Lords of the Fallen preview

Return of the Lords

If we were to ask you to make a list of your favorite or most memorable games inspired by FromSoftware’s Dark Souls series, Lords of the Fallen might not be a title that instantly springs to mind. And yet, the 2014 release by developer Deck13 is incredibly important, as it was one of the first games that helped expand the Soulslike subgenre beyond the franchise that inspired it.

While Lords of the Fallen was quick to build upon the foundation that Dark Souls had laid, it certainly took its time in crowning a successor. Just shy of 10 years since the original’s release, CI Games’ relatively new studio Hexworks has set out to revive the series in a new game of the same name.

Although it’s taken time to get here, creative director Cezar Virtosu told us that the team hasn’t forgotten what’s come before, nor is it ignoring any of the lessons learned from its predecessor.

“We’re very thankful for the work Deck13 and CI Games did back in 2014—especially since our original goal was to build from their foundations, evolving the franchise to be competitive years down the road,” he said. “We also went out of our way to address feedback from the first game, and have made the combat more fluid and faster, in addition to more ergonomic control-wise. The [new] bosses were the cherry on top of those priorities.”

We’re pretty sure we had an ’80s heavy metal album with this exact scene for its cover art.

Of course, a lot has changed in both the world of Soulslikes and in video games in general in the last nine years, so thankfully, this Lords of the Fallen won’t just be a game that’s shackled to the past. Hexworks is working to give everything about the sequel its own unique flavor, from exploration, to the death loop, to environmental storytelling—with that last area especially taking some interesting new turns.

“The first thing on the order of business was to ground the game’s fantasy, taking it from the previous high fantasy into a darker and more gothic territory,” Virtosu explained. “We set out to make more Lords of the Fallen, not something else entirely, but also to greatly expand on all aspects. To create the World of the Fallen, a launchpad for other stories, big and small.”

One piece of that darker atmosphere is Umbral, a realm of the dead that exists together with Axiom, the realm of the living, in the world of Mournstead. After dying in Axiom, players get transported to Umbral, where they can fight to resurrect themselves to get another chance at victory. In talking to Virtosu about Umbral, he pointed out that it’s “not just a shadowy death realm,” but rather a twisted mirror of reality where lost souls will face threats not only physical, but also mental and emotional.

“It began with our desire to expand on the ‘corpse run’ paradigm and allow the player to recover [from] or play through their failure,” Virtosu explained. “Umbral is a parallel world, where the corruption of the real world is made reality. It is not just a visual allegory. Its nature and purpose is insidious and disturbing. But I’m not going to spoil it here.”

Still, as dark and intimidating as the worlds of Axiom and Umbral seem, we couldn’t help but notice that the game’s official website stills offers up this simple phrase: Dare to hope. Is there a chance that Lords of the Fallen could break from the usual Soulslike tradition, and offer players a happy ending filled with sunshine and rainbows and kittens?

“The game is not all doom and gloom, of course, and there are rays of tranquility and tenderness even in such a twisted world like Mournstead,” Virtosu replied with a laugh. “As for the endings, well—I guess you will have to play and see.”

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