I've been reading up on a lot of recent comments from Lords of the Fallen developer HexWorks, specifically creative director Cezar Vortosu, and I'm increasingly convinced that the devs have basically chucked almost every FromSoftware game into a blender of their own macabre design.
The bulk of the original game, which never made much of a splash when it launched in 2014, has seemingly been stripped away by the reboot's new developer, and what sounds like a truly monstrous creation was grafted onto the bones with help from modern Soulslikes. I'm not complaining; Lords of the Fallen needed a reboot rather than a sequel. Soulslikes are iterative by nature, but they're iterating on stuff that I and a lot of people like, and HexWorks' take is shaping up to be one of the more interesting games of 2023.
Speaking with DigitalTrends, Virtosu compared the game's semi-open setting to the instanced layout of Demon's Souls. Lords of the Fallen turns you loose in a world with five main dungeons, indicated by red beacons that neatly mirror the archstones in the first true Souls game. You can technically tackle these dungeons in any order, though there is an "optimal" path. I'm reminded of the time I first booted up Dark Souls only to misguidedly run straight into the Catacombs, get my ass handed to me by over-leveled skeletons, and deduce that 'man, they aren't playing around with this game.'
Likewise, there's a bit of Demon's Souls in the way Lords of the Fallen handles death. When you die, you respawn in the Umbral realm which mirrors the living realm. I gather that Umbral enemies are nastier than the already sickening horrors infesting the living realm, so it isn't easy to fight your way out or make your way to an altar that can restore you to life. On top of that, your ability to heal becomes limited to a chunk of temporary health that's only good for one hit, according to PC Gamer. But you'll want to try your damndest to make it out, because if you die in the Umbral realm, your dropped resources are gone for good.
There are definitely shades of Demon's Souls' Soul Form and perhaps Sekiro's Resurrection here, and as Virtosu told Eurogamer, the Umbral realm also comes with some sort of madness meter that strikes me as Bloodborne's Insight by way of Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem. A watchful eye in the corner of the screen will gradually open if you act "cowardly" while in the Umbral realm – running from enemies and what not – presumably ratcheting up threats or outright killing you in the process.
Virtosu even acknowledges that "when we started, the golden standard was Dark Souls 3. The Dark Souls paradigms were Dark Souls 3 and Bloodborne… we had Nioh and we had The Surge, we had examples." Given its contemporaries, he told Eurogamer, HexWorks "had to do our own thing."
HexWorks' own thing ended up being more like Elden Ring than it intended (or even could have known), but it's elevated by ideas and motifs of its own. The terrors of the Umbral realm color exploration, for instance. Players are simultaneously encouraged to avoid the dangers of undeath and to peer into the darkness in search of hidden paths or loot. The Umbral realm is everywhere, after all, and you can glimpse it at any time using a handy haunted lantern – and it's quite the feat, honestly, to overlay two game worlds on this scale.
Plus everything is so dang gross. I love it! All the enemies and bosses we've seen are twisted, squelching, wicked things that make even some Bloodborne enemies look friendly. Lords of the Fallen is really out here casually cooking up nastier beasts than the Gaping Dragon. I'm especially fond of the malformed quadruped which was apparently mo-capped by "a Canadian contortionist on all fours," according to DigitalTrends. If you need double-jointed performers to get the references for your animation bones, you know it's gonna be disgusting.
Lords of the Fallen, which now confusingly shares the exact name of its predecessor, is also building on the mistakes of the original game. Classes are more open, combat is faster, and the difficulty is overall higher but offset with tools players can use to mitigate difficulty (there's a bit of Elden Ring's design philosophy creeping in). Altogether, it looks like a promising revamp for what's technically one of the oldest Soulslikes. Here's hoping we can actually get some hands-on time with it soon.
It's almost poetic that Lords of the Fallen revives the place-your-own bonfires that were cut from Dark Souls 3 – with a twist.