Back in 2014, the original Lords of the Fallen was one of the earliest and most notable soulslikes to hit the market. Now, nine years later, the sequel essentially serves as a reboot. It bears the same name and familiar lore, but offers a fresh starting point, with some new mechanics as well. Although there are some rough edges, Lords of the Fallen is a good follow-up with some unique aspects to help separate itself from the past.
From an atmospheric standpoint, Lords of the Fallen does a great job of pulling you in. Its dark and oppressive world is filled with enticing locales like ruined gothic castles, dark churches filled with mad zealots, and murky bogs. Captivating statues are scattered throughout the world, reminding you of a bygone era, and bodies of victims are strung up everywhere, serving as a chilling reminder to stay vigilant. You also travel to Umbral, the land of the dead, which mirrors each setting with a hazy, unsettling counterpart with gross textures and haunting figures throughout. It's creepy and uncomfortable, enhancing the sense of relief you feel whenever you arrive at a safe spot to cool off.
Just like in the Souls games, the world is an interconnected gauntlet, filled with multiple routes to explore and plenty of perils to navigate. In addition to the many enemies waiting in ambush, there are deadly pits, poisonous swamps, and burning buildings, as well as traps like rolling barrels and sneaky mimics. There are even instances when you need to do a bit of platforming, which can be tough since the jumping mechanics aren't particularly great, but it is manageable. Exploring each area feels rewarding and worth the effort, not only for things like weapons, consumables, and Lords of The Fallen items for upgrades, but for conveniences too, such as shortcuts and areas to set up temporary checkpoints. It can be tough to get through some areas, but it's always worth the effort to explore everything a location has to offer.
The standout feature that Lords of the Fallen has going for it is its dual realm system. Alongside the already troubled land of the living, the Umbral realm is a dangerous shadow plane that's home to some terrifying creatures. Jumping between these two worlds is something you do throughout your journey. While you usually want to stay in the normal world since it's much safer, you often have to venture into the Umbral to progress, since some paths, bridges, and platforms only exist in this spectral plane. Luckily, you don't need to always fully cross over, thanks to your Umbral Lamp which you can lift up at any time to gaze into the Umbral realm, allowing you to easily go through gates or cross bridges. You have to use your lamp with caution though, since enemies from the Umbral can sometimes pull you in if you use it around them. Additionally, if you stay in the Umbral for too long, a powerful enemy will eventually show up that can make quick work of you, adding a sense of pressure whenever you're there. Overall, the dual realm system is great. There's a ton of depth tied to it, and it echoes throughout the entire game, working its way into nearly every system.
For the most part, combat covers all the expected mechanics. It's slower-paced and heavier feeling compared to its peers, but it feels good enough to get the job done. There are lots of weapons and spells to play around with, giving you some welcome flexibility to your build. There are also a few tweaks to help set it apart with the most interesting being the ability to rip an enemy's soul out of their body for a few seconds, allowing you to freely damage them for a short time. To do this you need charges, which are in short supply, so you can't rely on it too much, but it is fun to do and it can be a lifesaver. Additionally, like Sekiro, once you go down, you get a second chance to fight, which is obviously very handy.
There's a decent amount of enemy variety, including hulking knights, shriveled casters, and maniacs with giant spiked helmets, as well as enemies specific to the Umbral realm. We could have gone for more though, to keep encounters feeling fresh. Standard enemies are no pushovers. Even with heavy armor and lots of life, you can get taken out in two to three hits, so be on your guard at all times. Lords of the Fallen also likes to constantly throw enemies at you, especially in the Umbral realm. Even though combat is solid, it gets carried away with large numbers of enemies, with some encounters becoming annoying, rather than fun.
The bosses are decent, but only a handful stand out. Two of the best are Pieta, a holy knight that summons clones and grows wings mid-combat and The Hushed Saint, which is an armored sentinel who rides his steed underwater. Surprisingly, the bosses are all easier than expected, especially since normal enemies in the game hit like a truck. Standard grunts cause far more deaths than any boss. If you're having trouble though, you can summon another player or an NPC. However, NPCs aren't available for every boss fight.
For replay value, there is a new game plus option, as well as some secret classes to unlock. Online play also adds some longevity if you want to battle others or team up with a friend. Most of this is pretty standard stuff which is always welcome, but the unlockable classes add even more incentive to do another run, which is nice.
At launch, Lords of the Fallen suffered from some fairly significant performance issues, particularly in regards to distracting stuttering and framerate drops. These still need to be ironed out a bit more, but after several patches, it's in a much more acceptable state.
Though it has its issues, Lords of the Fallen is still solid overall. Its dark and brutal world is a compelling backdrop, filled with enticing exploration and deadly foes. Meanwhile, combat is engaging and offers a fair amount of flexibility. It may not be the next big breakthrough for the genre, but it's a good time and worth fighting through until the end.