Windows Central Verdict
After nearly a decade since the launch of the original Lords of the Fallen, CI Games and HexWorks deliver a reboot that exceeds all expectations. With responsive, precise, and challenging combat, innovative twists, stellar grimdark presentation, and more, it's one of the best Soulslikes I've ever played.
A well-crafted, finely tuned Souls-style combat system
Innovative and creative additions keep things fresh
Strong story writing and worldbuilding
Gorgeous grimdark presentation, excellent SFX and music
Solid performance, mostly bug-free
Temporary checkpoint consumables are hard to come by
World navigation a bit confusing around the halfway point
Some performance issues, upscaling quirks
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While the original Lords of the Fallen from 2014 got a lot of attention for being one of the first big Dark Souls-style games made by a studio other than FromSoftware, it was widely criticized for its ridiculously slow and unwieldy combat mechanics, poor RPG systems, and lack of engaging challenges to overcome. Fans hoped for a better showing from the sequel that publisher CI Games announced it would be developing at the end of that year, but nothing was heard until 2018 when it revealed it had entered a partnership with Defiant Studios.
Then, in 2020, CI Games revealed Defiant was replaced by HexWorks, a new studio created by the publisher. The sequel finally reemerged at Gamescom 2022, and was confirmed to be a reboot of sorts. Now, Lords of the Fallen (2023) is finally here, and I've had the opportunity to slash, smash, and dodge roll my way through it for the past week.
With the first game's reputation and what seemed like nearly a decade of development struggles in mind, I went into Lords of the Fallen hoping for the best, but fearing the worst. Now that I've finished it, though, I'm surprised — and pleased — to say that this reboot is right up there alongside Baldur's Gate 3 and FromSoftware's own Armored Core 6 as one of my favorite games of 2023. If you're a fan of Soulslikes, this is a must-play.
Disclaimer: This review was made possible by a Steam code that was provided by CI Games. The company did not see the contents of the review before publication.
What is Lords of the Fallen?
While technically a sequel to the first game, 2023's Lords of the Fallen is positioned as a reboot for the franchise. Developed by HexWorks, a studio formed as a subsidiary of publisher CI Games in 2020, Lords of the Fallen is a "Soulslike" RPG that takes heavy inspiration from FromSoftware's beloved Dark Souls series. It features challenging skill-driven combat, the opportunity to explore a massive interconnected world, and a special item called an Umbral Lamp that's used to cross between two dimensions, each filled with unique foes, puzzles, and treasures.
Price: $69.99 (Xbox, PS5), $59.99 (PC)
Release date: October 13, 2023
Publisher: CI Games
Genre: Soulslike, Action RPG
Install size: 34.02GB
Playtime: 30-50 hours
Platforms: Xbox Series X|S, PS5, Windows PC (Steam, Epic Games)
Xbox Game Pass: No
Reviewed on: Windows PC (Steam)
The developers estimated that first playthroughs of Lords of the Fallen would take around 30 hours to complete in an interview, but I didn't roll credits until just under 40 hours — and I've been playing these types of games for years. Generally, I'd say Soulslike veterans should expect a 40+ hour experience, while players new to the genre are looking at 50+. Note that while players can acquire every item and fight every boss in a single playthrough, there's still tons of replay value here between the game's large amount of build variety, NPC questlines, and three distinct endings.
Lords of the Fallen is available from Oct. 13 on Xbox Series X|S, PS5, and Windows PC. The game retails for $69.99 on Xbox and $59.99 on PC, though there's also a Deluxe Edition that costs $10 more and gives you access to the special Dark Crusader starting class (along with its gear), a 100-page digital artbook, a digital copy of the game's official soundtrack, and a special viewer that can be used to look at every in-game model in close HD detail.
Lords of the Fallen review: Gameplay and combat
Much like the first game did, the Lords of the Fallen reboot wears its Dark Souls inspiration on its sleeve. Its combat system strongly emphasizes stamina management, well-timed blocks, parries, and dodges, and carefully considered melee strikes, along with smart positioning and the use of supplementary tools like ranged weapons, spells, and throwables. Standard faire for the genre, admittedly, but it's a formula that grew popular for a reason — and compared to the clunky, slow-as-molasses feel of the original, the reboot is satisfyingly responsive and precise.
