Lords of the Fallen review - like Adyr in the headlights

A promotional image for Lords of the Fallen showing a Dark Crusader and the realms of Axiom and Umbral in the background.
Credit: HexWorks

A promotional image for Lords of the Fallen showing a Dark Crusader and the realms of Axiom and Umbral in the background.
Credit: HexWorks
October 13, 2023: Lords of the Fallen is out now! Here are our thoughts on the game.

Lords of the Fallen is yet another Soulslike in a big year for the genre, but it falls short of more interesting titles Remnant 2 and Lies of P. While it’ll wow you with its gorgeous visuals and unique traversal system, it pales in comparison to other 2023 Soulslikes due to the unrealistic expectations it places on the skill levels of its players.

Lords of the Fallen follows the 2014 game of the same name, but you don't need to have played the original before you immerse yourself in the dark narrative in Mournstead. You're thrust into a world crushed by hundreds of years of war and, as the one chosen by the Umbral Lamp, it is up to you to put a stop to the rise of the demon-god Adyr. You’ll need to battle a plethora of tough adversaries and a wealth of bosses across the realms of the living and the dead before you can put a stop to his resurrection, though.

In-game image of a Dark Crusader in Lords of the Fallen
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Credit: HexWorks

Before you begin your journey as the Lampbearer, you’re faced with one of the toughest choices in the game - picking your character class. There is a wide variety of options to suit just about any playing style, including a couple of advanced classes and the broken-bucket-wielding Condemned class, which is rated Pick At Your Own Risk. The more advanced classes are designed for the seasoned veterans of the Soulslike genre on account of their loadout that will require an experienced hand to master.

Once you've picked your class, you'll be thrust immediately into the story of the Dark Crusader, who has just discovered the Umbral Lamp that enables travel between the realms of the living and the dead as you embark on your hunt for Adyr's disciples. The realm travel is a really interesting and unique feature that almost turns the entire world of Mournstead into a giant puzzle. There are certain doors, platforms, and roads that can only be accessed in one of the two realms, so having an idea of what both realms have to offer in each location is beneficial for not only the progression of the narrative, but also the acquisition of loot, items, and weapons. As an added bonus, the existence of a world of living and dead means that you can potentially have another shot at a difficult combat exchange. If you die in Axiom (the world of the living), you’ll get a second chance in Umbral (the realm of the dead) before your demise becomes permanent.

Exploration in Lords of the Fallen is particularly well done. HexWorks manages to give you a well-balanced experience that has you traversing Mournstead in a manner that simultaneously manages to feel intuitive but still requires some consideration. Exploration is vertical a surprisingly large amount of the time and there’s rarely a time where your next objective is in an obvious direction. The paths are littered with planks and ladders that you can lower to create shortcuts in case you are killed and sent back to the last checkpoint. This, coupled with the ability to set up your own checkpoints in certain areas, known as Vestige Seedlings, challenges players to think ahead and either use their Seedlings to reset at a checkpoint or gamble on their combat skills.

A promotional image for Lords of the Fallen showing a Dark Crusader squaring off with an enemy.
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Credit: HexWorks
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The one facet of a Soulslike that will always be questioned first for prospective players is the combat. The genre is famous for providing a tough time for gamers and will take them to their limits with very minimal room for error. It is no different in Lords of the Fallen, however, I think the line between challenging but entertaining and adversely frustrating is crossed here. Despite all of its brilliance, it's the combat mechanics and difficulty curve that let Lords of the Fallen down.

More so than in other recent titles, stamina plays a huge part in your success or demise as a combatant in Lords of the Fallen. Movements like dodging and rolling, firing an arrow from your bow, or performing light and heavy melee attacks will not just chew up your character's energy, they'll gobble it up. In situations where you are faced with multiple enemies with powerful strikes, it can be absurdly tough to get out alive on account of quickly running out of gas while protecting yourself.

Even without choosing a heavier class, melee combat feels sluggish as your character labours through their exhausting strikes. Not to mention, the inability to cancel a strike with a roll means that if you commit to attacking an enemy that does the same, you’re likely going to cop a really heavy beating. Most enemies are overpowered and will take you out in three to four hits, so one mistimed strike could be devastating to your character.

Pieta, She of Blessed Renewal, from Lords of the Fallen
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Credit: HexWorks

These points reiterate one particular downside to Lords of the Fallen - it’s too difficult. Yes, Soulslike games are for players who enjoy a particularly tough gaming experience, but the easiest difficulty in the game will test the vast majority of players to the extent that it becomes off-putting. While this is going to be a well-loved title by die-hard fans, it’s not one I would recommend to those who are new to the genre.

What separates recent Soulslike hit Lies of P from Lords of the Fallen is its balance. While Lies of P is definitely a challenging game in its own right, it manages to delicately toe the line between a healthy and unreasonable level of difficulty. This can be attributed to it having smoother combat mechanics and far more opportunities to save progress and avoid a long, heartbreaking journey back to your last checkpoint. If Lords of the Fallen were to tweak these key aspects of general gameplay, they’d see a much more user-friendly game that’ll appeal to a greater audience.

Overall, HexWorks brings us a strong entry to the star-studded Soulslike 2023 lineup with Lords of the Fallen with an incredible narrative and excellent visuals. However, its difficulty curve raises concerns about the accessibility of the game, as they may find a large number of their less-dedicated player base falling off before they reach the explosive finale.

For all of our content on HexWorks' 2023 Soulslike, including walkthroughs, tips, tricks, and guides, take a look at our dedicated Lords of the Fallen hub!

Lords of the Fallen
While ticking all the boxes of another strong Soulslike title, Lords of the Fallen's difficulty will be off-putting to those lacking expertise in the genre.
7 out of 10
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