Lords of the Fallen Is the Most Exciting Soulslike in 8 Years
Anticipation, delivery, and recovery.
Pummeling the ferocious angel with my axe only gets me so far. Although her health is tantalizingly low, she annihilates me with a devastating swipe of her sword.
Dying in Lords of the Fallen doesn’t mean the end — instead, it sends you to the Umbral world to pick up where you left off, with one last chance to finish the fight. And that’s exactly what I did — I reanimate, stagger the boss, and deliver one final blow to take her down. Victory at last.
Lords of the Fallen is a reboot of the 2014 game of the same name, and is gearing up for launch later this year. Publisher CI Games invited Inverse to a media preview event to try the first couple of hours, and for the most part, it’s like a refreshing take on the Soulslike formula. Lords of the Fallen offers punishing gameplay that features a wide range of resources to aid you on your journey. But much like Bloodborne, Lords of the Fallen's interdimensional realms add flavor while weaving in satisfying gameplay mechanics.
Lords of the Fallen sets itself apart with its seamless transitions between two realms: Axiom, the land of the living, and Umbral, the land of the dead. Much like The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, the player must interact with one realm to impact the other. This introduces a handful of accessibility features — such as its two-life mechanic and the ability to dish out certain devastating attacks — while breaking up the pacing of the otherwise brutal combat.
The main gimmick of the Umbral world is that gives the player an additional life. Upon defeat, the player immediately respawns with full health, which offsets some of the game’s difficult challenges (sort of like Sekiro, but way easier).
While in the Umbral world, enemies slowly become more aggressive and powerful, but the XP multiplier increases as well, amping up the risks as well as the rewards in an enticing way. Being able to respawn allowed me to progress much faster and alleviated some of the frustrations that come with the genre. The Umbral world also offers access to shortcuts and gives you wild abilities that mirror Jedi powers. Lords of the Fallen is at its strongest when it leans into the mechanics of the Umbral world.
Without the features introduced by its dual-world system, Lords of the Fallen would be a much more challenging — and likely frustrating — experience. The Umbral world isn’t necessarily a crutch, but a tool that softens the blow. Since venturing into the Umbral world is optional in many cases, a player who chooses not to experiment with this system is at a disadvantage. Because of this, players are discouraged from simply “brute forcing” through Lords of the Fallen, as Creative Director Cezar Virtosu says.
Each combat encounter feels like a delicate dance, where any misstep can throw you out of sync with your enemy. Lords of the Fallen is intensely rhythmic, and each enemy follows a specific pattern — like a section of a song on a loop. They almost never deviate from this, which means that with enough persistence, you’ll eventually get through. There’s a gratifying sense of mastery that comes from gradually chipping away at — then finally mastering — a challenging opponent.
This is on full display during the Pieta battle, which eliminates most elements of “cheap” randomness that often hinder the Souls games. For instance, during the second phase of the encounter, the boss would fly at me the same way every single time. Dodging through the attack worked consistently, like clockwork.
If you see an enemy winding up for an attack, it plays out the same way every single time. This is the most refreshing aspect of combat — you always have the tool you need to overcome a challenge. So, while the patterns can be hard to grasp at first, repetition will lead you to success.
Lords of the Fallen is not without issues. The controls are cumbersome and don’t feel as intuitive as I would have liked. I’d attempt to use the Umbral abilities while my fireball was equipped, and use the wrong thing in the heat of battle. Movement also lacks the fluidity of games like Bloodborne or Elden Ring, which can make it difficult to time your attacks.
Lords of the Fallen’s dual-world system adds a layer of depth that feels gratifying, alongside thoughtful design choices that offset its challenging difficulty. While its brutal design will certainly be offputting for many, Souls players will feel right at home with this game.