If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. While the original Lords of the Fallen from 2014 was one of the earliest to bravely take a stab at recreating FromSoftware’s lightning in a bottle, it didn’t quite hit that high mark. Nearly a decade and about a million soulslike copycats later, there’s perhaps no better time for its follow-up to take a second swipe – and thankfully, this new, confusingly identically named Lords of the Fallen confidently lands its strike. Its world, divided into dual realities, is absolutely awesome to explore, buildcrafting is diverse and complex, and combat is so smooth and satisfying that I’m willing to forgive all the ways it cribs from its contemporaries. Some pretty severe performance issues and bugs as well as disappointingly easy boss fights mean this latest thrust isn’t quite a fatal blow, but even so, I expect to spend many more hours impaling enemies and exploring every nook and cranny of its cleverly split world for secrets.
Lords of the Fallen: A Soulslike Action-RPG
Lords of the Fallen is yet another entry in the action-RPG soulslike craze, complete with an unsettling fantasy setting, other players invading your game for some co-op or PvP goodness, and, of course, lots of dying. It makes use of the same sort of deadly third-person combat system full of dodge rolling, posture meters, and emoting over fallen enemies as a sign of utmost disrespect. A lot is borrowed from FromSoft classics (in this case, Dark Souls specifically), but there’s also quite a bit of unique stuff to get excited about, too. That includes things like some super cool dual-reality shenanigans, or a nifty magical lamp that lets you flay the souls right out of your enemies.
And look, I know every time I review another one of these things, I always gripe about how absolutely flooded with new entries this genre is, but it really does bear repeating. There are a lot of these games nowadays. While more of a genre I enjoy isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it has become a tad disheartening to crack open a brand new game and feel like I already know exactly how 90% of it’s going to go because everyone’s using the same bag of tricks and tropes. It’s very weird, for example, that I can see a pile of boxes in the distance and think, “Ah, can’t wait for a monster to leap out from behind those and attack me,” or reach a swamp area and know, without question, that I’m going to be jumped by creatures who try to poison me. At this point I’ve started to lose track of which game’s healing items are called Estus Flasks vs. Dragon Hearts vs. Flasks of Crimson Tears vs. Pulse Cells vs. Healing Gourds and so on to eternity. If those names all ring a bell, expect plenty more deja vu here.
A Fresh Reboot with Dual Realms
The world feels much more fleshed out.
If “Lords of the Fallen” sounds familiar to you as well, that’s because it shares its name with the 2014 game from developer Deck13 – but as the lack of a “2” or something similar might suggest, this Lords of the Fallen isn’t a sequel so much as a full on reboot. Those who played the original will definitely hear NPCs talk about some familiar (and sometimes nonsensical) setting terms like “The Rhogar” and “Adyr,” or see really cool and recognizable sights like the giant outstretched hand of a fallen god in the distance, but new developer Hexworks only used the most basic elements from the previous version. The good news is that this fresh story it’s telling using some refurbished, dusty bits is much better than its predecessor, and the world feels much more fleshed out. There’s some interesting characters here and there and some cool lore and worldbuilding to enjoy as you meet various factions that you can side with or work against, even if that stuff sometimes feels buried under a mountain of generic dark fantasy gobbledegook (like the super original concept of using “Charred Fingers” when invading other players’ world).
Dual Realities and Exploration
Though Lords of the Fallen certainly borrows a lot from its genre peers, its biggest original idea is also its best: the dual realms you can swap between at any time. Axiom, the physical world most people perceive, lies atop a ghostly world of dark abominations and creepy eyeballs called Umbral which you can access using a magic lantern. As you run around killing bosses and kicking scrubs off of ledges, you’ll need to navigate both, which adds a really novel new way to explore the environment. For example, you might encounter a broken bridge in the normal world, but by diving into Umbral you’ll be able to cross it using an organic, gray platform only visible and tangible by entering the spooky world of darkness – it sorta reminds me of the eerie plane Frodo enters when he puts on the One Ring, except a lot more useful and less out of focus. This mechanic has an enormous impact on nearly every aspect of Lords of the Fallen, from combat where normally imperceivable enemies become a major threat when you enter Umbral, to exploration since each area essentially has two versions, warranting multiple runs through the same section to see what you missed.
What We Said About Lords of the Fallen (2014)
Lords of the Fallen delivers entertaining hack-and-slash combat centered on combos and spells, but its risk-based reward system seems slightly out of place in a world where its hero so easily achieves great power and defense and makes risk obsolete. It achieves its goal of creating a more accessible Dark Souls-style experience, but unfortunately it goes a step or two too far. – Leif Johnson, October 27, 2014
Even cooler is the fact that you can interact with the Umbral plane without entering it, by holding your trusty lamp to see a small piece of it come into view around you. Doing so allows you to do things like pass through physical barriers that don’t exist in the other world and get a sneak preview of stuff that might lie hidden on the other side before switching over fully. This makes exploration less about running from point A to point B and more about taking your time to understand each area and look for secrets as you swap between realities and use your lamp to shed light on how they differ. It’s also pretty awesome that if you ever get slain by the enemy, instead of dying, you’ll be involuntarily pulled into Umbral, giving you one last chance at life. To escape back to the real world, you have to find totems hidden throughout this shadowy one or return to a checkpoint to rest, but more and more powerful enemies begin to infinitely spawn and hunt you down the longer you stick around.
It suffers from some pretty serious performance issues.
It’s a shame, though, that Lords of the Fallen doesn’t quite seem capable of supporting its cross-dimensional ambitions from a technical standpoint, as it suffers some pretty serious performance issues in the attempt. Even with my GeForce RTX 4090 GPU and Ryzen 9 7950X3D CPU, I encountered stuttering and dropped frames on a fairly regular basis, especially after prolonged sessions. Sometimes these issues were so consistent I felt serious eye strain and had to reboot my PC in hopes things would improve at least for a little while, and the problems were shared in some form or another by everyone I played with. It’s especially frustrating when lost frames lead to me taking hits I otherwise may have avoided, or when my co-op partners got killed after their game turned into a slideshow during multiplayer (where performance is sometimes even…