That's not to say that Lords of the Fallen doesn't introduce some interesting twists to shake things up, though. One of these is the application of Bloodborne's Regain risk/reward mechanic to blocking. Health you'd lose when struck is "withered" if you block it; you can gain all of it back by landing hits of your own, but take more damage yourself and that health will be fully lost. This discourages passive turtling while ensuring that blocking remains useful, which I'm a huge fan of. Another is the addition of multi-hit attacks that have the potential to inflict large amounts of damage quickly, but force you to commit to a long animation in which you'll be easily punished if you misjudge your spacing.
The true star of the show here, though, is the Umbral Lamp, which ties into Lords of the Fallen's dimension-crossing mechanic. You'll always start out in the "real world" of Axiom, but you can also venture into an alternate realm called Umbral by dying and coming back to life Sekiro-style or by trading your Axiom life to cast an Umbral rift. Umbral is the dominion of the dead, home to its own host of enemy types, puzzles, and pathways, and you'll have to engage with many of these to progress through levels and find important items. However, you still have to deal with Axiom's enemies in it, Umbral foes respawn continuously, and if you stay in it too long, powerful buffed ones will appear and hunt you ruthlessly. And if you die in Umbral, you die for real.
You'll want to get back to Axiom to avoid that fate, but the only way to do so is to find and use one of the effigy statues in the environment that pulls you out (they respawn when you rest at a Vestige "bonfire"). Thus, Lords of the Fallen demands a delicate and dynamic balance of using Umbral's unique properties to your advantage, while also maintaining enough forward progress so you're able to find the next effigy before time runs out. This constant back-and-forth instills a creeping tension that permeates the path between every checkpoint, and it's the perfect compliment to the interconnected shortcut-filled level design that Souls fans crave. I absolutely love it.
The Umbral Lamp has value in combat, too. Some Axiom enemies will be buffed by Umbral parasites that regenerate their health or make them immune to damage outright, which you can absorb with the lamp's Soul Siphoning ability. You're also able to Soul Flay, which is a limited-use move that allows you to pull an opponent's spirit from their body and then pummel it for big critical damage. When you're in Umbral, you'll also find pustules on surfaces that either give you some health and Soul Flay charges (blue) or damage nearby foes with an explosion (red) when Soul Siphoned.
Disappointingly, there aren't many meaningful ways to use the Umbral Lamp during most boss fights, though the boss fights themselves are nothing short of fantastic. Featuring diverse and well-telegraphed movesets, lots of boss variety, and plenty of awesome spectacle, they're simply great, and I had a blast mastering and overcoming each and every one (one fight does have some annoying camera problems, though). Between each "main" boss, you'll also encounter a handful of minibosses that Lords of the Fallen uses to gradually introduce new enemy types you haven't encountered yet. This approach helps ensure you won't feel overwhelmed on your adventure.
In terms of build variety, Lords of the Fallen offers it in abundance. We're not talking an Elden Ring-sized sandbox here, but with 194 weapons and shields, 76 spells and catalysts, and 339 pieces of armor to find, you won't be hurting for gear options no matter how you level your stats. I had a great time pancaking everything in the game with a Strength/Radiance (this game's version of Faith) build that utilizes a colossal hammer and buff spells; a fellow reviewer opted for a Strength/Agility setup and simply beaned anything that moved with throwing hammers. There are also damage-focused fire weapons and spells that scale with Inferno, as well as Umbral ones that require both Radiance and Inferno. Upgrades that let you tweak weapon scaling and provide small, but unique bonuses eventually become available as well. Oh, and for customization, you can change the color of your armor with shaders you find in the world. Take notes, FromSoftware.
This diversity adds a lot to Lords of the Fallen's replay value, though I think its NG+ will prove to be quite controversial. It straight up removes every permanent Vestige checkpoint in the game's world other than the one in the main hub area, forcing you to rely on temporary ones you create in specific locations with a consumable and can only have one of at any given time. NG+ also makes enemies tankier, hit harder, and more resistant to status effects.
Speaking of those temporary Vestiges, I feel that they could have been implemented better. The seeds you need to plant them are quite hard to come by — bosses are guaranteed to drop one, but the only other way to get them is to either get a very lucky drop from high-tier Umbral enemies or to buy them with a sizable portion of your Vigor (AKA, your souls) that you could put towards leveling, upgrades, or new gear instead. I often felt like I never had them as a result, and while I could have just farmed enemies for a while to get what I needed to purchase them, that's not exactly enjoyable or engaging.
