Lords of the Fallen cannot escape Dark Souls' shadow, but its weighty combat and impossibly chunky art style still give it an identity of its own. Yet the shadow still looms, and in the case of Lords of the Fallen's newest add-on, Ancient Labyrinth, it wholly swallows its imitator. That Ancient Labyrinth is so short is not, in itself, a fundamental flaw. That it is devoid of imagination and betrays the exploratory wonder of the main game, however, is unforgivable. This tiny, throwaway slice of action is a rude return to a world with far better stories to tell.
The eight-dollar asking price may sound reasonable, but it is important to understand what you are getting: a skimpy maze that amounts to three hallways, a few levers to pull, some skeletal archers, and a few other cronies to defeat. A difficult boss battle puts the cap on this miniature adventure, which includes about 30 minutes of content and a finale that stretches that half-hour into a masochistic stretch of trial-and-error bashing and blocking that could substantially extend your play time, depending on how quickly you learn The Keeper's tricks, and how flawlessly you execute your attacks. The skimpy gameplay leading to that battle is so forgettable as to be barely worth detailing: A secretive stranger--that Lords of the Fallen storytelling staple--sends you into the maze of monsters, hoping that you might defeat The Keeper hidden within and thus free him of his torment. Calling the three, tight, same-ish corridors you traipse through a "labyrinth" is laughable, sadly, as would calling the ensuing lever-pulling "puzzles." Your greatest challenge within the gothic stone halls is the collection of creatures that patrol them: Ghostly warriors, translucent wizards, and those pesky undead archers pester you on your lever quest, and you apply the same blocking-rolling-swinging-spellcasting techniques to off them as you do elsewhere in Lords of the Fallen.
You might have expected a grander journey, not simply because Lords of the Fallen itself provided one, but because the first glimpse of the labyrinth from the staircase leading there is so dramatic. Slabs of rock hover over the menacing maze, and ribbons of flame and lightning warn you of the danger waiting within. Pulling a lever causes the maze's circular walls to rotate and reveal entrances, which produces a satisfying sound of grinding and a conclusive thud. There's little fault to find in the presentation, presuming you take to this particularly exaggerated art style, in which every surface and every piece of armor is covered with sharp edges and intricate carving. Draw too near, and some part of your anatomy would surely be punctured.
Alas, the first boss is the only boss, and a troublesome one at that. Like The Worshiper from the main game, The Keeper employs an instakill area-of-effect attack that requires speed and care to avoid. Determining how to survive the explosion is your first task; actually performing the required tactics is the other. If you have built player-character Harkyn for bulk and not for speed, you may have a tough time of it, though there is a magical trick you can pull off to ease your troubles. The boss has four stages, the third of which breaks the rules the battle previously established regarding how and when the explosive attack occurs--a deviation likely to result in a torrent of profane language. The fourth stage, on the other hand, is easily exploited with particular types of magic, like Ram. It's an unrewarding gameplay arc for a boss fight, ending with the easiest form, rather than building the challenge to a proper climax.
And then your task is complete. A shield of your choice is the reward, along with a few other odds and ends, and you may then return to the monastery, or wherever else you might have been exploring. "Is that it?" you may ask , though not just because the add-on is so short. No--that reaction is born of what a droplet of nothing this long-awaited return to Lords of the Fallen is. It is a miniscule stroll, made to feel longer by gating its ending behind tedious lever-pulling and a trial-and-error boss battle. With Ancient Labyrinth, Lords of the Fallen doesn't just fail to take a step forward: It takes a momentous leap backwards.