2014's Lords of the Fallen is not an especially beloved soulslike, but the lords are getting another shot at stardom in 2023's Lords of the Fallen, which was formerly known as The Lords of the Fallen. I guess they decided, 'screw it, we nailed the title the first time,' but otherwise, it's a brand new game. The publisher is the same, but the developer is new, and the game includes a character creator, co-op (friends can pop in and out anytime), PvP, and a faster combat system.
I didn't get to play Lords of the Fallen during my hands-off demo at GDC last week, so I can't say how it feels, but there's plenty to say about how it looks. It looks like I'm gonna need a new GPU, for one thing: Lords of the Fallen was built in Unreal Engine 5, and it's the first game I've seen that genuinely looks like one of the tech demos Epic's been showing off. It's part tech demo itself, even: It was featured during last week's State of Unreal GDC presentation, which you can see in the video below.
While creative director Cezar Virtosu talked to me about Lords of the Fallen, another developer played it, sometimes bringing up the dev console to switch to a free camera so he could fly through the interconnected areas (they're calling it a "semi-open world," five times bigger than the original's). He occasionally went faster than the full-res textures could load, but otherwise it was the smoothest gothic roller coaster ride of self-torture I've ever been on.
The flagship technical feature in Lords of the Fallen is that there are actually two worlds layered on top of each other. There's the world of the living and then there's the Umbral realm, a purplish plane that shares the same physical space, but with subtle differences—for instance, lots of faces with holes in them, and fingers, and limbs, and things like that, everywhere you look.
As a puzzle device, the world-beneath-a-world thing isn't groundbreaking—an impassable gap in one world might be passable in another, for example—but I don't think I've seen it done with this kind of fidelity. The Umbral plane is absolutely everywhere, and can be inspected at any time with a magic lantern that not only lets you peer into the realm, but interact with it through a ghostly rift.
You can also dive completely into the Umbral realm, either on purpose or by dying. Once you're there, healing only gives you a block of temporary HP that evaporates with one hit, and if you die in the Umbral realm, you're dead for real and you lose a bunch of XP and return to your last checkpoint. If you find a special kind of altar, however, you can pull yourself back into the land of the living without sacrificing any progress.
The Umbral realm contains its own special monsters—who, by the way, can attack you through the rift opened by the lantern—as well as secrets and hidden bosses. Except for a few instances when you need to be among the living for puzzle-solving purposes, Virtosu told me that you could spend almost the whole game in the purple haze, just in case playing in the land of the living is too easy for you.
The checkpoints you'll return to when you die for real will be few and far between, Virtosu told me. He described a mountain area which has a checkpoint at its start and a checkpoint at its end, and none in between. You can craft and place your own checkpoint, but I wouldn't go so far as to call it a manual save: crafting one requires special materials from Umbral monsters, and you can only place one at a time, and, oh, you have to put it somewhere safe or else monsters will destroy it.
When he wasn't explaining how Lords of the Fallen works, Virtosu just sort of showed me cool stuff for 40 minutes, and his constant narration lulled me into a bit of a trance. I'd struggle to describe everything I saw coherently, so instead, here are a bunch of things Virtosu said to me, without context. Maybe if you read them and try to imagine what might have been on the screen when he said them, you'll get a sense of what Lords of the Fallen is like.
A bunch of things Lords of the Fallen's creative director said to me, without context:
• "That is an egg. I wonder who lays these eggs? That is a question."
• "And they sought refuge in these ruins, and the Rhogar, which are the demons in this part, descended upon them and inflicted horrible pains."
• "If you go into Umbral, you're going to catch glimpses of the ghosts, and you have ghosts everywhere, whispers and all sorts of craziness."
• "This, hm, strangely looks like a boss area. I wonder what will happen here? Would it be a staple of the genre to have a boss that ruins your weekend the first time you get out of the tutorial zone? We will see."
• "This is a mausoleum where the kings of old were entombed, because they were cursed not to touch the ground, and this is in a bridge, in the body of a bridge."
• "Your guidance is those fingers of God, which are five, and how do you reach them? It's up to you … you just have to find your way through the morass, honestly."
• "And this is the peeling of self and ego. All the enemies are allegorical. They're ambassadors of their culture."
• "And you're looking around, and you see that archer, and you think you're going to ruin his weekend, and then the 'what the fuck' moment. Surprise boss. We have these."
• "This is where the knights actually congregate ... this is where they do their profane work, where they eat, where they sleep, and where they shit."
• "This is the tower of penance. This is guarded by one of the plague brothers. A horrid creature."
• "This is a reliquary where they hold their secret—[to player] can you pop in very quickly? Pop in very quickly to see the Resonance of Justice? Maybe he's dead but, go back up, go back up, go back up, you're gonna die, you're gonna die, you're gonna die. Okay, that guy? Yes, Resonance of Justice. Now he's confused. Growling. He's going to try to grab you. Horror!"
• "Tapestries, murals tell the culture of these people, because, you know, art is the manifestation of culture. All these areas are handcrafted. It's been a pain for production. An utter pain. That mural tells the story. That door is a big placeholder. This area here is the chapter house where the knights hold chapter and judge each other. They throw themselves into the pit."
• [On boss transformations] "They're terrible to behold, they're pathetic."
• "The child mage will unleash horrific crowd control."
Hopefully, those quotes help explain why my interest in Lords of the Fallen significantly increased after my meeting with Virtosu.
Of course, those scenes won't be any fun to witness if the combat's no fun, but I didn't play it, so all I can say is that it looked entertaining. The ability to fire off ranged attacks—arrows, spells—and then instantly switch to melee attacks like you can in Remnant: From The Ashes seems nice, and I'm also a fan of "soul flaying." I'll leave you with one more Virtosu quote to explain that one:
"You can soul flay people, you yank their souls out, and for three seconds, soul and body will try to slow-mo merge. But this will cause displacement, and you choose in what direction you throw the soul, so you can pull an archer off a perch. You can pull someone into the fire, or even throw a soul into a number of people to kind of make this bowling ball... it's up to you."
Lords of the Fallen doesn't have a specific release date yet, but the plan is to release it on Steam, the Epic Games Store, and consoles sometime this year.