Up-front, I’ll say this much: Talking about Lies of P is going to be either a praise or indictment of much of what we imagine the “soulslike” genre to be.
It doesn’t take long into the game to realize that Lies of P is essentially a display of the genre’s famous key features: tactical action, build optimization, a gritty setting, a lot of dying, and a lot more rolling. Lies of P strips these to a relatively basic state to make itself an approachable entry point for the genre, but does it do enough to stand on its own as one of the year’s most anticipated action-adventure games?
This question is actually part of why I’ve decided to tackle this review, given, admittedly, extremely minimal experience with soulslikes. At first glance, it even lacked a lot of the more dramatic and complicated systems and gimmicks that other games have worked in.
However, this approach meant I needed to get good, like, really fast.
I’m still not sure if I am. But I’m better. I think. While I haven’t managed to finish yet (sorry editors), it’s certainly a game worth talking about.
Alluring But Predictable World
The quest to get good takes me through something of a barren landscape of intrigue. If I were told to make a steampunk Bloodborne, this would probably be what it looks like, in general, but so far it’s not really in an inspiring, out-of-this-world way.
The lore and story are fine so far. It’s getting me through in the sense that, sure, I wanna see this all wraps up. I want to see the city and world saved, I want to delve deeper into how Pinocchio and the “ergo” of the world intertwine, and I want to know how that coincides with this weird pandemic that’s also happening parallel.
On one hand, elements of Pinocchio just seem like they’re borrowed as an overlay for the wider world. On the other hand, I feel it actually works better than if they’d instead used original lore and thrown out the classic fairy tale altogether.
Rarely do proper steampunk and magic actually combine without question in games of this scale and “darkness,” per se. Saying, “Well, it’s Pinocchio, so that’s the lore,” opens the door to that in a simple way. I do adore that it’s the Blue Fairy helping us and that “Jiminy” is an icebreaking companion cleverly renamed to “Gemini.” There’s something pleasant about the gleam of the light blue Ergo that leads players to items and “Stargazers,” the equivalent of campfires.
On the flip side, everything else in the world feels much more hollow and almost expected. There’s a church, there’s an abandoned alley, there are cop puppets, and the pandemic-touched super-zombies encountered later don’t really present anything menacing that hasn’t been seen in other zombie games. Sadly, the rebellion groups of “Stalkers” are forgettable so far (though I haven’t gotten too much on them yet; stay tuned). Lore entries just made me go, “Oh, that sucks,” and then I moved on.
If I sound too harsh, that’s because maybe it is. In general, again, it’s actually fine. The most damning thing I can really say is that it feels like a reconstruction of tropes that I’ve heard about soulslike, placed into this setting. The lore and story don’t execute poorly enough for me to cringe into my sofa about it, though I won’t be exchanging notes with my besties about it.
Unfortunately, as an English speaker, the immersion is broken with some wonky localization choices that pop up in the lore from time to time. The most egregious slip refers to a man we kill “who was now terminally ill;” I mean, yes, I just killed him, that tends to terminate people. When spoken aloud, a few of the stiffer lines stood out more harshly. You will get sick of “I’ll use my powers to help you!” very quick. It also reflects in the interface and prompts of the game, and I’ve hesitated once or twice before using an item because a prompt was just passive enough in phrasing.
This all said, I’m going to be really honest: the lore’s not exactly what I’m coming for. I’d hoped for something deeper, but I’m treating this game like I’m barreling through yet another zombie apocalypse haunted house this Halloween season. It’s more about the journey here, which means persevering through some weird, spooky bosses.
Rolling And Swinging
In regards to gameplay, you do, in fact, need to treat Lies of P like any other soulslike. It does involve more than a bit of skill to get through. Thankfully, the game seems to be pretty flexible about execution without being overwhelming on choices—and that’s great for a stubborn beginner like me.
You’ve got most of your bread and butter of this genre, as I’ve come to understand it: an attack, a heavy attack, a dodge, a slightly-effective guard, a special attack, and some health and stamina. Unfortunately for some, I’m sure, you can only play melee classes. (At least this means you have to obey the one rule of thumb my friends gave me: closer is safer.)
Lies of P does like to boast its Fable Attack special moves quite a bit, and it’s come in use quite a few times as a hail mary against the more stubborn enemies. You build it through attacks, and there are also resources available to build it up instantly.
But what’s gone understated in its press tour so far, which I personally think is nifty, is the weapon crafting. In short, you can take the handle and the blade of any two weapons and mix them up. It creates new Fable Arts, plus allows you to mix and match stats and even strategies based on your playstyle.
For example, I’m running right now with a pure rapier, plus a greatsword paired with the handle of a blunt weapon. The result is that I can do some heavy stagger-building hits on distracted bosses and groups of enemies, or swap to do quick jabs at those larger bosses while I keep an eye and my stamina up for attacks.
It’s great for me because I’ve always been stingy on resources. No, I don’t wanna use this limited-use weapon energizer! I don’t want to run down my shotgun/explosive specialty arm! I just want to learn and improve and find a strategy that works for me.
That means, though, that the bosses should have room for that flexibility. Have they been fair? Eh, mostly. I’ve actually had some trouble on mini-bosses that I really shouldn’t have, and even my roommate watching me struggle has agreed that one or two have been a bit unfair. The bigger bosses have tested my patience—in a good way.
I think the charm of a good “hard” game should be overcoming what’s ahead of you, not hitting your head against a metaphorical wall too tall to climb until something chips. (And trust me, I’ve seen both in the form of one of Final Fantasy 14’s infamous Ultimate raids.) I don’t want to dump all of my resources into a mini-boss because I have to otherwise dump all my stamina to roll back and slap his ass, which I only get 1.5 seconds to do before his front shield faces me to slap me back. I do want to suffer for, once again, rolling 0.75 seconds too early in the most frequent move a boss executes.
In overcoming these challenges, I’ve made some neat discoveries about the gameplay. For example, I can teleport back a few chapters to farm an item that gives an assist summon, which is fantastic on its own and a must-use once you’ve got the hang of the boss’s attacks. Staggering a boss allows me to stand in an assigned spot to perform a heavy-damage attack (and I mean, heavy damage). And yes, you can grind to improve stats! But that only gets you so far. You still gotta dodge.
Speaking of performance, the game’s been mostly decent on PS5. I wouldn’t call anything I’ve encountered game-breaking. At worst, the framerate drop from “Quality Mode” has tripped me up on a few dodges; if you think you’re feeling input lag like I did, go ahead and swap that out.
Otherwise, the game feels fairly polished and playable. It suffers from typical game bullshit, like getting stuck between a boss and wall, and I’ve had things suddenly spawn as I pivot the camera, but it’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it ordeal.
Beyond that, I feel like this is a well-loved and well-tested game. Nothing’s making me want to throw my controller away and quit, except for my own lack of patience with bosses. That’s just a “me problem,” though.
Conclusion (Thus Far)
In reading more about the game, Lies of P presents itself as an approachable soulslike made by those who really love the genre. Being in that target audience, I’m aware of the genre’s reputation and am walking into it face-first; yet, I feel welcomed into what makes a soulslike game enjoyable, as I’m challenged but not overwhelmed.
It’s not a fairy tale of a game, but I sense that if you like games of this sort, it’ll keep your fingers busy in a pleasant way, like taking a jog while you’re on vacation. Lies of P has neat vibes, an interesting premise, and good challenges.
I’ll see you all for the follow-up after I get a lot better and finish this up. Gah.