Lords of the Fallen (2023) Hands-On Preview


Few Soulslikes have had the tumultuous development cycle as Lords of the Fallen, a title that has changed hands just as often as crowned with a new title. First dubbed Lords of the Fallen 2, the follow-up to 2014’s masocore action RPG was supposed to be made internally at CI Games (whereas the original was developed by Deck 13) for a 2017 release. That effort failed, and CI Games passed the baton to Defiant Studios, which only lasted about a year on the project. Eventually, the newly established Hexworks studio (with offices in Barcelona and Bucharest) is carrying the game to completion, and any numbers or subtitles have been dropped, with the reboot finally known simply as Lords of the Fallen once again (to the bane of all those involved in SEO design).

Ahead of the October 13th release later this year, Wccftech was invited to an afternoon gameplay session, getting both hands-on with the opening act on PC and interviewing two key developers on the Hexworks team. From character creation to the first exploration of the main hub locale, we were given the opportunity to see the dual worlds of Axiom and Umbral firsthand. This also marked one of the first times that the Unreal Engine 5-developed title would be playable by a wider audience.

While the first Lords of the Fallen was developed to be in line with the more tactical and deliberate Dark Souls entries, the upcoming title of the same name instead aims to achieve a faster pace more akin to Deck13’s The Surge and Bloodborne. The player champion might not be able to jump freely but don’t let that feel like there’s a limit to the exploration that can be found in Lords of the Fallen.

The core mechanic that separates Lords of the Fallen from its contemporaries is in the overlapping parallel worlds of Axiom and Umbral. Axiom remains the main world where much of the adventure will take place in its contemporary fantasy setting. However, there are times when traversing through Umbral will be necessary to proceed, whether by choice or by force. Delving into the darkness of Umbral is marked with grotesque abominations and bones and sinew decorating where trees and rocks once were. The player champion is granted a lantern that allows them to peer into the Umbral realm without making the one-way decision to transfer over. Often times when there’s an impassable wall or insurmountable gap in the player’s way, the Umbral realm can hold the answer on how to proceed.

Delving into the Umbral realm is a one-way trip that leaves the player locked into their decision until they reach the next checkpoint or are brought back to the last one they reached by penalty of death. It’s because of this realm transition that Lords of the Fallen adapts a two-life approach that was first seen in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. In many instances, the Umbral realm offers more of a challenge than that of the Axiom so that second chance might wind up going even worse than the original life. Lords of the Fallen will also feature seamless online co-op where players can play through nearly the entire adventure together in co-op and as was noted in our interview with the project leads, the world state follows that of the host to prevent two players from being in different shifts of Axiom/Umbral. Sadly, our hands-on session wasn’t set up to play alongside the other folks that attended, from those at IGN and RPG Site, among other Souls content creators.

Another important aspect of the Axiom/Umbral dynamic is in the lantern that allows players to peer into the other realm. It’s also used to Flay and Siphon Souls from enemies to build up wither/stagger damage, while the latter can extract Umbral parasites from more impervious foes. Both abilities require wielding the lantern on the character’s offhand, so swapping from a casting conduit or shield is required. It’s a mechanic that I didn’t fully grasp during the extended preview session beyond the act of siphoning away those Umbral parasites and will need to spend more time with the final build to really dig into the mechanics for greater appreciation.

Lords of the Fallen’s character creation opened with nine classes to choose from, eight archetypes that neatly mirrored that of Dark Souls’ opening classes and then the blank slate Condemned class that began with 9’s across the board in each stat, giving them more flexibility to grow as the player sees fit for a particular character build. For my personal playthrough, I opted for the Inferno, a class that starts with a simple Pyromancy-adjacent fireball as well as a polearm. It was a bit of a slower weapon than many of the other starting classes and the MP couldn’t keep up to hurling fireballs during every encounter. However, the times that both could be used in tandem, especially during boss fights, it was a strong build indeed. The media representative from RPG Site that was playing next to me opted for the Archer-esque class and took out the main boss in our demo with poison arrows.

What was available in the opening hours before getting to the main hub was somewhat limiting to see how the progression systems play together, but those surprises shouldn’t take long for players to see for themselves at launch. Gear collecting and customization wasn’t yet available, namely because no weapons were discovered even when getting off the beaten path and they couldn’t be upgraded due to a lack of having the blacksmith present in the hub area to do so. One of the developers offered a sneak peek of a scimitar and light shield selection that seemed ripe for the classic parry and riposte combo that I look forward to trying out in the full retail release out later this year. Parrying enemies also has the added effect of building up a stagger gauge that knocks an enemy down for either a quick execution for lesser enemies or a brutal counterattack for more elite enemies such as named bosses.

A long time coming, Lords of the Fallen is finally nearing completion and gearing up for a launch in just a few short months. Players will be able to get their hands on Hexworks’ inaugural Soulslike when it arrives on October 13th. Lords of the Fallen will be available on Xbox Series S|X, PlayStation 5, and PC (Steam).

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