Lords of the Fallen should be on every Dark Souls fan’s watchlist

Two warriors clash in Lords of the Fallen

We saw 40 minutes of Lords of the Fallen recently. The long-dormant franchise is getting a reboot, but from what we saw, there is a lot of promise that should get fans of the genre excited.

It’s strange to contemplate the Lords of the Fallen franchise in 2023. I remember seeing a playable demo of the original back at a video game tradeshow in 2013. The building of that show no longer exists and hasn’t for nearly nine years. My point is that it’s been a long time since it was a franchise I reckoned with. 

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Perhaps even stranger still was that games that get reboots are generally well-beloved and have strong positions in the cultural conversation. Lords of the Fallen did not. Even at the time it came out, the best praise it received was that it was a decent Dark Souls-like to hold people over until Bloodborne. That may sound harsh, but there’s a reason it’s not well remembered all these years later.

Conversely, that’s what makes Lords of the Fallen 2023 so interesting. Reboots of beloved series are a dime a dozen. However taking a series that had flaws and updating what worked about it nearly a decade later, is a compelling idea. 

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Beautiful and dangerous

That intrigue held as I was given a guided walkthrough of the game during a behind-closed-doors presentation at WASD a few weeks ago. What I saw not only justified its existence but also demanded I sit up and take attention. 

While I didn’t physically get hands-on with Lords of the Fallen, I sat next to creative director Virtosu Cezar as someone played in front of me. What unfolded instantly impressed. The game is utilizing Unreal 5, and you can tell. This is a visually impressive game from the outset and only becomes more so as you begin to explore gothic cathedrals, landscapes torn asunder, and forests decaying through sinister magics. It’s genuinely a bit of a spectacle. 

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However, quality graphics only get you so far. Indeed, the first Lords of the Fallen benefited from being the first Souls-like to be exclusive to next-generation hardware, and even that didn’t quite carry the title. 


Thankfully, it has a powerful gambit that leaves an impression immediately. In 2016, Titanfall 2’s Effect and Cause and Dishonored 2’s A Crack in the Slab missions had a common mechanic. In both, you could instantly swap between two forms of the level, the game running two worlds superimposed onto each other. It was awesome then, and it remains so now.

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Lords of the Fallen is taking that idea and stretching it across the whole game world. The title has its natural state (or as natural as its horrific world allows), but hidden beneath the veil is ‘the Umbral’. This is the realm of death and madness, and even if you can’t see it at all times – it’s always there. 

You can access and use the Umbral in various ways, to navigate or survive in the world. The best, and safest option is a lantern you can pull out at any time. The light it emits will reveal the hellish purple hues of the shadow realm, showing off the twisted body horror and hidden nightmares waiting to reach out and grab you. 

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The Umbral isn’t just trying to murder you though. It does have a practical use. In some instances, you’ll need to access it to bridge gaps or reach hidden areas. Mastering walking between these worlds will be key, though you probably don’t want to plan any extended stays. 

The Umbral also acts as a saving grace for death, though it may not always feel it. If you die, you will fall into the Umbral. However, the longer you spend on the plane, the more likely you are to die – for real. This is represented in an increasing meter for all the time you spend there. The higher that goes, the more enemies there will be, and you will see more illusions and distractions as madness slowly envelopes you. If you die in this state, you will die, losing experience and being placed back at one of the game’s equivalents of Dark Souls Bonfires.

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This whole Umbral system was deeply impressive, largely with how seamless it was. Switching between both realms happens instantly and the fact that this game has essentially designed its world twice between both planes is a promise that’s begging to be explored further. 

Give me lore

The Umbral is a twisted version of the living world.

It is perhaps an unfair advantage to have the creative director of a game present and explain it to you as it’s being played, but Cezar’s infectious passion for the world he and HexwWorks has is hard not to get enveloped in. 

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In every room we entered, there appeared to be a thought-out, practical in-lore reason for its construction. It helped cement in my mind that there is both technical impressiveness and strong narrative craft informed by in-game lore simultaneously. We’d move through halls where hardened knights take post, or where monks would perform religious practices, all set out and designed in a digital space that made sense. If the devil is in the details, satan has his fingerprints all over this one. 

This extends to the bosses too. While I don’t wish to get too deep into mechanical spoilers, one boss featured a mother and child, that transformed part of the way through. After defeating the first phase, the child jumped into the possessed body of its matriarch, only to pilot it more devastatingly. If Lords of the Fallen can keep up this kind of detail and out there ideation throughout its runtime, it has the potential to be something special. 

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Fallen on the Radar

I left with a genuine curiosity For a reboot of an old franchise that’s long forgotten, Lords of the Fallen has serious promise. If you’re a Soulsborne fan who’s worried about the long wait for FromSoftware’s return to the genre, after Armor Core VI: Fires of Rubicon, this needs to be on your radar. I find myself excited about the Lords of the Fallen franchise. That feels like one of the least likely sentences I’d write in 2023, but here we are. I can’t wait to see what HexWorks does when its descent into madness finally lands later this year. 

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