If you remember the couple years after Dark Souls’ success, a flurry of Soulslikes came out, chasing those bloodied coattails in hopes of tasting that same estus-laden success. Lords of the Fallen in 2014 was one of them. Nearly nine years later, a similarly named successor is stepping up to the bonfire.
I previewed the new Lords of the Fallen during PAX West 2023. I sat with the game for 90 minutes, starting with a new game. I didn’t mess with the character creator much, and I quickly picked a dual-wielding rogue-type character to dig into Lords of the Fallen.
If you’ve enjoyed Soulslikes, you’ll know there’s a certain “feel” that makes them work so well. The weight, choreography, and duration of animations need to feel meaty, look clear, and require commitment. Enemies need to sell the impact of your hits while convincing you to fear theirs.
There’s a lot more that goes into the genre that From Software practically defined. That feeling is hard to quantify, but when a game cracks that code, it feels great. Lords of the Fallen, I’m happy to say, feels pretty great.
The tempo of combat feels a touch faster than something like Dark Souls, but there’s still that sense of commitment that comes with every press of your light or heavy attacks. On defense, there’s a short sidestep or dodge roll, as well as a block. Blocking right before a hit automatically does a parry.
All of this probably sounds pretty familiar. What Lords of the Fallen introduces to spice things up is the Umbral realm. Parallel to the living realm of Axiom, Umbral cleverly melds together different mechanics that makes CI Games’ upcoming title stand out.
Umbral isn’t just a gimmick—it's the soul of the game.
The player character gets an Umbral lantern, and when it’s held up, the light illuminates the parallel world. This new world, grotesquely realized with skulls, bones, and a desaturated sense of dread, reveals new pathways for the player to explore.
The lantern can also be used to solve puzzles and as an offensive tool. It has a long-range attack that can be used to hit what are essentially switches. Additionally, some enemies come with a protective Umbral spirit, which the lantern can effectively dispel.
Players can willingly travel into Umbral while holding the lantern, but leaving it requires getting to certain checkpoints. The longer you stay in Umbral, the more aggressive enemies can become. When it’s the only option to proceed in an area, it’s a nice way to ratchet up the tension.
Where it all comes together though, is the way Axiom and Umbral play together when you die. After losing all your health in Axiom, you’re immediately transported to Umbral and continue fighting. This essentially gives you an extra life, but if you survive the encounter, you’ll likely want to get back to Axiom as quickly as possible.
In Lords of the Fallen, Umbral isn’t just a gimmick—it's the soul of the game. It presents puzzle-solving opportunities in the environment as well as in combat, and it adds a nice twist to the gameplay after death.
The road to its upcoming Oct. 13 release has been a little rocky, and that’s putting it lightly. Back when it was known as The Lords of the Fallen 2, it changed development teams, ultimately landing in the lap of CI Games’ newly founded Hexworks. Then it was renamed to The Lords of the Fallen. Then it lost the first “The.”
The creative process is never a straight line, but with that many changes publicly known changes, I had my hesitations. Now, it’s bumped up my list of anticipated October releases—and October is already a spookily packed month of huge games.
I previewed Lords of the Fallen during PAX West 2023 and played for 90 minutes.