Lords of the Fallen preview - A new souls-like stand out

some of the enemies in Lords of the Fallen

some of the enemies in Lords of the Fallen

2014’s Lords of the Fallen wasn’t a game I ever jumped into. I’ve always had an on-and-off relationship with souls-likes, partly because I’m bad at them, and Lords of the Fallen’s relatively poor reception didn’t help persuade me to give it a go.

Nine years later and we’re getting closer to the release of Lords of the Fallen. Yes, the same name, having recently dropped the ‘The’ from the start of the title, but it’s a reboot.

Recently, I had the chance to see 35 minutes of the game in action and speak to its Creative Director, Cezar Virtosu, about what Hexworks is doing to help it stand out in a genre that’s even more crowded than it was in 2014. *Cough* Elden Ring *cough*.

Unreal Engine 5 in action

First off, I was blown away by how Lords of the Fallen looks. It’s the first game set to release using Unreal Engine 5 and wow, is it beautiful. We’re going to be spoiled as more and more games start to utilise it.

Lords of the Fallen has a pretty familiar style. Think gothic characters and styling weaved into a mysteriously decaying ancient world, which is “five times bigger than the previous game’s.” The locales are pretty similar to what you’ll find in the likes of Dark Souls or Elden Ring in terms of pure aesthetic.

a character looking over the world in Lords of the Fallen.
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All that is tangled up in mountainside encampments, dense forests, and as I was told, even snowy areas. The lighting and details of the environments are pretty incredible, split between four different open areas, rather than one single open world. Virtosu told me the engine has been pretty easy to work with too, since the decision was made to switch to it.

More than one world

Lords of the Fallen’s exciting new mechanic also means that there’s more than just the single world to explore. Using a magic lantern, you can access the Umbral world as any of the game’s classes.

Doing so opens up access to paths you wouldn’t otherwise have in the overworld, adding an interesting puzzle aspect to every part of exploration and every enemy encounter.

You can even go to the Umbral world permanently, without being able to instantly switch back, in order to find hidden secrets and items. Do so, and you’ll need to find a specific shrine to take you back to the land of the living.

By holding the lantern in front of you, you can see a part of the Umbral world shimmering in front of you, opening up new routes with a foot in both worlds. You also go to the underworld automatically whenever you die, offering a second chance to get back to the world of the living and retrieve your gear. When you die, you don’t see the game over screen immediately, which is something Virtosu is very excited about.

It’s a really interesting addition that should make Lords of the Fallen’s world feel a whole lot bigger than it is. It also makes exploration, which is already a massive part of souls-likes, even more important. If you’re not looking into the second realm regularly, you don’t know what you’ve going to miss. Mastering making use of both realms will make survival a lot easier.

An even bigger challenge

And you’ll need to, as the director tells me that Lords of the Fallen is going to be a lot harder than the original game.

They wanted to create a challenge that matched that of the genre’s biggest games, without scaring people off from the start. One of the main criticisms of the first game was that the introduction was too difficult, without enough guidance to feel comfortable with how the game played. For the reboot, the studio wanted to ensure that wasn’t the case.

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“So our onboarding is lengthy,” Virtosu said. “This is where we teach you the bread and butter. So the action RPG, targeting light attacks, heavy attacks, and everything from inventory management, health, and also give you a tiny peek into the Lords of the Fallen atmosphere.” Hopefully, that’ll mean more players stick with the new game than did for the original.

To keep you in the action, Hexworks have also tinkered with a souls-like staple. The game’s version of campfires return, but you can place one anywhere you’d like in Lords of the Fallen’s world. That allows you to be really tactical about where you choose to respawn, so that you can skip sections to get back into boss fights or travel long distances quickly.

“You can place it in front of the boss fight. It's perfectly fine. But there are places in the world where it's very good to place one,” Virtosu told me, so clearly some planning will have to go into how you use them.

The developers have also limited it enough that it doesn't ruin the core loop that souls fans love.

Another really cool part of the game Virtosu showed me was a boss fight against a mangled monster of some kind. To get the boss’ movements just right, Hexworks employed a Dutch contortionist to do the motion capture for it.

The contortionist boss in Lords of the Fallen.
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That attention to detail really makes the boss’ jumping and crawling look natural, as well as intensely creepy. That should help Lords of the Fallen stand out from some of the competition.

How does it feel?

At the end of the day, though, all a lot of souls like fans will care about is how Lords of the Fallen feels to play. While I didn’t get my hands on the game myself, I did ask both Virtosu and another developer who was playing the game how it felt.

Instead of giving me a short answer, they helpfully went into detail while showing me all the intricacies of movement in the game.

What stood out was that combat as any of Lords of the Fallen’s classes is quick and responsive. While attacks are slower, which ensures you need to think carefully about timing, rolling away after them or initiating other movements is almost instantaneous. It ensures you’re able to be agile with movement and dodging, without being able to be blasé about when you attack.

How exactly the game feels will depend on your build and which class you choose, but Hexworks made sure every single one felt responsive and fun to play. Once we get our hands on the game, we’ll be able to dive into the intricacies of how it plays.

Speaking to Virtosu and seeing Lords of the Fallen showed me that Hexworks are serious about learning from the issues of the original game and making a souls-like that stands out in a genre that features Elden Ring looming large. The mix of a familiar style and some interesting, unique features has me excited to actually get my hands on it.

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