Lords of the Fallen is designed as a reboot of 2014's Lords of the Fallen, abandoning the first game's protagonist, risk-vs-reward upgrade system, and largely gray and dull-colored world. This new game looks much more enjoyable to play, especially with its focus on clue-collecting and environmental storytelling to curate a more detective-driven take on the souls-like genre.
In Lords of the Fallen, you play as a Dark Crusader who can journey in between the realms of both the living and the dead. A demonic god--yup, it's Adyr, the same one from the first game--is poised to be resurrected. That's about the extent of the narrative setup I got prior to seeing a 30-minute playthrough of the game at GDC.
The presentation skipped around to showcase the game's opening minutes, tutorial area, hub, subsequent locations, and a few of the various bosses. Aesthetically, the game is a lot more colorful than its predecessor, featuring more diverse biomes of green, orange, red, and other vibrant colors that better highlight the heavier horror vibes that have been mixed into the medieval fantasy soup this go around. Have you ever seen a conjoined twin rip away his better half and then twist their body into the shape of a demonic ape? Because I have. Lords of the Fallen has more than a few bosses that are a little messed up.
Like the original game, Lords of the Fallen seems to closely follow the Dark Souls formula in its minute-to-minute gameplay. You've got your standard and heavy attack, parry and staggering mechanics, spells, and magical items, all of which you use to overcome a challenging world filled to the brim with monsters and bosses that want to kill you. Your only respite is a series of checkpoints that refill both your health and healing items, but resting at these locations comes at the cost of respawning enemies you've defeated. Paths twist and turn, snaking through every distinct area--some even doubling back to create a more interconnected world.
In these terms, Lords of the Fallen doesn't seem all that different from the plethora of souls-like games that have come before it. The presentation showcased how the parry and blocking system works, where a mistimed parry results in a successful block, circumventing most of the risk in attempting a parry. I'm not sure how I feel about that, but until I actually play the game, it's difficult to tell precisely how a system like that works in practice. At the very least, the parry system delivers a satisfying noise on a success, which is always a bonus for me.
Where the game most diverges from its Dark Souls inspirations is in how its two game worlds exist simultaneously. While exploring, you can hold up a lantern at any time, allowing you to see a ghostly realm that exists alongside the material plane, as well as the monsters that call this other realm home. This vision into another world allows you to solve environmental puzzles--a destroyed bridge in the material plane might still be intact in the spiritual realm, for example, or a door that seemingly won't open in the real world might actually be held closed by a ghostly monster in the other realm.
Both worlds exist at once, which is impressive to see from a technical standpoint--it reminded me a lot of The Medium and how seamless the transition between the real and spirit world is in that game. Throughout the presentation, I saw how a view into the ghost realm was practically instantaneous with a simple button press. This actually led to a pretty good jump scare--there was a largely empty room where apparently a bunch of ghosts were attacking the main character, but I couldn't see that until the presenter raised the lantern. Upon doing so, a ghoul in mid-lunge suddenly appeared and its attack could connect--objects and enemies in the ghost realm only affect you once you see them. The blow caused the main character to drop the lantern, immediately pulling our view back into the material plane and preventing any more ghosts from physically interacting with us. The presenter warned that had such an event occurred while we were using the lantern to see and walk across platforms in the ghost realm, the main character would have then lost sight of said platforms and plunged into empty space below, likely dying.
Holding up the lantern only affords you a look into the realm of ghosts--it's not permanent and easy to lose if you're in the midst of combat. To better interact with and explore the ghostly space, you'll have to become a ghost yourself. There's the traditional way of dying to an enemy, but you can also willingly enter the realm whenever you want by opting to essentially end your life. Getting out is much harder than getting in, however. You need to find resurrection totems in the world and interact with them to bring yourself back to the world of the living. If you die in the ghost world, you die in the physical realm too, and you lose the resources you've collected, missing out on a chance to level up.
This adds an interesting sense of danger to exploring the more ghostly side of Lords of the Fallen. Sometimes you have to willingly enter the realm to proceed forward down certain pathways, but oftentimes the decision to look into the spiritual world or enter it is one of your own choosing. The game seems to incentivize you into wanting to take peeps with the promise of lore and story. During the presentation, I was shown how the ghost side of Lords of the Fallen informs the history of the story--there were places where massive ghostly giants were holding up parts of the world, for example.
Though I didn't get to see too many examples of it, the presentation stated that the duality of the world and that connection of the ghostly past and material present will be how the game teases out the lore and mysteries of its world. There will apparently be mysteries you can only begin to piece together by exploring both worlds and seeing how a space changes depending on whether you're seeing it in the past or the present. To me, this is the coolest idea that Lords of the Fallen offers and I look forward to seeing how this dynamic plays out in the full release. I'm also curious to see whether certain boss or enemy encounters change depending on whether you fight them in the ghost realm or the material plane. The presentation teased that the line between both realms grows increasingly thin the further you approach a certain area within the world, implying there may be a point where you're fighting threats that exist in both spaces simultaneously.
We don't have too much of a wait to find out. Lords of the Fallen is scheduled to launch later this year, releasing for Xbox Series X|S, PS5, and PC.
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