Why Lords of the Fallen Is The Best Soulsborne of 2023

The Soulsborne genre has become one of the most popular in the gaming industry, and each year, an unknown company likes to throw its hat into the ring for the chance to be the next Dark Souls. So many fall by the wayside in their attempts, with Steel Rising, Mortal Shell, and The Surge springing to mind, but still, companies try and try.

With Elden Ring releasing in 2022, the bar got set even higher for what this genre can provide, so for any Soulsborne that released in 2023, they had quite the act to follow. There were handfuls of contenders this year, and each of them had something unique to offer.

The top contenders for best of the bunch are Jedi: Survivor, Remnant 2, and Lies of P. Of those, Lies of P was the critical and commercial darling, while Remnant 2 stood out among the other two for being the most unique variant. Compared to Lords of the Fallen, though? Neither measures up, not in graphics design, not in tone, not in exploration, and not in combat. At least, in my humble opinion.

Remnant 2 had a unique trip through various realities; Jedi: Survivor expanded upon the previous game with huge open worlds to explore and incredible combat, and Lies of P managed to spin Bloodborne into its own twisted take on Pinocchio.

They were all fantastic games, but for my money, the best Soulsborne game in 2023 didn’t come along until October 13th, the date when Lords of the Fallen was released. It may not have reviewed the best or sold the most, but here’s why Lords of the Fallen is the best Soulsborne of 2023.

Why Lords of the Fallen Is the Best SoulsBorne of 2023

What It Does Well

immersive feedback Lords of the Fallen
Image Source: Steam

Respect Instead of Respect

I’m a very tactile gamer; I want to feel every hit I deliver through the controller, and while immersive feedback has become more of a selling point within games due to accessories like the Dualsense controller, it’s not always a given.

Believe it or not, Soulsborne darling Elden Ring didn’t offer much in the way of tactile feedback for players, as every normal attack felt like swinging a foam sword due to the lack of vibration. Incredibly, though, this seems to be the norm, as Lies of P also drops the ball in this regard.

Yet, in Lords of the Fallen, when I take my giant greatsword and drive it through my enemies, the controller responds with a violent vibration that makes what I did on the screen feel immersive in a way that sound and animation cannot achieve alone. It’s a small detail, but one that serves as a strong foundation for the slew of fun combat mechanics Lords of the Fallen provides.

When it comes to combat variety, Lords of the Fallen has it in droves. You can be a mage, a melee fighter, or a long-range javelin thrower, and the best part about it is you don’t have to dedicate your entire being to pouring points into stats to have it happen.

Within a short amount of time, my character was launching spells, switching to long-range grenades, and laying out punishment with a greatsword. For that to happen in other Soulsborne games, I would need to respec my character, unlock new skill trees, and navigate 100 ridiculously complex menus. Generally speaking, other Souls games don’t value my time in the way Lords of the Fallen does, nor do they offer gameplay variety that can be accessed on the fly.

Remnant 2 probably comes the closest when it comes to a great combat experience, but even there, I was pretty tired of shooting after a while, and the melee combat in that game just felt tacked on. It’s the freedom the combat provides in LOTF that makes it such a joy to engage with, and this freedom, in turn, makes the boss encounters even more cathartic and special.

Where Lords of the Fallen succeeds in combat is the growth you feel from the first hour to the last. I would say the combat doesn’t truly open up here until the 10th hour or so, and once it does, you have a feast of different abilities, spells, long-range weapons, and bows to choose from that frankly puts most games to shame.

You also have a ton of basic moves to pull off with each weapon, which is in stark contrast to the three-hit combos available to you with many weapons in Lies of P or the repetitive melee combos that Remnant 2 tries to sell you on. You’ll be needing the elaborate suite of combat options that LOTF provides because these bosses are nothing to scoff at.

A Problem to Solve, Not a Mountain to Climb

The Lords of the Fallen gets a ton of comparisons to Dark Souls 2, and a lot of that comes from the boss design. That game always got a ton of criticism for having most bosses be a variation of different kinds of knights, and perhaps it was a little knight-heavy. But that doesn’t mean that these DS2 comparisons are a slight on Lords of the Fallen, as it manages to switch it up quite a bit, in my opinion.

