There’s a growing number of so-called “cozy” games showing up all over the place these days, thanks in large part to the unprecedented success of farming sim Stardew Valley. That’s all well and good if you want to chill, but what if you’re craving the exact opposite? What if you want a game that makes no bones about wanting you to perish forever? What if difficulty settings seem like a cop-out?
We all feel like that sometimes, and good news: Lords of the Fallen, the sequel to a 2014 Soulslike of moderate repute (and, strangely, the exact same name) is here for you. And like a proper Soulslike adventure it’s not playing around. The door back to Stardew Valley is on the left, and Lords of the Fallen is pointing that way and giving you an evil grin.
The demon god Adyr has been defeated, but that doesn’t mean everything’s bright and cheerful. His minions, the demonic Rhogar, still roam the realm, bringing terror and destruction in their wake. Their power is such that no ordinary hero can stop them. The task, instead, falls to Lampbearers like you – previously mortal folks who now carry the burden of an Umbral Lamp in the name of the Dark Crusaders. This mysterious lantern allows the holder to cross between Axiom, the realm of the living, and Umbral, the home of the dead. Armed thus, you’ll seek to battle the Rhogar and other nasties in a desperate effort to save the land.
Lords of the Fallen is Dark Souls, but harder. Wow, that was an easy review. Seriously though, it has much in common with its inspiration, but Lords of the Fallen is hungry to make the pepper-spray-to-the-eyes Souls experience even spicier. Enemies are incredibly lethal, you’ll struggle to gather resources to help you climb out of the muck, and even your shield mostly serves to soften blows rather than stop them. You’re going to have a tough time.
Exploration and combat play out in a fairly typical Soulslike fashion. Your character can be built in a variety of ways, including the incorporation of three different flavors of magic should you so choose, and there’s plenty of fun to be had exploring different gear loadouts and builds. Want to be a lightsaber-wielding paladin? We’ve got you. How about a raging barbarian infused with demonic power? No problem. There’s bows, blades, a giant barbed-wire-wrapped greatsword and more.
Special mention goes to the presence of endlessly renewable throwing weapons, which makes these much more pleasant to use than in other Soulslike, and a vast variety of armor color customizations called Tincts that let you really nail your favorite look.
Complicating matters is that Umbral Lantern we were talking about a second ago. Using this, you can see into Umbral, the world beyond, and interact with it. When necessary – or when you’re killed – you can even head there directly. If you’ve ever played the classic Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, you’ve got the idea, and as in that game you’ll have to move back and forth between Axiom and Umbral to solve puzzles and make progress.
Paths that might be blocked in Axiom might be open in Umbral and vice-versa, to say nothing of the many Hot Topic-style bone bridges you’ll need to visit Umbral to cross. You can even use the Lantern as a weapon with the Soulflay ability, ripping foes’ souls out to stun them and leave them open for a beatdown. It’s a fascinating twist to the genre, not to mention the fact that having an extra life (when killed in Axiom, you go to Umbral, where a second death will actually put you down) is both nice and necessary.
The dual nature of this gameplay benefits from the game’s fantastic presentation. It’s a great-looking title and there’s always plenty of fun viewing each area from both sides of the metaphysical coin. Sound effects, music and voice acting are all superlative as well, with particular praise for the chunky, powerful sound of weapons being swung about. There’s also a fair amount of love put into the game’s multiplayer, so fans of helping out friends, helping out strangers or murdering either of the above can dive on in if they so choose.
In conclusion, it absolutely must be said again: Lords of the Fallen is very, very tough. Even long-time Dark Souls or Elden Ring fans are likely to run into trouble finishing this one, and it’s difficult to recommend as an introduction to the genre. If you’re extremely patient or have some Souls experience, though, you owe it to yourself to check this one out. While it’s incredibly difficult, Lords of the Fallen also merits a look as a highly polished and tight action-RPG that rewards enormous diligence and practice.