If you put Lords of the Fallen in front of me and tried to tell me it was Dark Souls 4, I would almost, maybe believe you.
The upcoming game annoyingly shares the exact same name as a 2014 game that also aimed to ape the Dark Souls series, though in a more accessible manner. The 2023 Lords of the Fallen feels like it goes in the other direction, trying to do its absolute best impression, in order to sate the ever-hungry Souls playerbase.
The feel of the weighty, determined combat is here. There are elements from Bloodborne to encourage more aggressive play (and the pre-built Blackfeather Ranger class is a clear aesthetic nod). The look and feel of the world, its environments, and the hub are fantastic, and are spot-on for the mood you likely want to put yourself in when you tackle a Dark Souls.
It’s good enough that after a few hours of playing a preview build, I’m certainly looking forward to spending more time with it when it releases in full. It’ll be a nice dive back into what seems like a more curated gauntlet again, after the imposing open-world choice paralysis of Elden Ring.
Thankfully, Lords of the Fallen wants to take a big swing at incorporating something completely new, too, and the biggest twist is that its world features two Soul Reaver-style planes of existence: one material, and one spectral.
On a basic level, if you die in the material plane (called Axiom), you’ll arise in the spectral plane (called Umbral), and you’ll be given a second shot there, with enemies seemingly existing on both. However, while you can easily enter the Umbral Realm, getting back to the material realm requires surviving long enough to reach designated exit points.
The two realms are intertwined heavily for the purposes of environmental puzzle-solving and path-making, too. Your character, equipped with a lantern called the Umbral Lamp, can cast its light to ‘peer’ into the Umbral Realm at any time. Perhaps there’s a gate in the way in the material realm, for example, but raise your lantern, and you might discover that it doesn’t exist in the Umbral Realm. Keep it raised, and you’ll be able to temporarily use the small window you’ve created to pass through.
The Umbral Lamp will be needed to purposely phase into the Umbral Realm at times, too. Perhaps there’s a chasm that’s too large to cross, and you’ll need to dive into the Umbral Realm where there are platforms you can pull towards you. Perhaps you’ll hit a dead end blocked by a body of water, and need to switch in order to walk on the bed of a small lake.
Some enemies in the Umbral Realm also feature an extra layer of defence to them – they’ll be infected by an Umbral Parasite, which requires you to use your lamp in the middle of combat, seek out the parasite, and suck it out before you can do real damage.
Lords of the Fallen is definitely designed to remind you of the good times you’ve had playing FromSoftware games otherwise, though. But it’s not such a bad thing.
I’m quite fond of the Bloodborne-inspired blocking system, which considers blocked damage as ‘withered’ damage you can easily regain if you press the assault, and get a few hits in. Get hit yourself, however, and the withered damage permanently disappears from your life bar.
The two major bosses I fought and defeated were also quite enjoyable – the first being a Malenia-inspired knight that uses illusions to attack, and unleashes hundreds of sword projectiles at you. The second was a more down-to-earth enemy, a Pyramid Head-style witch with fast melee attacks that really tested my parry timing.
That I managed to actually beat them both (the former one on the first try) is perhaps of some concern, as I found myself getting so close, but ultimately failing to beat the first boss in FromSoftware’s next title, Armored Core 6: Fires of Rubicon.
But in the preview environment, that momentum made me want to keep going, and see what other ideas Lords of the Fallen has. The game takes a lot of inspiration from a genre that many have been poring over for years, but it’s doing it quite well. Here’s hoping this Umbral Realm thing pans out into something really memorable, too.
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