. This was particularly evident to me when I reached a third boss in my playthrough who I found to be brutally difficult. Strong, fast, and equipped with a powerhouse staggering kick and magic, I attempted the fight I think four times before my play session came to an end, and each time I came very close to beating her but was ultimately downed.
My first few defensive attempts proved pointless as she made quick work of me, but as my tactics became progressively more offensive, where I danced around her attacks and sidestepped her moves, I gradually got better. I still didn’t defeat her, but there was only an inch of HP or so left, so I was very close! One more attempt would’ve done it (I hope!).
My earlier fight against Pieta, which I attempted earlier in the playthrough, was easier. The boss, found at the Skyrest Bridge, was fast, hit hard, and utilised plenty of magic to keep me on my toes. The fight consisted of two phases, with Pieta becoming much more aggressive and erratic in the second. Learning her moveset was paramount to my success. I memorised her animations and kept an eye out for her magic, working out which direction to dodge in to avoid getting hit, and I memorised her flying lunge attacks, magic that sent attacking phantoms of her at me, and anything else that I could remember to help me. It did help, and after being sent to Umbral by losing one of my two lives and coming close to proper death, I defeated her.
The only combat mechanic that threw me off when playing was the way the dodge worked. When not locked onto enemies, the dodge – a single tap of the dodge button – functioned as a roll. But when you lock onto enemies, a single tap of the dodge button performs a Bloodborne-style sidestep, and you need to double-tap for a roll. This threw me off at the start of my play session, as I performed sidesteps when I needed long-range rolls to avoid attacks, but I quickly adapted – it’s just something to keep in mind as I’m sure a lot of players coming from other games may encounter a similar issue, but it is minor. In the end, I actually preferred the quick sidesteps, as they allowed me to quickly evade enemy attacks but remain close enough to retaliate and inflict damage.
Two Parallel Worlds, One Desolate Land
One huge way Lords Of The Fallen differentiates itself from other Souls games is with its two parallel worlds. Dying in the living world Axiom sends you into the undead world of Umbral, losing one of your two lives, and this is where the game really shines. The two worlds co-exist, and you’ll have to swap between them to navigate the land of Mournstead.
One of the best examples of this was when, in the living world, I descended into a valley of sorts filled with a large body of water. At its centre, I could see the shiny sparkle of an object, but wading into the water chipped at my health and would have ended in death. Instead, I whipped out the Umbral lantern, where I could peek into Umbral where the valley’s water didn’t exist and the item was within easy reach. I sent myself to Umbral (You can do this at any time by performing an Umbral Rift and sacrificing one of your two lives, and you can return to Axiom by resting at a Vestige) and then grabbed the item. Further on, this led to level progression, and it was one of the several times I had to use the Umbral lantern to continue the game. Other examples include using the Umbral lantern to bypass blocked gates or doors, reveal ladders, scaleable platforms, and so much more.
I was constantly switching between the two worlds and using my Umbral lantern at every opportunity to find additional routes or hidden treasures. Now, if you think you’d be able to run through the game like this, you can’t. There are consequences to staying in Umbral, as the longer you stay in it, the more powerful strange creatures become aware of your presence. I, unfortunately, stayed too long in Umbral at one point in my playthrough and alerted several terrifying and strong giant red spectral enemies, which spawned just as I struck up a fight with a mob of ordinary enemies. Together, they quickly killed me, and my lesson was learnt: don’t spend too much time in Umbral unless really needed.
Although the attack from the spectral enemies made me wary of visiting Umbral again, I couldn’t help it. I loved using the Umbral lantern to peek into the world of the dead, to find alternative routes, and additional treasure. It’s also required for uses outside of exploration, as you can pull enemies’ souls out of their bodies to inflict damage and use the lantern to watch and uncover memories for lore. There’s a lot to the Umbral lantern, and I’m very excited to see how it will continue to impact gameplay in the long run and how HEXWORKS expand on its mechanics.
Like many other Souls fans, I was excited and a little worried about whether HEXWORKS could pull the game off. As the slew of countless other Souls-like games have shown, it’s hard to create a title that manages to tick all boxes – great and challenging bosses, fun combat, an engaging and explorable world, memorable NPCs, worthy loot, and a rewarding experience.
From what I’ve played of Lords Of The Fallen so far, it seems to have all that and looks to be a great Souls-like. I can’t wait to jump back in, although I’ll likely dip into some of the game’s impressive-looking magic when I do.
Lords Of The Fallen launches on Friday, October 13th for PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series consoles.