Lords of the Fallen captured my interest in its opening hours more than its 2014 predecessor of the same name. But despite the solid game foundation, stunning world, and unique two-state mechanic, by the time I hit the credits 48 hours later, I was more than happy to finish it. A remarkably smooth reboot unravels halfway through due to pacing issues, abundant repetition and poor level design, leaving an unfortunately disappointing back half to slog along.
Lords of the Fallen begins like any other soul. The world – Mournsted, in this instance – is a horrible place to live in, but you can save it. You are tasked with a ritual that lights five beacons scattered across the land to prevent the return of Adir, the dark god who wants to create chaos. Your adventure immediately brings you to a treacherous place where even the lowliest of enemies can deplete your health bar in just a few hits, but with patience and discipline, these foes are yours to overcome. As you do, you’ll level out and feel stronger and more confident in your ability to keep going.
What separates the questing and action of Lords of the Fallen from the rest of the genre is the use of two realms: the living, Axiom, and the dead, Umbral. Using a special lamp, you can peer into the umbral at any moment, in real time. Even though we’re three years into the life of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S, it’s a truly impressive mechanic that feels new-gen. Peeking in Umbral is useful, finding a wall between you and the field against the chest in Axiom is no longer there, the most notable advantage is that after dying in Axiom, you are given a second chance – until you reach a certain spawn point that brings you back to Axiom with your spirit intact (currency for killing enemies and buying items). Survive by Umbral.
But survival is no easy feat, as the Umbral is filled with more enemies than Axiom. At first, exploring the umbral was great fun solving light puzzles and using the lamp to pull the platforms towards me. But as I continued my journey through Lords of the Fallen, my biggest problem became clear, highlighted starkly in Umbral: developer Hexworks misinterpreting a carefully crafted large Souls-like challenge to “add more enemies.”
Rather than think I could conquer this section of the Umbral, or this fortress in Axiom, I forced myself to sprint through it. Not that Lords of the Fallen is too hard; Rather, it is a very common sense of injustice. I enjoy a formidable opponent or a seemingly insurmountable boss that I defeat after 20 tries. However, I don’t enjoy a hallway or staircase where 10 enemies attack at once, including the miniboss I defeated minutes ago who is now a regular mob enemy. Coupled with the sensitive lock-on camera, trying to defeat each of these mobs in Axiom and Umbral, where even more enemies appear, can be terrifying. Halfway through my journey, when Lords of the Fallen ran out of new and unique enemies to throw at me and instead recycled some of the same ones I’d killed hundreds of times, I didn’t even feel compelled to try anymore. My once-exciting adventure was artificially padded.
Playing through Lords of the Fallen’s long adventure was an odd thing. I was thoroughly enjoying myself: the world design was neat, the two-state mechanic continued to amaze, and the questing and combat felt great as I discovered secrets and shortcuts in Maurnstead. But about halfway through, Lords of the Fallen ran out of gas, and I ran out of excitement. As the game grew tired and fragmented, the enemies became repetitive, the secrets and shortcuts became mundane, and the exploration became stale, as did the world design.
Even the bosses struggled to be exciting in the latter half, two in particular being some of the worst I’ve fought in Soulslike, not because they’re hard – they’re not – but because they’re generally not fun, even though I recognize Hexworks’ attempt to do something different, like an unreachable boss where I had to kill various explosive minions around to reduce its health.
Small annoyances that I could have forgiven in a more streamlined experience stand out, such as the often awkward lock-on camera, a couple of fixed bugs, overuse of minibosses, and enemies that snipe from unseen distances or stalk players for too long. Lords of the Fallen. Still, Hexworks is onto something here; It’s not just Lords of the Fallen that, despite its solid foundation, can capitalize on.
When I rolled the credits on Lords of the Fallen, I felt no joy other than the joy I did, which is a shame because I’m excited for the first half of it yet to come. A beautiful world, unique two-state mechanics, excellent voice acting, and combat that feels good if not overburdened by enemies and artificial challenge create a solid foundation. But Lords of the Fallen fails to make an impact beyond that, instead making Maurnstead more and more frustrating on the adventurer’s journey.