Yet, through this consistency of similar enemy models that ramp up in difficulty and attack variations, players get a sense of progression while still having a sense of familiarity as to how they should approach each battle. Elden Ring did this rather well through its repeated Bosses like Crucible Knights and Godskins, but in my eyes, LOTF steps it up even further.

Bosses are a frenetic dance of dodging, parrying, and striking, and each one has a different gimmick to discover. Some will have secret ways of damaging them that you’ll need to discover, and others will test your Twitch reactions to their limit. They are not the hardest bosses ever to grace a Soulsborne, but that’s okay because sometimes you don’t need to be a masochist to design a good boss. Problem-solving and combat catharsis trump artificial difficulty spikes, and that’s something that LOTF leans into.

Each boss in LOTF has a special way to damage it that you must figure out, and the fact that you can parry all of them gives the fights a skill-based feel that hasn’t been seen since Sekiro. Sekiro introduced bosses as a puzzle that needs to be solved and gave you a ton of tools to figure it out with. LOTF does a similar thing here, except your toolbox is even bigger. This game will still challenge you immensely, but it won’t torture you.

Is anyone defending the controller-chucking nightmare that is Oggdo Boggdo in Jedi: Survivor? How about The Nightweaver in Remnant 2? I spent 10 hours with my girlfriend trying to beat The Nightweaver in Remnant 2; it nearly ended my relationship. Do you hear that Soulsborne fans? Very Hard bosses can end relationships; take note. Praise is fun and all, but how does it stack up compared to the competition?

What It Does Better Than the Rest

Lords of the Fallen best game 2023
Image Source: Steam

More Than Set Dressing

For me, Soulsborne games must immediately grip you with atmosphere and tone. Lords of the Fallen does a spectacular job in this regard, throwing you immediately into a downtrodden village full of dangerous knights and mages. In the distance, you can see this vast, drop-dead gorgeous world that begs the question, “What’s out there?” and you actually get to explore it.

It’s akin to stepping out in The Lands Between in Elden Ring and staring up at the Erdtree. Curiosity takes over, and the magnitude of the world is immediately clear to the player.

Whereas, in contrast, Jedi: Survivor teases you constantly with mesmerizing vistas and points of interest, but unless you’re in the free-roaming area of a planet, most of it is just set dressing, and the exploration ends up feeling a mile wide but an inch deep.

Then, to point the finger at Remnant 2, you are hopping from world to world, and often, you see something truly awe-inspiring in the distance, but very rarely do you actually get to explore what that is. Sure, that might be down to the procedural nature of these worlds, but that’s hardly an excuse, is it?

Then, the other 2023 Soulsborne standout, Lies of P, had a similar problem, providing you with the beautiful city of Krat, but the exploration was non-existent, leading to a shockingly linear experience filled with loading screens.

Lords of the Fallen not only allows you to explore freely but presents a vista of where you are actually going, allowing you to plan ahead and anticipate your next barrage of hardships. The game also offers level design that showcases joined-up thinking and natural pathways, rather than patchwork to sew together unrelated locales.

It’s a map that is connected in the same way Dark Souls 1 was connected. Some have said that that level of brilliant level design hasn’t been matched since. I contend that in October of 2023, it has.

Then you have the Umbral realm. An alternate world that creates a sense of duality to the exploration in LOTF. Although it seemed like a gimmick in the marketing leading up to release, the actuality is anything but. In fact, I’ve only seen this hidden map idea actualized in one other title. Once again, this game draws comparison to Elden Ring and its Underground Map.

The Umbral realm bathes the world in a haunting purple hue and fills normal-looking halls with ghoulish terrors that stalk you, and it only gets more dangerous the longer you stay there. The brilliance is that you need to be in this realm a lot to solve puzzles or traverse certain areas, and this creates an uneasiness each time you reluctantly enter this twisted reality.

Using the Umbral lamp is also a boon in combat, allowing you to stun both normal enemies and bosses to unleash big damage. Is it perfectly implemented? No, but it’s wildly creative and an example of how to take a Soulsborne game and spin it into something that feels new.

