The Lords of the Fallen Reboot is Shaping Up Quite Nicely - Preview

The Lords of the Fallen Reboot is Shaping Up Quite Nicely - Preview

Dan Webb

It’s seldom a good sign when a sequel to a 2014 game that had a development cycle riddled with switch-ups and turmoil, is actually making it to market nine years later after no fewer than three developers started work on it. Lords of the Fallen is a game that spent a few years in the concept phase at Deck13, then eventually got taken away from the original studio, only for it to be given to Defiant Studios - who started from scratch. Alas, that didn’t last long, and it would be new studio, Hexworks, set up by publisher CI Games, to start development on the game… from scratch. Again.

On top of that, the game has had just as many names as it has studios, from Lords of the Fallen 2 and The Lords of the Fallen, to what it’s called now: plain old ‘Lords of the Fallen’. Not confusing at all. Perhaps the most surprising aspect, though, is that despite all this, Lords of the Fallen doesn't seem like a Duke Nukem Forever. In fact, Lords of the Fallen (i.e the game due to launch in 2023) is actually shaping up to be a pretty decent.

When approaching the new Lords of the Fallen, Hexworks had multiple goals it wanted to accomplish. Thematically, the developer wanted to shift Lords of the Fallen from a “loosely medieval” high fantasy game, to something more immersive, steeped in dark fantasy. Perhaps, more interestingly (at least from my perspective, anyway)  the move to revolutionise its combat system to make it faster and more fluid, with more RPG builds and playstyles catered for, speaks to my love for FromSoftware’s Soulslike games. The shift from a more linear and horizontal game world, to a more semi-linear open-world that’s not just horizontal, but vertical too, is a welcome move. Forget about the fact that it’s said to be over five-times bigger than the 2014 iteration, the game world is also chock-full of secrets.

Let’s not beat around the bush here. Lords of the Fallen isn’t just some carbon copy  of a FromSoftware game. While our experience with it found that, from a visual standpoint, it’s largely as reminiscent as far as fevered creativity in its environments and enemies is concerned, Lords of the Fallen has plenty of its own ideas. It’s own hooks. It’s own special sauce. And we’re not just talking about the fact that Lords of the Fallen boasts a fully seamless online co-op experience that keeps you and your co-op partner in the same session throughout, until you’re sick of each other or beat the game - without the constant need to reconnect after an area or boss fight. Yes, FromSoftware, we’re talking to you. Lords of the Fallen’s secret sauce is its multi-layered semi- linear open world.

Now, what the hell does that actually mean?

Well, it’s quite simple, really. Players are born into the Axiom world - the world of the living - and when you die, you’ll be thrust into the Umbral world - the world of the dead. That’s the basic concept, but, in practice it’s a whole lot deeper than that. For instance, players are equipped with an Umbral lamp that can be used to see into the Umbral realm from the Axiom realm. This means that players can seek out secrets, hidden pathways, and more, by shining their Umbral lamp to reveal the Umbral world, which is layered on top of the Axiom realm.

Not only does the Umbral world also act like an extra life when you die - although the Umbral world is significantly more dangerous - but you can use the Umbral lamp to actually crossover into the Umbral world itself by using the lamp’s Umbral Rift, whether that’s to discover new areas or interact with otherworldly items to open up new pathways. Players who find themselves in the Umbral realm will only be able to return to the Axiom realm using creepy statues known as Vestiges dotted around Umbral, or at well-placed exit points. You’re advised not to stay too long in Umbral, because the longer you’re there, the harder it gets.

The Umbral lantern’s uses extend into combat within the Axiom realm, too, with it being used to dispel enemy buffs, destroy an enemy’s power source, or use Soul Flay to temporarily pull their soul right out of their body. It might take a bit of getting used to, in amongst all the more traditional Soulslike combat, but it really does feel like something unique. The power to look into a parallel dimension and travel to it, really does feel fresh and satisfying.

In terms of how the game handles. We spent a good two to three hours with the game, playing through the tutorial, and into the semi-linear open world - facing off against a few bosses along the way - and let me tell you, from a gameplay perspective it definitely feels infinitely more mobile than the 2014 iteration. And that’s a fantastic thing. While the backstab didn’t really feel all that gratifying, and the camera went a little wild at times, the rest of the gameplay felt fluid and responsive. Parrying is as satisfying in Lords of the Fallen than it is in anything FromSoftware has created.

And when it comes to boss fights, they’re pretty well designed. There aren’t many frustrating cheat-mode insta-kills, and the bosses we did encounter seemed challenging but fair. Telegraph signs are there for sweeping grab attacks from the first main boss, Pieta; while the Boglord - who is both disgusting and enormous - was slow and steady. Both challenging. Both incredibly dangerous. Both seem to be fairly balanced, although early signs suggest that certain boss fights might lean a little too much into the game’s Lamp and the Umbral world mechanics. But the truth is, it’s hard to tell after only a few hours. That will remain to be a mystery until launch, I suspect.

Regardless of how confusing the new naming convention is with CI Games’ Soulslike, Lords of the Fallen, what isn’t confusing is how the new game is shaping up. The faster paced combat, and truly interesting Axiom and Umbral worlds mechanic - which can see you switch from one world to another at the touch of a button or in the event of your character’s death - provide a truly fascinating foundation for what could see the Lords of the Fallen franchise take a meaningful next step. Personally, 2023’s Lords of the Fallen wasn’t really on my radar for games this coming fall rush, but after a few hours with it, I’m definitely intrigued to see where Hexworks can truly take this.

Lords of the Fallen  is scheduled for release on 13th October 2023.

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