Lords Of The Fallen is a curious sequel/reboot of the 2014 Lords Of The Fallen. It takes the Soulslike credentials of the original, gives them a grittier makeover, a much bigger world, and a magical lantern that reveals a gnarlier version of the universe you can actually step into.
Having spent roughly 90-minutes with the game, I’d say it has strong Dark Souls 2 energy mixed with a realm-hopping gimmick that’s surprisingly impressive. While it’s definitely too early to make big claims, I could see LOTF as a genuine competitor in the saturated Soulslike arena.
Let’s hopscotch through all the Soulslike things LOTF does. It is a difficult third-person action RPG that you inch through. If you do not inch carefully, you will probably die. There are sinewy people tucked behind flaking plasterboard who will burst out of their hiding spots and push you off cliff sides. Die and you’ll respawn back at the equivalent of a bonfire. Kill an enemy and they’ll drop souls, which you can spend to make numbers next to words like “Stamina” go up. Doors are locked from the other side. The other side is the home of an owner who is the polar opposite of “a laugh”.
To me, at least, the game has parallels with Dark Souls 2, in the weight of your character’s steps and how each of your inputs feels like it takes a second to fizz through their joints and translate into an attack. It’s hard to describe, but I like LOTF’s heavier steps. It gives encounters a deliberateness that encourages a measured approach, where you’re not going to get away with button mashing. Out of the game’s preset classes, I chose a spear-wielding dude but could’ve gone for all sorts of spellcasters and bulky knights. The options seem plentiful.
But what sets LOTF aside from the Soulslike competition is your character’s reliance on a magical lantern, both in and outside of combat. Say you come across a bog, bubbling like some battery acid that would disintegrate your chainmail ankle socks in seconds. Then you notice them, some ashen butterflies floating about. Well, those butterflies are a signal to shine your magic lantern and reveal what’s called the Umbral world, a parallel universe where everything is 100% more Giger and 100% more fucked. Still, the light might unveil a path in Gigerland straight through the acid, so as long as you keep the lantern cocked, you can actually walk across the bog without burning to a crisp.
Beaming the Umbral world into existence isn’t only a technological marvel, it adds – quite literally – an extra dimension to exploration. Where other Soulslikes might have you find another passage to cross an impasse, LOTF might have you shine a light on a seemingly innocuous slice of air and suddenly – a bridge! You sort of feel like a supernatural detective shining the equivalent of a UV light on a surface you think might harbour a secret, except the secret isn’t a blood spatter but an entire rift in space time you’re able to traverse. It seriously never got old when I stepped through a locked gate in one dimension by walking through an open space in a parallel other. Magic.
Sometimes you might find you need to do more than dip your toes into Umbral but dive headlong into its horrors. Mostly, it’s because you’ll notice Umbral-only dribbly platforms you can’t manipulate otherwise. At any time you’re able to make the leap and progress through a space, either because the real world wouldn’t let you, or because you’d like to rack up more souls to level up. Umbral’s dangerous, and the longer you spend in its dinginess, the greater the number of baddies that’ll spawn from the ground. Survive, though, and you’ll reap the benefits of more moolah to spend when you transition back to the real world… That is, if you can find an idol to whisk you out of there.
The risk/reward side to Umbral is heightened when you die. I found this out when I took on a horrible Paladin named Pieta, who soared at me with golden wings and swung at me with her enormous claymore. At one point she clipped me with a cascade of lightning and, going off previous Soulslike experiences, I steeled myself for death and a little cry. I realised, as the world’s light dimmed a little, that I’d been granted one last chance at redemption in the Umbral realm. And so, I went on to defeat her! Only, afterwards I had to escape from the underworld with all the goodies I’d gathered, as Umbral spectres rose from the ground to snuff out my one precious life.
Outside of exploration, you can use the lantern to rend a baddy’s soul from its body, then batter it for extreme damage. You can’t do this all the time, as you’ll need to power the lantern up to do it. This can be done by bursting pustules in the Umbral realm and sucking up the resultant juice, but if you can’t find a pustule, you might encounter an enemy with a blue glow – which means they’re invulnerable unless you reveal their parasitic Umbral companion floating alongside them. Hoover this critter up and not only can it power your soul attack, it will also remove their pal’s aura of invincibility.
The lantern was dead cool, and in the short space of time I had with it I felt like it had a real impact on how I navigated the world and its horrible inhabitants. My only gripe lies in how finicky it can be to whip out the lantern, then select the right buttons to perform the action you’d like. I’m sure it’ll become muscle memory eventually, but I could feel my brain creaking as it tried to process the right combination of triggers and presses.
This aside, I was mightily impressed by my time with LOTF. Not only does it separate itself from the swathe of Soulslikes with its magical lantern, but without the realm-swapping it also seems to hold its own as a Soulslike proper. Unlike, say, last year’s Thymesia, which focused entirely on fantastic combat and left everything else a bit meh, LOTF seems to have a strong foundation and an understanding of the basics: enemies are placed in interesting spots and aren’t just rigid sentries, the areas I faced kept me on my toes throughout, and little touches like the defeated Paladin Pietra actually popping up at the hub area to have a chat? Delightful.
Of course, the question remains whether LOTF – and its lantern – will be good for its entire runtime, but so far I’m hopeful it’ll deliver a surprisingly strong sequel-boot for those who have a hankering for a bit of added universe to their universe.
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