A Souls-like or Soulsborne, a game that follows the core design principles of From Software’s iconic titles, used to be a novelty. The original Lords of the Fallen in 2014 fell into that category, trying to capitalize on a budding trend yet falling short of replicating the type of experience that made Souls games so good. The upcoming Lords of the Fallen is a second shot for this series, acting as a sort of reboot. Since the subgenre has evolved drastically in the years since, it takes a lot more to grab the attention of folks amid the sea of Souls-likes we see today. And after playing roughly two hours of the new Lords of the Fallen, it’s clear developer Hexworks has a better understanding of what makes a good Souls-like click this time around.

While this new entry still contains lore loosely tying it to the original, 2023’s Lords of the Fallen is completely rebuilt, committing to a much darker fantasy world and offering stronger RPG elements. The flow of combat that bogged down the first game is gone. In its place is a fine-tuned rendition of that familiar heavy and consequential style of combat where every move is a risk-reward scenario and dodge rolls are your best friend. It’s responsive and relatively fast-paced–and from the boss fights and enemy encounters I experienced, the process of understanding attack patterns and exploiting opportunities while managing stamina felt right.

An impressive showcase of how Lords of the Fallen is doing things better this time around is in the very first boss fight against Pieta, She of the Blessed Renewal. Pieta’s a knight that towers over you and wields light-based magic utilized in swift, far-reaching strikes of her sword, devastating AoE spells, and summoned avatars. Of course, there’s a second phase to the fight where she transforms into an angel-like being who soars across the combat arena and casts even more dynamic light spells that home in on you. Defeating her turned out to be the kind of challenge expected of the genre’s greats–it took me three tries, but with each attempt I felt myself getting better, gradually excelling at reacting to her attacks, rather than succumbing to cheap tricks and banging my head against the wall.

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