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Lords of the Fallen preview - more than enough soul to stand out

HexWorks reveals a new slice of Lords of the Fallen gameplay to explore, and The Loadout has been hands-on at Gamescom with the Dark Souls competitor.

Lords of the Fallen preview gamescom 2023

It’s hard not to think of Lord of the Fallen without thinking of the shadow that FromSoftware casts over the soulslike genre. Before seeing the game in person for this Lords of the Fallen preview at Gamescom, I wasn’t sure that it could carve out a niche for itself. Well, publisher CI Games and developer HexWorks definitely has soul, but not an abundance of the one we’re all thinking of.

Lords of the Fallen is a different beast, to a surprising degree. Whereas its predecessor suffered due to lack of originality, HexWorks appears to have cracked the code this time around. It is impressive considering that the market is more saturated than it was back in 2014, with even the likes of Star Wars Jedi Survivor getting a slice of the genre. You don’t need to be acquainted with the first game either. HexWorks is taking everything back to square one. What you do need to know is that the incredibly evil Adyr, who was purged underground before, is making a comeback – and you’re going to slay them once and for all.

Lords of the Fallen may feel familiar at first, though. Character creation echoes the fun and absurdity found in a FromSoftware suite. There are 9 Lords of the Fallen classes to dig into, 10 if you upgrade to the Deluxe Edition. I didn’t hesitate to choose the Udirangr Warwolf class, which favors intense melee power over protection from incoming attacks. A risky play, but one that would keep me on edge, without the safety of a shield throughout my preview. Oh, and this isn’t any ordinary Udirangr Warwolf. Jerry is a purple, orange-tinted hair warrior ready to explore Umbral and Axiom.

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Stepping out into the game’s world, is it quickly apparent how stunning Lords of the Fallen can be. Adopting the technical wizardry of Unreal Engine 5, HexWorks doesn’t falter when it comes to keeping the game’s targeted 60FPS on track. Rather than explore the trappings of what my colleague Echo Apsey experienced before, my preview takes me to an entirely unseen location called Fitzroy’s Gorge.

Forgotten archways guide me into a nest of cobwebs, broken structures, and algae-riddled water. Now Lords of the Fallen’s originality takes shape. I’m equipped with a lantern that doesn’t just illuminate the way forward, but an instantaneous portal between two worlds. Umbral, the land of the dead, and Axiom, the land of the living. The game’s art direction is intricate and painterly, with each placement of foilage and scorched earth evoking the sense of an astute hand.

Either world loads shockingly quickly before my eyes, rivaling the technical feats I’ve seen recently in my Alan Wake 2 preview. It never got old every time I revealed an alternative existence beyond my mortal being. The accompanying aesthetic changes are bountiful too, as Umbral paints the world with a decaying brush. However, changing between them isn’t without caveats. Exploring Umbral eventually chips away at my health, and gaining access back to Axiom isn’t exactly easy. Finding a Vestige is the way back to the light.

Using the lantern to vanquish possessed corpses clears obstacles to proceed, while it can also be used to weaken my enemies if I have enough charges. It feels mighty to wield an object of such power, almost as if it’s an endgame-level item you’d find in Elden Ring. Lords of the Fallen allows you to wield it from the start.

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It takes some getting used to when it comes to the game’s control scheme. The muscle memory of soulslike games is there, but the added element of the lantern and a slightly more advanced attack methodology take it further. It is more than just using heavy and light attacks, or switching between one or two-handed stances. Lords of the Fallen encourages me to push my limits, suggesting an input that can chain attacks together with a visceral animation.

The risk is losing a huge chunk of health, the reward is decimating my enemy into small supernatural pieces. Once I got on the same page, I could channel the supremely responsive feel that HexWorks is putting into the game’s combat. Defeating skeleton-like foes and spine-chilling wraiths is merely child’s play compared to the preview’s main demonic rival. The Lightkeeper approaches me on a battlefield made of giant swords and destroyed grass.

A roaring soundtrack ripples across the airwaves, but The Lightkeeper has more brass than horns themselves. This boss is meant to defeat the player I’m told, but it doesn’t sweeten the blow when I’m brutally killed. It rings true to the introduction that Sekiro Shadows Die Twice or Ghost of Tsushima invokes, but I don’t need time to recover like Jin Sakai. Lords of the Fallen puts me back on a quest for revenge immediately. I’m veering off the beaten track in hopes of progression to the next area, choosing whether it is worth facing the threats of Umbral properly or temporarily with a slight raise of the lantern. There are likely hundreds of secrets to find in either of Lords of the Fallen’s realms, which could extend its replayability tenfold.

Lords of the Fallen is on track to right the wrongs of its predecessor in a big way. Enriched with primal combat, a deep character creation suite, and two gorgeous worlds, it could stand tall with recent soulslike gems such as Remnant 2. Even with just over an hour of gameplay to throw myself into, my worries about Lords of the Fallen existing as a shameless Dark Souls ripoff are mostly squashed. Of course, I’ll have to see what the Lords of the Fallen release date has in store.

Keep your eyes peeled for more previews, interviews, and coverage of Gamescom from The Loadout over the coming days.