Every Soulsborne has a gimmick this year. Lies of P’s was the fact that they used a public domain character as their unlikely hero, which I can only assume will be repeated next year with some ill-fated Winnie the Pooh Souls game.

Remnant 2 had Archetypes, along with the fact that it’s ‘Souls with Guns.’ Then Jedi: Survivor followed suit, adding a gun to their rather haphazard Souls combat. Throw all of those in the garbage and give me the Umbral realm. I’m betting that years from now, so many games will have a spin on the Umbral realm.

We have seen it a few times in other shapes or forms, like in The Medium, for example, but LOTF may have created a blueprint for others to follow. That blueprint isn’t just for atmosphere and gimmicks, as the game’s challenge should also be used as an example of how to grow this genre.

Gettin’ Gud Doesn’t Mean the Game’s Good

difficulty Lords of the Fallen
Image Source: Steam

All Soulsborne fans want a challenge from this genre, and Lords of the Fallen provides a unique one. Instead of letting you skate through levels unscathed, the basic enemies are a huge challenge here, not just the bosses. Basic enemies in Lies of P fell almost instantly to my attacks, while the bosses felt like they almost came from a different game.

In Jedi: Survivor, I almost felt guilty slaughtering hundreds of Stormtroopers over my playthrough, and while Remnant 2 certainly had tough regular enemies, the way they appear is ridiculous, with some forming out of thin air, which isn’t exactly an authentic combat experience.

In Lords of the Fallen, enemies stalk and hunt you throughout levels. They are persistent in the world and feel dangerous in a way the other game’s normal enemies did not. I could tell you about countless encounters with regular enemies in LOTF and what it took to overcome them.

I can’t do that with the Stormtroopers and other fodder in Jedi: Survivor, I can’t do that with the waves of enemies that Remnant 2 threw at me that had me barely understanding what I was fighting, and I certainly can’t do it with the various puppets of Lies of P. But what good is it challenging yourself if what surrounds that challenge is boring? Luckily, Lords of the Fallen has you covered there as well.

A Tone of Its Own

Lords of the Fallen tone
Image Source: Steam

The tone of Soulsborne games is usually pretty uniform, which always confused me. In 2023, all of the Soulsborne games felt unique in some way. Jedi: Survivor had a fairly lighthearted tone despite the dour nature of the game itself, Remnant 2 had a half-serious, half-joke tone, and Lies of P had its violent take on the tale of Pinnochio with a cast of would-be Bloodborne characters to tell it. All of these games had a blueprint to follow, whether it be previous games in the series or drawing from established IPs.

Lords of the Fallen was left out on its own as it certainly wasn’t going to draw much from the failed 2014 release under the same name. It takes guts to do what HEXWORKS did and revive a failed IP, but they did it. LOTF goes for something different. You’re not exactly the chosen one here, but instead, you’re marked for death.

The opening cutscene sets the stakes that those who hold the Umbral lantern are not long for this world, and immediately, you find yourself in possession of it. It’s akin to Lord of the Rings in a way, and one could say it takes that story, Dark Souls, and a little bit of anime and throws it into a blender. The overall experience is made by the sum of its parts, and that’s not a bad thing. Confidence is key, and LOTF knows what it is, what it wants to be, and what it can’t be.

None of the other Soulsborne games this year felt confident in this way. Jedi: Survivor felt like it should have been way darker than it ended up being, but it likely had to toe the line because of Disney. Let’s talk about Remnant 2 though. Remnant 2’s tone was so all over the place I don’t even think the developers could tell you what they were aiming for. It felt like that game wanted to have its cake, eat it too, then regurgitate it and eat the cake again.

At the start of the game, you have what appears to be a ripoff of The Last Of Us, and immediately, it’s a bit groan-inducing. But then you’re thrown into different worlds, each with its own story to uncover, and suddenly, the game opens up immensely. The problem is the thread that ties them together is so weak (big bad tree plague) that you don’t even care what happens to the real world at a certain point because every character that exists there will bore you to tears.