The game also doesn't always do the greatest job of guiding you to where you should or can go next, leading to a few situations where both myself and a person I was co-oping with were scratching our heads. We eventually found our way by comparing notes and wandering around, but it was rather frustrating.
Lords of the Fallen: Multiplayer, co-op, and PvP
Lords of the Fallen can be played completely singleplayer by disabling multiplayer, but two-player co-op with a friend or a random player is available for those that want to team up (crossplay between consoles and PC is supported, but not between Xbox and PS5). Additionally, players can opt to invade someone else's world if they'd like to seek out PvP. Whether you're cooperating with someone, invading, or defending yourself from an invader, succeeding in multiplayer will net you some exclusive currencies you can spend on new armor shaders and other items.
Unlike FromSoftware's titles, the game doesn't have any restrictions on cooperative multiplayer beyond keeping both players relatively close together with a tether. You're able to join someone regardless of whether or not there's a boss in the area they're in to fight, you can move between locations without dealing with fog walls, and you don't need to use a consumable to join or summon a co-op partner. The host determines if both players are in Axiom or Umbral, and can revive their teammate if they're killed. However, the death of the host will send both players back to the last Vestige they visited. Notably, the host does not need to resummon their co-op partner if this happens. One downside of co-op, though, is that it reduces the damage you both do against enemies and bosses (not players).
Anyone with multiplayer enabled can also be invaded, though some areas reduce the rate at which invasions can happen (some locations are PvP-free). Also, if you're not already playing with someone when you're invaded, the game will summon a random co-op partner to help you even the odds against the invader since you'll have to worry about them as well as the regular enemies in the level. You can instantly make yourself invadable or temporarily prevent invasions from happening by using the Charred Finger or Mirror of Protection consumables, respectively.
Ultimately, I appreciate that Lords of the Fallen does away with all the typical Souls co-op tedium without compromising on the challenge of the gameplay itself. The invasion system is thought out well, too, though I can't speak to the overall balance of PvP much since I only got invaded a few times during the review period. The multiplayer gameplay was pretty smooth in my testing overall, though things can get a bit laggy if the host has a bad connection.
Lords of the Fallen: Story (no spoilers)
Lords of the Fallen is set in the dark fantasy kingdom of Mournstead, and takes place following the events of the first game and the defeat of the demonic god Adyr by heroes known as the Judges. Knowing that Adyr would eventually try to take back the realm, the Judges formed the holy order of the Hallowed Sentinels to prevent his return. This brotherhood constructed five radiant beacons throughout Mournstead to suppress what remained of Adyr with the light of Orius, his rival. However, they could not stop him from planting seeds of corruption within its ranks. As a result, much of the Hallowed Sentinels has fallen to Adyr's influence, leading to the corruption of the beacons and the return of his hellish Rhogar armies.
As what remains of the Sentinels desperately tries to fend off the Rhogar and Adyr nears his triumphant return, you take control of a Dark Crusader — a champion of Orius that wields the Umbral Lamp, a device that allows you to walk the dark realm of the dead in order to serve the light. With it, you have the power to cleanse the beacons and halt the arrival of the demon god.
The game has three separate endings that can occur depending on the choices you make during your playthrough. Throughout your journey, you'll also meet a number of different characters associated with several of the factions that inhabit Mournstead. Most of them have a lengthy questline you can progress by speaking with them when your paths cross and doing favors for them when asked.
Overall, Lords of the Fallen's story is good, with well-voiced dialogue, interesting twists, and detailed lore to dig into. Flashbacks of past events can even be viewed and listened to in Umbral by activating them with the Umbral Lamp, which fleshes out the narrative with lots of additional context and worldbuilding that I enjoyed unraveling as I pushed forward. It's not amazing, but it's done well and adds quite a bit to the experience.
Lords of the Fallen: Visuals, graphics, and audio
With its incredible high-quality textures, gorgeous lighting and particle effects, and handcrafted world full of intricately detailed props and models, Lords of the Fallen is one of the most graphically impressive games I've played in quite some time. It was developed on Unreal Engine 5, and HexWorks definitely took full advantage of what it's capable of.
