The soulslike is a hard-won genre. Plenty of games have tried their hand at replicating the same punishing but rewarding enjoyment of some of FromSoftware’s best titles, but few rarely capture the right essence. Enter Lords of the Fallen, a new dark fantasy adventure across two beautiful, and equally brutal, parallel worlds. In a hands-on preview at WASD x IGN, we had the chance to check out how this RPG is shaping up to be a soulslike to remember.
Since I was playing a limited-time demo, I was encouraged to dive straight in with a default build. But, like any RPG worth its merit, there’s the option of character customization to build out your starting class as you see fit. Choosing a knight-like class as my hopeful vessel for success, I was ready to take my first in-game steps into the haunting beautiful, and oftentimes visceral, worlds of Axiom and Umbral.
Let There Be Eerie, Reality-Warping Light
Lords of the Fallen has a core mechanic that sets it apart from most other hardcore RPGs on the market. The Umbral Lamp is a piece of equipment that you’ll need to get acquainted with fast. It’s how you’ll be traversing between the game’s two planes of existence: Axiom, the realm of the living and Umbral, that of the dead. There are a few complexities to understand when it comes to entering Umbral. Firstly, you can enter it at any time using your Umbral Lamp. Doing so might allow you to traverse across the environment in ways you can’t while in Axiom, but the longer you spend in Umbral, the more enemies and dangers will start coming your way. Unfortunately, the only way to leave the Umbral and return to the realm of the living is to find a Vestige — something that also works similarly to Dark Souls’ bonfires, allowing you to level up your stats and reset enemies.
You can also “take a peek” into the Umbral without phasing completely into it, by lifting the lamp and using it to see things hidden around you. This might be an invisible way forward, or an enemy with an “Umbral Parasite” attached preventing you from dealing damage until it’s been eliminated. Players will also be plunged back into the Umbral upon dying in the Axiom, something that became surprisingly useful when taking on the demo’s first boss fight. This sort of “second chance” might be all you’ll need to hold on a little bit longer, and land some finishing blows.
Death Is Not The End
Speaking of boss fights, during my roughly 80 minute demo I encountered three. One was a scripted loss, offering a painful glimpse at what seemingly lies in the late-game. The other two were challenging, but not unreasonable. Pieta was the demo’s first true boss fight — a towering knight with a hell of a reach, thanks to her glowing longsword. Despite being troublesome enough in this form, I imagine Hexworks decided she was simply too quaint and instead allowed her to sprout wings in her second phase. Not only was she now much, much harder to hit, but she gained the ability to summon hundreds of floating, spectral swords that came crashing down upon anything caught beneath them. Usually me.
Pietra has a few other nasty surprises up her armored sleeve, ones that cast me to Umbral and beyond more than I’d hoped. But, with a few attempts, it wasn’t too hard to learn her attack patterns. That, and I was aided somewhat by a helpful NPC, who served their purpose as a damage sponge while I snuck in some cheap shots. I’ve never claimed to be a virtuous player.
I’ve also never claimed to be a Soulslike expert; I’ve played a fair few, finished even fewer. Never made it past the third boss in Dark Souls, but have conquered every single crevice of Elden Ring’s Lands Between. It’s a mystery to even myself. But what I do know is that Lords of the Fallen has that kind of pull, where I could happily see myself exploring everything it has to offer. Its combat is difficult, but not enough to condemn me to hours of rage. I was surprised at how well I fared during the demo, and how intuitive a lot of the enemy encounters felt. The trusty, well-timed dodge roll did a lot of heavy lifting for my combat tactics, however. Call it a skill issue.
From its demo alone, Lords of the Fallen shows a lot of promise. Dark Souls fans will no doubt take to it like second nature, and even the less soulslike-inclined will relish in its gameplay. Just be prepared to earn your victories. It’ll cast you into its gritty world, pat you on the back and say “Good luck!” as you embark on your perilous journey, lamp in hand.
Lords of the Fallen will launch on October 13, 2023 on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, and Windows PC.