STAFF REVIEW of Lords of the Fallen (Xbox Series X)

Monday, April 15, 2024.
by Brent Roberts

Lords of the Fallen Box art There are a few game genres that will assess your gaming aptitude while also testing the tensile strength of your controller. I'm talking about the "souls-like" genre, where death is inevitable as is your ability to have another controller prime shipped when you shatter your first one into pieces. Developer Hexworks decided to take up the mantle and not so much develop a sequel, but more of an "improved" version of the game Lords of the Fallen. Make no mistake though, while this new attempt was originally wrought with issues, Hexworks has worked tirelessly to improve this game since launch, and the big question that is on my mind is a 2 part question:

1. Was all the work worth the effort by producing a quality title?
2. Is this game worth the money they are asking for?

Time to light our lantern and see what we can find.

As we begin our spiritual journey to redemption we find that this game should be regarded as more of a "reboot" of the original Lords of the Fallen game. Taking place over 1000 years after the original Lords of the Fallen, the Demon God Adyr has devised a way to return to the land of Axiom, and it is up to you to prevent it at all costs. Should you fail, all of existence as you know it will cease to be and Adyr will have full dominion. This was all thanks to Adyr's demon armies who lay siege to the five beacons that keep it imprisoned. As you can expect with other 'souls' type games, the boss fights that accompany this journey ahead are ferociously lethal and should you waver in your ability to fight off the demons, then your light shall also be extinguished.

This is not a war though that is fought on one plane, but rather two. Axiom is the world in which you reside in and full of unique beauty and savage aggression. The other world is known as Umbral and could be considered the "spirit" world that is beyond the sight of anyone who is not a lamp bearer. This is where the unique twist to Lords of the Fallen resides. Using the lamp you can switch between various realms and in doing so not only solves puzzles which will inevitably come your way, but also see how the realms differ. For example, you may come to a body of water that is full and you cannot cross it in Axiom, however, switching to the Umbral realm will showcase to you a dried up waterway that is now able to be crossed. This dynamic was a refreshing experience over the more common "go here, do this, go there to that" linear fashion. While I say it was refreshing, that also doesn't mean it was easy... by any means.

Each one of these realms also carries with it their own inhabitants. Umbral, as you may have already guessed, is full of demonic spirits and all sorts of terrors that have not come to rest peacefully. This realm should be tread carefully and cautiously, for your spirit can easily be added to the numbers contained within. Axiom however is where you will experience the "normal" side of Mournstead (the land within Axiom's realm), and here you will find cities and shopkeepers, soldiers and more. As you progress you'll learn more about how Axiom's residents are entrusting you to keep Adyr at bay. One side note, I personally loved how you can see the hand of Adyr coming up from the ground as a sort of monument that haunts your journey and reminds you of your fate and the fate of all mankind should you fail.

As stated, these cities and shops throughout the game will be where you will do most, if not all, of your bartering for your gear. Lords of the Fallen offers your typical one-handed, two-handed, two-one-handed setup, and based off your character class, should be chosen wisely. These classes are arranged from easiest to manage to hardest. Let me give you an example. Dark Crusader would be considered an easier class to manage because they focus on dealing tremendous damage and can support solid defenses as well. On the other extreme end of the spectrum we have the Condemned class, and instead of a massive sword and armor to start with you get a broken bucket, a throwing rock and some rags to wear. Also, the classes you choose have different starting levels, such as Dark Crusader starts at level 14 whereas the Condemned starts at 1, and a Lord starts at 23.

These classes have their own strengths and weaknesses, and as such, provide their own unique character builds that can focus on melee weapons such as swords, magic spells and abilities, to even ranged weapons such as crossbows. Depending on how you like to play these 'souls' games will determine a lot about your build. Just in your weapons alone you have the following categories:

Ammunition, Bows, Catalysts, Crossbows, Daggers, Fists, Flails, Grand Axes, Axes, Grand Hammers, Hammers, Grand Swords, Long Swords, Short Swords, Polearms, and Spears.

Now when you are talking magic and armor however, the selection is a lot more streamlined, as Magic deals with three types of spells: Inferno, Umbral and Radiant. Whereas the armor is broken down into Helmets, Chest pieces, gauntlets and leg armor. That's not saying though you'll be sparse on choices, but Lords of the Fallen does want you to focus on the weapons of choice for your adventure. While you may be tempted to focus on your weapons, you should not overlook your lamp. When you upgrade your lamp you can incorporate these "Umbral Eyes" which give both a main ,and a secondary effect, and throughout your adventure you can see how these eyes make a significant impact to your character build and your gameplay experiences. You can even use these eyes to deliver tremendous damage to bosses "Pale Butcher". I've got my eye on you.

You know the saying "if you can't beat the game by yourself, bring a friend and dominate." I don't know if that's an actual saying but I'm using it now as Lords of the Fallen offers a dynamic co-op experience that allows you to go through the main questline via a simple drop-in and drop-out system. Activating this is as simple as turning it on in the multiplayer menu system and does include cross platform support from PC to console (sorry but no Xbox to Playstation support). In these multiplayer sessions you can trade with players, and the game itself will balance out throughout. Should you and a friend take on a boss and your friend becomes downed, you can revive them in middle of the fight if able.

There are a few tweaks however that need to be mentioned. If you start your game and your friend joins in, they will gain XP and keep the loot that they acquire from your game, however their story progress will not advance at all. So technically it is possible to go through a friend's game and level up your character, gain all this gear and build it out to be a rampaging machine, then pop back into your game and lay waste to everything. A lot of this is similar to how games like Borderlands operated. You could go through, level up your guy and get all your weapons and then go back into your game and walk through most of it.

Speaking of which, the loot system in Lords of the Fallen multiplayer acts similar as well since the loot can be accessed by both players, however, the small caveat is that only the host can obtain world loot and hidden items that may be inside chests. As you get to navigate the areas either solo or with a friend, you're going to be in for a visual sensation that is what you come to expect from a wide open sandbox 'souls-like'. Crypts that are limited in visible space but not in danger, snow covered wilderness that takes you high into the mountains, arid and rocky terrain that will test even the most dedicated of followers. Each of the areas of the map bring within it unique enemies and their own distinct dangers, and this also counts for the Umbral world as well.

Fighting these monsters though can be a bit tricky and that is where the kinks in the armor start to show with one of the biggest challenges to ever face video games... the camera. Normally having the ability to free roam the camera can provide benefits, however, when you're locked onto an enemy, it can betray you when you least expect it. This can be an issue when you're dealing with a game where death is as constant as the northern star. Thankfully, through your combat you will level your character up through various stats and equipment that will turn your once meek adventurer into the savior of the realm.

Overall, Lords of the Fallen is an excellent example of if at first you do not succeed, try again. With a multi-realm dynamic to manage throughout your campaign, Lords of the Fallen delivers a challenging and highly rewarding souls-like' experience. With Unreal 5 delivering graphical presentations that are memorable, an incredibly deep character progression system, and enough loot to keep even the greediest of gamer happy, Lords of the Fallen takes its rightful place in the upper echelons of the genre. Grab your friends and some extra controllers because Lords of the Fallen is a quality experience that is rarely found.

**Lords of the Fallen was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 7.3 / 10
Gameplay: 6.5 / 10
Visuals: 8.2 / 10
Sound: 7.5 / 10


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