Lords of the Fallen is Set to Cast Its Spell on October, Friday the 13th, 2023
Death is a common concept in games. You die, reload the checkpoint, and start again. However, it is another view entirely to die in death and fight your way to life again. There is an evil that has grown into the land of the living and the dead. The air is filled with the stench of rot. Yet, justice is a powerful force. Death is not permanent. It's a tactic. It's another way to fight and another way to win. Until this evil is slain, there is no rest for the wicked or the righteous.
During a private invite-only event, I had a special opportunity to play Lords of the Fallen during PAX West. This ambitious sequel from City Interactive and Hexworks has been in the works for quite some time, having first been announced in 2014. It's been a long road for the sequel, but now, with an October 13, 2023 release date, I had the chance to play a long-form demo of the game. Lords of The Fallen is shaping to be more than just another souls-like. It's evil. It's tough. Death is certain, but what the enemy doesn't expect is how you rise from death. That is the ultimate power. Lords of the Fallen is shaping up to be a powerful and remarkable game, as well as a defining cap to an amazing year in games.
Lords of the Fallen Ten Years Later
Lords of the Fallen is an eponymous sequel to the first game of the same name. The first game was released in 2014 and stood out against the competition. At the time, Bandai Namco's Dark Souls had taken over the gaming world, introducing challenging combat and monstrous foes within a dark fantasy. Lord of the Fallen did things differently. The game had a more structured story with choice and a more streamlined approach to combat. It was still a challenging game, testing players on their strategy and reflexes. However, with a setting inspired by Norse mythology and a more streamlined combat system, Lords of the Fallen became a hidden hit.
The new Lords of the Fallen represents a reboot of the game. This time around, the land has been corrupted by a dark God, Adyr. Rot and evil poison the land. As The Dark Crusader, players are thrust into a challenging world of death and evil to slay this malevolent God. New to this reboot is the ability to choose from one of several classes. One was built like a tank, while the other was more like a ninja. These classes can be customized in appearance, and each one has their own unique assortment of abilities. The same applies to fighting styles, weapons, and spells. For my playthrough, I stuck to using the Hallowed Knight.
Steel and Shield
The Hallowed Knight is a knight who wears many hats. The knight has a greatsword that can be wielded with two hands and a shield for one-handed combat. The knight also has access to magic and can use grenades. The knight is a versatile fighter but is by no means invincible. The land of Lords of the Fallen, which is appropriately named Mournstead, is filled with decrepit horrors and monstrosities. This will be a journey of patience and death.
Lords of the Fallen has the familiar foundations of the genre. There is a health bar and a stamina bar. Every swing of the sword decreases stamina. Survival is dependent on slaying enemies, gaining XP, and finding materials that can buff your character. Enemies blend into the environment and ambush players. Fighting isn't as slow and grating as expected, but it isn't swift either. It's a striking balance of both aspects. What begins as mindless grunts soon turn into formidable opponents. Any players who showed their stripes in the Souls games, Bloodborne, and Elden Ring will find familiarity here. However, Lords of the Fallen has something to say: Death is not the end.
Living Among The Dead
Lords of the Fallen introduces the land of the living and the dead: Axiom and Umbra. There is a single device that allows traversal of both these worlds, and that is the Umbral Lantern. To defeat Adyr, players fight enemies in the land of the living and the dead. In one of the most remarkable moments I've seen, the lantern instantly displays this world on any surface. The lantern reveals the dead and decayed. Enemies are different, as well as the environment. The lantern is essential to explore, solve puzzles, and even fight enemies.
I have fought many enemies, but I don't remember the last time I sucked an enemy's soul out. At times, I smashed the lanterns to the ground, sunning them in an explosion of ghastly blue. Lords of the Fallen lets players do that and more. The lantern is a tool as well as a weapon. It was mischievously delightful to be able to take an enemy, suck their soul out, then give a final punishment with my sword. Lords of the Fallen gives players all the tools necessary to defeat any foes, but it encourages players to use patience and discipline in this endeavor.
Death Cannot Contain You
At one point, I died in the Umbral. As Souls rules goes, all your experience is lost upon death, and there is only one chance to grab ahold of it in the real world. While that rule still applies in Axiom, things work differently in Umbral. You retain your abilities and skills but now must literally fight your way out of hell. There was a mixture of panic and euphoria as I rattled the enemy and ran towards an exit. Enemies became overwhelming, and I fought to survive. The longer one stays in the Umbral, the harder and more numerous the enemy becomes. Eventually, I got out, scathed but alive, equipment and XP intact.
As I made my way through the land, I couldn't help but find myself filled with enjoyment but also determination. As strange as it may sound, the game felt like it was indeed mindful for me to have a good time slaying monsters but also imbue a sense of hope and focus. "You can defeat that beast!" Those enemies are hard but no match for the power of your mind." These are the thoughts I had racing through as I made my way through. I did die a few times, but I kept getting back up.
Lean, Mean Action
My time with the game ended in a grand boss fight. A female knight covered in blood stood in my way. For inexplicable reasons, she was at least 9 feet tall and not what she seemed. What began as a tough boss fight with clanging steel quickly erupted into fantastical insanity as she grew wings and summoned apparitions. While I never managed to defeat her, I couldn't help but feel something remarkable unfurl as I played. The eagerness, the challenge, the situation sizing up as I stood to face this supernatural knight. When was the last time I got this excited for a boss fight in an action game? It had felt like years, but Lords of the Fallen rekindled that in moments.
The first boss is certain to be quite the challenge for any player. Even as I recruited an assistant for the battle, she was still a challenging foe. Make no mistake. Lords of the Fallen is neither an easy game nor is it simply Elden Ring in easy mode. The game is challenging and requires players to strategize, think, and fight accordingly. Having an assistant only slightly evens the odds. The experience is more straightforward but still menacing nonetheless.
There and Back Again
Lords of the Fallen is shaping up to be one of my favorite games of the year, but so much more. It's a game that emboldens players into being the warrior they always meant to be. It's direct and polished to a sheen. The customization options are surprisingly thorough. The mechanic of the umbral is unlike anything I've ever seen, and the enemies slain are only a tease of what comes next.
The genre has been around for a while. Some arguments suggest moving on from it. Video games, however, are such a creative force. It's not what you have but what you do. Lords of the Fallen is staying to what it does best, perfecting it, then doing something new. I had an excellent time with the game and hope that everyone embarks on the journey to take Adyr down.
Lords of the Fallen launches Friday, October 13, 2023, for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, and PC.