Peak days for masochists and those blessed (or cursed?) with a dark soul. In anticipation of the upcoming expansion of the Elden Ring, so-called Soulslikes continue to rain. Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty and Lies of P certainly did well this year, but Lords of the Fallen was still at the top of our wish list.
However, the original 2014 Lords of the Fallen film was a flop. But Hexworks Games, founded in 2020, consists of over 75 passionate Software followers who have done everything they can to make you forget about this issue. The good news: They’ve been largely successful with this reboot. The bad: You have to put up with a few inconveniences.
Dark Souls IV?
Aesthetically, Lords of the Fallen, with its grim, gothic, creature-filled world, is suspiciously close to its inspiration. In fact, if you had told us ahead of time that we would be getting Dark Souls IV, we would have believed you. Especially since the UI, controls, and hazy way of telling stories feels very familiar to veterans. No, Hexworks wasn’t accurate, but we all know the expression: better stolen well than invented poorly.
However, Lords of the Fallen certainly has a face to it. With the so-called Umbral Light as one of the highlights. Your self-constructed warrior always has a mysterious oil lamp through which you can peek into or even dive into the Umbral, the terrifying realm of the dead, a sort of layer beneath the “normal” game world Axiom. When there is a blockage in the axiom, there may be a passage in the umbilical cord. This leads to interesting, even unseen, environmental puzzles, which in particular give exploration – a core part of Soulslike gameplay – a big boost.
On the other hand, Lords of the Fallen is very generous with its strikingly aggressive enemies, so much-needed moments of peace are almost non-existent. No, we wouldn’t expect a quiet walk in the park from such a game, but the balance here is a little skewed. If you turn a corner, don’t be surprised that you… well, turn a corner after another ambush by a small army of monsters. Hence frustration can sometimes arise, even if you have two lives.
Fortunately, the variety of gameplay and combat – clearly the core of a Soulslike game – makes up for it. As usual, battles are a kind of rhythmic dance of striking, rolling and grappling. On a basic level, every swing at any of the many weapons available, no matter which one, feels impactful. The animation looks smooth, and most encounters are satisfying, provided you survive, as they will certainly be difficult. This is especially true of the often epic boss battles. Although it should also be said: eventually the level drops somewhat.
Hexworks is happy to market Lords of the Fallen as “the first next-gen Soulslike game,” powered by the insanely capable Unreal 5 engine. Although terrifying, the game world is certainly beautiful, but this is offset by disappointing performance. On PlayStation 5 we saw the frame rate stutter quite often, to the point where it was quite annoying. Fortunately, the developer is diligent in making regular updates, and the improvements are already noticeable.
Not so for the multiplayer part. Anyone who likes to show off their slicing or magic skills against a teammate should return to Elden Ring, for example, because PvP is extremely disappointing due to annoying connectivity issues. The seamless co-op mode runs smoothly, though progress rests solely with the main player and the partner being contacted must make do with a meager consolation prize. A strange design choice that we do not applaud at all.
In case it’s not clear: mixed feelings abound here. Fortunately, the gist is quite clear and the above criticisms can be addressed with some plaster work. Are you reading along, Hexworks?
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