Lies of P, well, we all know what Lies of P wanted to be. If Bloodborne was a musician, it would be suing Lies of P for copying its music. While it uses some of its own ideas from time to time, overall, there were times I was playing it and thought, “Are they going to get sued for this? ” That’s not a jest; some areas felt like they were lifted straight out of Yarnham.

Whether it’s the cryptic whispers of your female guide in Hotel Krat, the unsettling character in the wheelchair that claims to be your friend, or the way you can speak to characters throughout town through windows, Bloodborne stops being an influence to Lies of P and instead becomes its entire structure.

Lies of P ends up suffering because of it, because very few of its ideas are its own, and the confidence to do anything outside of the Bloodborne box is nowhere to be found. LOTF never had that issue and succeeded because of it. Speaking of unoriginal ideas, critics certainly had a lot to say about this game.

Critics Are Hypocrites

critics Lords of the Fallen
Image Source: Steam

Lords of the Fallen did the worst critically out of the big Soulsborne titles to be released in 2023. One criticism that was leveraged constantly throughout these reviews was the challenge of normal enemy mobs. Oh, the irony.

If this game was a FromSoftware title, critics the world over would be praising its new approach to what a difficult game should be. But because the company is a little engine that could, they don’t get the benefit of the doubt. The mobs here are certainly vicious, but shouldn’t they be? Shouldn’t these enemies be tough to take down? Shouldn’t the ghouls that swarm you in the Umbral realm feel terrifying to take on? We’ve lost the plot when it comes to what should be difficult and what shouldn’t be.

You shouldn’t ever be able to sprint through basic mobs to get through the boss. You should have smart checkpoints set up throughout so that doesn’t have to happen, and LOTF understands that perfectly.

I’ve also seen reviews that say the combat is clunky. I don’t equate weighty to clunky, but certain people sure do. Another common complaint is that combat is animation-based. Obviously, it’s animation-based. Have you ever tried swinging a weapon at full speed, stopping mid-way, and executing a backroll?

No, because that makes no physical sense. Just because Lords of the Fallen tries to lean on actual physics for its combat mechanics doesn’t mean it’s clunky or poorly designed. I have to think about my next strike because I know I won’t be able to magically cancel out of swinging a 60-pound sword downward to dodge out of the way.

If you make a choice in combat in LOTF, you have to bear the consequences, and that’s how I felt when I played the original Dark Souls, and it remains true here. The only other Soulsborne that handles combat weight well this year was Remnant 2, but the melee combat was so limited that it could barely be utilized as a legitimate form of attack.

Yes, we know it looks like Dark Souls, and nobody wants their precious Dark Souls copied or tarnished in any way. If anything, Lords of the Fallen provides the blueprint for what an eventual Dark Souls 4 should look like and play like. Critic scores are what they are, but they shouldn’t keep Lords of the Fallen from being praised, for it clearly is the best Soulsborne in 2023.


Question: Is Lords of the Fallen a sequel?

Answer: It is, and it isn’t. It’s more of a spiritual sequel to 2014’s Lords of the Fallen, but there are elements of the story that can be clearly linked back to the original tale.

Question: Will there be DLC for Lords of the Fallen?

Answer: The developers at HEXWORKS have shelled out updates by the boatload since launch, so it’s safe to say they are dedicated to expanding upon the game in any way and have already added in several additional pieces of content. A larger-scale DLC has yet to be announced but is clearly in the realm of possibility.


lords of the fallen pros and cons

I’ve drawn my line in the sand. For every story beat Jedi: Survivor throws at me, I prefer what LOTF does. For every endless wave of enemies that Remnant 2 throws at me, I prefer the more measured approach that LOTF takes with its mobs. For every mind-numbingly hard boss Lies of P throws at me, I prefer the strategic and sensible challenge that LOTF provides me with.

It’s a misunderstood game in many ways, but it’s a special one that deserves to stand among the titans of the genre. It’s the dark horse of the bunch, but it has the most to offer in so many ways, so if you skipped out on playing it during the busy last few months, it’s time to rectify that.

Continue reading:

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Lords of the Fallen Review – Fallen for You

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