Lords of the Fallen Review
Lords of the Fallen Review
Lords of the Fallen is a soulslike comparable to the indomitable Dark Souls series, because if there’s a title to aim for, why not the best? Developed by CI Games and published by Hexworks, it follows the adventures of a fallen warrior made to inherit an artifact that allows traversal to the world beyond.
From its dreary setting to its gameplay, everything about Lords of the Fallen screams Dark Souls. With so many clones out there, emulating many mechanics from it and changing its many settings; one can even argue, why play Lords of the Fallen when you can just boot one of the many iterations instead?
So strap on that Umbral lamp and traverse the dual worlds where you defy death and life as a dark crusader!
A Wrinkle Betwixt Two Worlds
One of the key selling points of Lords of the Fallen is the introduction of the Axiom and Umbral worlds, allowing you to traverse two disparate settings. The Axiom world is the world of the living, while the Umbral world is the world of the dead, and they occupy the same exact plane, but the Umbral world adds a secondary area that allows for shortcuts and secret areas that are normally unreachable in the Axiom world.
When you die in the Axiom world, you’re automatically thrown into the Umbral world for another chance, and when you die in the Umbral world, you’ll get the infamous “You Died” screen. In the Umbral world, lost souls will ambush you more often, which is something absent from the Axiom world. You also will not be able to fully heal in the Umbral world where you’re affected by wither.
Wither is a curious mechanic in Lords of the Fallen, which is characterized by a greyed portion of the health bar. Successfully attacking an enemy will recover the greyed parts that were withered by either blocking enemy attacks or the effects from the Umbral world. When an enemy successfully lands a hit while withered, you lose that entire health bar, which becomes frustrating when dealing with hidden ranged enemies.
Lords of the Fallen also capitalizes on the ranged builds your character can invest in to even the odds against many of the mobs seen in the game. While you can start as your typical Soulslike warrior, I can really appreciate the extra mobility absent from other Soulslikes, granting you better movement and quicker hits.
Your Umbral lamp also adds more dynamics to the game, allowing you unsurpassed bonuses while in the Umbral world if you’re stealthily ambushing enemies. You can absorb umbral energy and learn the stories of the many lost souls wandering about or frozen in time. In the Axiom world, you can peek into the veil to see what you’re missing and whether or not you would like to shift into the other plane. Your Umbral lamp can also weaken specific enemies who have become impervious to your regular attacks.
In the Umbral world however, you cannot simply warp back to the Astral world as you will need to find a portal to get back or look for the many checkpoints that will allow you to rest or upgrade your character increasing their stats, preparing you for more punishment ahead. These checkpoints are few and far between, which gets frustrating in the latter half of the game when you’re faced with countless mobs but with superior rewards.
The good news is that you’re given umbral seeds that allow you to create custom checkpoints to make the trek easier in Lords of the Fallen. However, at times, you’ll find yourself needlessly creating a checkpoint when the next checkpoint is at the corner, which is a waste of a good resource.
That all said, this feature of Lords of the Fallen is easily what makes it stand out and can result in some frenetic sequences that require players to think about whether to switch planes or not, adding another dimension to the usual soulslike gameplay.
A Soulslike by Any Other Name is Still Way Too Effin’ Hard!
The one thing that Lords of the Fallen absolutely nails is the visual panache that really highlights the creepy Catholic imagery akin to games like Blasphemous. For a second, I felt like I was fighting against the monstrosities seen in such games. It’s just a shame that something really felt off when I was traversing through these gothic landscapes.
After a while, I realized it was the seriously unbalanced camera movement. In wide open spaces, the camera worked really well. You get to see the full splendor of combat and the gritty nature of the dark forces at hand. In tight spaces, the camera seems to develop a mind of its own and it creates an effect where the camera gets really in your face and shakes uncontrollably. It also creates a clipping effect in the background when you’re exiting buildings into wider spaces.
If there is an elephant in the room I’ll have to address, it’s the unwanted difficulty spikes that mar the experience. It’s so easy to be lulled into a sense of false security with the fact that you can cheat death by switching planes, but when mobs start coming from nowhere, you’re in for a world of hurt. It does tend to get more noticeable as you cross over to the latter stages of the game where mobs are bountiful and bosses are needlessly cheap.
As you progress into the latter areas of Lords of the Fallen, the level design does tend to lean into the unfair side as mobs tend to grow more tenacious as area sizes also end up narrower. It tends to get tedious as you repeat these endless growing hordes and hidden ranged enemies continuously taking you out.
Performance issues can also affect these difficulty spikes as well. While it is not a requirement to learn how to parry, the whole parry and punish combo really eases the path for boss battles becoming a breeze. However, due to frame rate issues and input lag, landing a perfect parry becomes a chore. The one saving grace is unlike Soulslike of late, Lords of the Fallen bosses follow a two-phase pattern where they change their move set at the second half of their life bar.
As of writing, we’ve played the 1.015 patch of Lords of the Fallen for the PS5, which fixes quite a lot of the performance issues of the game, but it’s still a long way off from running at peak performance. There are still way too many crashes that come at the worst possible times, disrupting boss fights at near completion. Matched with many of the difficulty spikes that plague Lords of the Fallen, it makes the later boss fights an even bigger chore.
Just like many games that are being patched post-launch, we’re still plagued by standard issues such as framerate dips and clipping. There are still animation slowdowns during cut scenes, making some sequences look like something from the PS1-PS2 era. While it’s not a dealbreaker, they are quite noticeable.
It is a shame that these issues still plague the game because while Lords of the Fallen is still a fun time, with an already saturated market and the best of the Souls games are ready to be perused, it doesn’t do itself any favors releasing in a buggy state.
It takes about 30-50 hours to complete the game depending on skill level and how much exploration and side questing/grinding you wish to do. While it is quite fun at times, your brief state of catharsis is quickly dashed when running into unfair mobs or when you’re faced with a heavy challenge for very little reward.
What We Liked
- Visuals, mood, and gameplay really mirror the best aspects of Dark Souls.
- Axiom and Umbral worlds are nice additions to expanding gameplay.
What We Didn’t Like
- Frustrating difficulty spikes in the latter half of the game.
- Camera movement is annoying.
- Still needs more patching to get optimal performance.
- Doesn’t add anything else to the already saturated sub-genre.
Verdict: Wait For It
Lords of the Fallen doesn’t reinvent the wheel and can be fun at times with some nifty new mechanics, such as traversing dual worlds and setting up custom checkpoints. However, due to its uneven difficulty spikes and some performance issues, Soulslike fatigue sets in a lot quicker compared to other games of its type.
I wouldn’t check off Lords of the Fallen entirely, as it really gets a lot of aspects right in creating a fun Soulslike game. The visuals and gameplay are on point, creating the mood and feel that many Soulslike aficionados are searching for. However, I feel it is a missed opportunity due to its many technical issues.
If you’re not a fan of Soulslikes, Lords of the Fallen will not add anything new to make you enjoy the subgenre. In fact, it may even deter newbies because of its many uneven design choices that make the title needlessly difficult at some points in the game. I recommend Soulslike fans wait a little longer before enough patches have cleaned up many of its shortcomings.
*Lords of the Fallen was reviewed on a PS5 with a review code provided by the publisher.