If you’ve played From Software’s Souls series, you’re at an excellent starting point for Deck13 Interactive and CI Games' Lords of the Fallen. It uses almost the exact same combat system, with blocking, swinging, encumbrance, and all of the other aspects that make Souls’ action great. While From Software provided the clear inspiration for many of the mechanics in Lords of the Fallen, some tweaks and changes add variety and keep it from being a cookie-cutter clone. While it’s not quite as challenging as a Souls game, I had a blast taking on the massive bosses, customizing my weapons, and timing my spells – the developers have created something special here that I hope to see more of in the future.

Players use experience points to level up both magical abilities and core stats, allowing them to use better gear. Experience can be banked and spent at checkpoints, but the more risks you take holding onto them (they drop on death and need to be collected), the greater the rewards. This system isn’t as rigid as soul spending; players can find their own comfort level with risk, either playing it safe with gradual progression or gambling for increasingly bigger payouts.

You can delve freely into any stats, but some broad class archetypes provide some framework – the aggressive warrior, war-of-attrition cleric, and sneaky rogue. Your opening selection provides a set of starting gear and beginning stats, while your starting school of magic augments the class choice. You have a choice of three classes and three magic schools, but playthroughs in new game plus and beyond allow you to add additional magic schools for added flexibility. I went with a traditional warrior loadout with brawler magic, opting for massive strength and endurance, favoring two-handed weapons over shields and protection. I had fun with this build; while I was near death during many boss battles, my all-in approach let me take advantage of vulnerability windows in a huge way.

One aspect that distinguishes Lords of the Fallen from similar titles is a socket customization system that allows you to add runes to your weapons and armor. Add poison damage to your sword, magic resistance or added weight allowance to your armor, or other minor perks and nuances to give you an edge in battle.  The controls feel tight as you battle a selection of enemies that all have special challenges to overcome. From giant, seemingly insurmountable shields to ghosts and mages, every foe is sure to cause a pleasurable headache of some kind. That said, by game's end the enemy variety gets a little stale.

In addition to selecting and augmenting your assorted swords, boots, accessories, and shields, you have the option to use a magic gauntlet. This projectile weapon comes in three flavors, and each one is useful in the right situation. I didn’t use the gauntlet too much in my playthrough, since my magic pool was quite small and essentially only being used to augment my physical strength, but I’m eager to try it out during my next playthrough.

The world is largely connected, with doors unlocked from one side providing backtrack shortcuts or secret areas along the way. Though actual zones are few, they’re used in a fashion that makes travel from one area of the world to the next fairly painless. It should only take a few minutes to get from any given point to your desired destination. The story is lackluster and mostly gets in the way of the action when it comes up, but the different choices you make in regards to your NPC interactions add some weight and agency to your non-combat gameplay. Basically, you’re the badass criminal imprisoned by the nation you end up saving from certain doom, and you do meet a few characters along the way like a fellow adventurer with her own mysterious goals, some deserters, and a stereotypical “you’re criminal scum and can’t change” captain, but they’re all one-dimensional irritants that can’t hold a conversation any better than a sword.

While the game may not have the signature atmosphere that From Software is known for injecting into its compelling environments, Lords of the Fallen is visually stunning, and presents players with a clean, crisp interface for selecting gear and magic.

I ran into a few crashes while playing and had some minor quibbles with hit detection at a few points, but thanks to checkpoints being everywhere I didn’t lose any real playtime to errors. I also had to walk to and from a few locations to get things to trigger and there were a few localization typos, but little quirks like this were mostly harmless.

Lords of the Fallen is a surprisingly solid title that wasn’t even on my radar. While it borrows heavily from the Souls franchise, it’s done well and with its own signature flair. I highly recommend this game to anyone that enjoys that series, and if you haven’t gone down that road before, it might be a more forgiving entry point into the action RPG.

This review pertains to the PC version of the game. Lords of the Fallen is also available on Xbox One and PlayStation 4.