Lords of the Fallen PAX West Impression
There’s a lot to like in Lords of the Fallen, with many class options and a deep combat system to keep things engaging while figuring out the mysteries and puzzles of the Umbral.
Lords of the Fallen was an ambitious Souls-like action RPG that launched in 2014. Years later, CI Games and Hexworks have retooled everything for a reboot — also titled Lords of the Fallen — to let players revisit the same world 1000 years later, which provides a new perspective. With more classes, equipment, enemies, story, and traversal mechanics the game may look similar to seasoned fans, but a lot of refinement makes its gameplay enticing to dive into. An extended demo at PAX West showed off how players can use the Umbral mechanics as well as a few boss fights.
The demo avoided diving very much into the story, outside a few story scenes involving the bosses and interactions with the mysterious Iron Wayfarer, who is a jaded predecessor of the player character who doles out a few tidbits along the way. It offered a choice between the nine starting classes, all of which have different gameplay styles, as well as whether to play as male or female. For our demo, the Hallowed Knight was the selection and thus the focus from here on out. The Hallowed Knight moves slowly but deliberately, as there’s a sense of weight behind their stance. Meanwhile, enemies behave intuitively, starting swings where the Knight is but following through to still clip the player if the dodge doesn’t take them fully out of harm’s way. These two aspects combined make for the Hallowed Knight to be better suited at parrying and slicing through their enemies rather than trying to be nimble. Parrying, which staggers the enemy for easy return strikes, relies on players being able to time their presses correctly, and I was less proficient at this than dodging. Enemies can also be staggered by attacks, rolling into them, or by kicking. The Hallowed Knight has a more defensive one-handed sword and shield stance to block easily, but can swap to a two-handed sword to block and deliver more powerful blows.
While slashing through enemies worked easily on a few smaller foes, this false sense of security can lead to downfall though if they can gang up on a player. The first time players lose all their health doesn’t mean death for their character, as they change into an Umbral state, which is in a ghostly otherworld that makes enemies stronger and their character weaker. To get out of Umbral, players have to find recovery sites called Vestiges to get their life state back. These take the form of flower beds at pre-made locations, or players can plant seeds to grow them at certain places.
Umbral is not just used as a way to stave off death, as the ability to shift between worlds is kept in a lantern of Umbral. Players can voluntarily enter this state to bypass areas that look to be dead ends as the Umbral realm has difference in the surroundings of its more desolate world. There were story fragments in the demo, hinting that this otherworld is set in the past, but how it interacts with the present time remains a mystery. Umbral’s stronger enemies are combined with more rewards, but naturally players are more likely to die in this state, making it unwise to spend too long there. Some enemies are hidden in the Umbral and can make present day enemies immortal, and in the full version of the game will be able fish the player into the Umbral world. Finally, Umbral is also used to help solve puzzles, and recharge magic at specific nodes found along the journey. With so many different options for what Umbral is able to do there’s a lot of mechanics to juggle. There is a screen to help with mapping and remembering controls, just make sure that the character is alone as menus do not pause the game and enemies can still attack.
Bosses can be very mobile, rarely pausing in an onslaught against the player and leaving little time to prepare for what comes next. The demo showed off a mini-boss fight against a slower armored knight with a pole ax that was easy to dodge, but right after there was a boss fight against an unwinnable foe. After a bit more exploration, the demo culminated in a big fight against an agile sword wielder that flew around the arena and made use of the fight mechanics learned up to that point.
All in all there’s a lot of new mechanics with the Umbral to keep players invested in both the mystery of the world and provide a lot of new mechanics. There’s a lot to like in Lords of the Fallen, with many class options and a deep combat system to keep things engaging while figuring out the mysteries and puzzles of the Umbral. There isn’t a long wait for the game as it releases on October 13, 2023, for PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X|S.