The Soulslike subgenre of games, named after the Dark Souls series of obtuse hack-and-slashers by From Software, are always punishingly difficult. It’s their whole raison d’etre – or at least that’s the accepted wisdom. Fiendish traps, deadly ambushes, terrifying bosses; what many titles in the field seem to overlook is that Fromsoft’s difficulty is almost always in service of lending an atmosphere of dread, wonder and coherence. It’s a fine line. Hear whispers of a mad fallen monarch only to beat them on your first try, and all that careful myth-making reveals itself as artifice. But if you sense the hand of an overly sadistic designer weaving in artificial difficulty, the world suddenly feels lifeless.
Enter Lies of P, a lengthy, moody action RPG that can’t always resist difficulty, but with style, inventiveness, and an undeniable passion for the Soulsborne legacy. This is a far more difficult game than both Bloodborne and most of Elden Ring, but it’s also far more faithful to the soul of its inspirations than nearly all of its subgenre mates. Wooden? Occasionally, but it’s got real heart.
You’ll likely be struck first by Lies of P’s funereal fairytale aesthetic, which is more menacing than its Burton-esque boyband playable Pinocchio might let on. There’s a bit of airbrushed sterility in both its human characters and later forays into body horror, but the puppet enemies, environments, and scattered accounts of quixotic follies do a fine job establishing a latent sense of fairytale dread and whimsy. It’s also phenomenally scored, from sweeping boss themes to the melancholic grandeur of era-appropriate classical.
You spend the vast majority of its runtime hitting murderous puppets with a selection of bladed objects, from rapiers to umbrellas, gargantuan sawblades to acidic spears. Lies of P’s combat feels slower than Bloodborne and Sekiro but faster than Dark Souls, with blocking and parrying taking point alongside the less emphasised but still useful sidesteps and dodge rolls. Swift responses reward a portion of the health lost through blocking, and switchable prosthetics offer augments from exploding shields to flamethrowers. Best of all, most weapons can be dismantled into blades and handles reconfigured, combining your favourite moveset and attribute scaling with your preferred speed and damage.
Outside combat, Lies of P stands out in two areas: things FromSoft does well that no other Soulslike until now has managed to pull off, and creative tweaks to classic Fromsoft systems and issues. The former involves mysterious NPC questlines, winding level design through spectacular architecture, as well as genuinely inventive “gotcha” moments, made all the more impressive by the fact that Fromsoft themselves basically ran out of new ambush and trap scenarios pre-Elden Ring. The latter consists of genius tweaks, not limited to: lost souls from boss deaths; healing items recharging from enemy kills; and (gasp!) elevators that reset to their original position when you die so you don’t have to stand around waiting for a lift to Blighttown.
Does it cling to Bloodborne a bit too tightly? Absolutely. When you hear talk of a “stalker’s workshop”, it’s hard not to groan. There is, after all, a difference between copying someone’s homework and stealing it out of their bag. The first time you encounter a poison swamp (sorry, corrupted water), you’ll wonder if entire swathes of the backstory weren’t written just to shoehorn in a few Miyazaki specials. But it is said that “good artists borrow; great artists steal” – if only all mimicry was this well-executed. The boy may be wooden, but Lies of P is the real deal.