Graphical quality doesn't mean anything without a great art style to support it, so it's good that the reboot delivers on that front, too. Between murky swamps, crumbling castles, ill-lit mineshafts, and villages set ablaze, Mournstead is about as grimdark as it gets, with a distinct grungy and grimy look that pervades throughout the entire kingdom. And that's before you look at things in Umbral, where bizarre masses of ghastly flesh and grotesque eyeball-laden abominations are cached onto everything and the environment is bathed in otherworldly hues of purple.
It's unapologetically and oppressively bleak, though not without plenty of color and rare moments of pure beauty that contrast sharply against the game's palpably gritty atmosphere. A peaceful cliff edge overlooking a coniferous forest; a breathtaking view of the horizon, bathed in light. These scenes may be few and far between, but that only makes finding them feel that much more special.
Equally impressive is Lords of the Fallen's sound design, including everything from layered ambient background soundscapes to the devastating, meaty impacts of each of the game's weapons. The orchestral score is excellent, too, with plenty of intense and choral themes for bosses along with eerie, unsettling tracks that accompany trips into Umbral.
To nitpick the presentation a bit, some character faces do look a bit uncanny sometimes (do what I do and cover them up with cool helmets), and some of the player's animations can be rather stiff. These are minor things you'll soon forget about as you play, though.
Lords of the Fallen: Performance and stability
On my i5-12600K/RTX 3070 gaming PC, Lords of the Fallen has run solidly, though it hasn't been without a few quirks and issues. Playing at ultrawide 3440x1440 resolution on High settings, I was getting a consistent 70-80 FPS, with performance dipping down to 55-70 FPS on Ultra. Curiously, both NVIDIA DLSS and AMD FSR 2 only had a positive impact on the framerate when set to Performance; there was no noticeable difference on Balanced, and on Quality, the game actually ran a bit worse. So, while the framerate is stable, you might want to avoid upscaling unless you really need the performance boost.
I experienced a number of small hitches in the early stages of the review period, as well as what appeared to be a memory leak that caused degrading performance after a few hours of play. After a few patches from HexWorks, though, these issues have subsided. The developers have also confirmed there's a "Day 0" patch coming at launch, as well.
Notably, I ran into three hard crashes to desktop over the course of my 40-hour playthrough. It's unclear if whatever was causing these has been fixed with the aforementioned updates, but further crashes haven't happened since I downloaded them. That's a good sign, at least.
My time with the game has also been mostly bug-free, though there was one particularly nasty glitch I encountered you should be aware of. By closing it while I was in a death animation, I got myself stuck in a situation where I would die after loading my save and then not respawn. I was thankfully able to break out of this by having someone invite me to co-op and then leaving the session, but keep this in mind if you end up playing the game.
Lords of the Fallen: Final thoughts
You should play this if ...
✅ You love Soulslikes and challenging RPGs
Lords of the Fallen rises above the reputation of its predecessor and stands tall as one of the best Soulslikes made by a developer other than FromSoftware. Whether you're a fan of the genre or simply like engaging and challenging RPGs, don't pass it up.
You shouldn't play this if ...
❌ You want an easy, laid-back experience
If you're after a simple, stress-free gameplay experience, you'll want to look elsewhere. The stakes are perpetually high in Lords of the Fallen, and in general, the game isn't very forgiving. It definitely won't be the game for you if you're not patient, either.
As someone who didn't enjoy much about the original Lords of the Fallen, I went into the reboot with very tempered expectations. After spending the last week playing it through from start to finish, though, I'm excited to say that HexWorks' Soulslike isn't just good; it's easily one of the best I've ever played. Like Lies of P, it rivals FromSoftware's own titles in several respects, and is an absolute must-play for fans of the genre.
The game can feel a bit stingy with the items you need to create temporary checkpoints, and figuring out where to go next might confuse you for a bit around the halfway point. Performance hiccups and quirks are nothing to scoff at, either, even if most of what i dealt with seems to have been patched now. But even with those drawbacks taken into account, the ultimate truth is that I've had a damn good time with Lords of the Fallen, and I'm eager to leap back into Mournstead with a new build for round two. Don't sleep on what is, without a doubt, one of the best PC games and best Xbox games of the year.