I have complicated feelings about Lies of P. As I sit down to adjust my P-Organ (actual name) for the first time, I feel that signature blend of adrenaline and tooth-gnashing jaw pain that comes after strongarming my way through a boss battle I was probably far too underpowered for. I'm excited to finally upgrade my character's skill tree after about 6 hours playing Lies of P, but I'm already filled with dread: if it took this much work to get through the first few hurdles, I'm in for a hell of a ride.
Fast Facts: Lies of P
Release date: September 19, 2023
Platform(s): PC, PS5, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Developer: Round8 Studio
At its core, Lies of P has everything a spiritual successor to Bloodborne should: perilous boss battles, tons of lore, and horrific creatures all bundled together under the aesthetic umbrella of a gothic steampunk dystopia. The result is a stylish, atmospheric delight that finds space to innovate as well as replicate. It delivers a challenging Soulslike experience that stands out from the crowd, and while the execution of some of its combat systems could use some fine-tuning, Lies of P does its job brilliantly.
I hear a rusty creak of metal just around the corner, and stop in my tracks. Stalking the streets of Krat, blade in hand, Lies of P succeeds in offering up the twisted fairytale Soulslike that publisher Neowiz has been promising us for the past two years. Pinocchio has traded up his wooden legs for an arm of steel, and he's altogether the most badass iteration of Carlo Collodi's fable hero ever seen.
The gnarled plot unfurls slowly as you venture through the city, laying waste to creatures of all manners. From frenzied puppets to zombie-esque humanoids, Lies of P is a horror and a pleasure at the same time. It pulls off both new and old-hat tricks alike with finesse; much like in Bloodborne, guarding an attack gives you a portion of grayed-out health which can be regained by attacking the enemy in kind, while a well-timed perfect block nullifies all incoming damage. Baked into this combat pattern is Lies of P's standout feature: weapon assembly.
Weapons are found in glowing chests, hidden in nooks and crannies throughout the city, and each can be disassembled. Pairing the mighty greatsword blade with the whippy hilt of a rapier provides the best of both worlds, meaning there's a multitude of possibilities to tailor your playstyle throughout the adventure. Certain enemies are weak to certain damage types, from Electric Blitz to Flame, and the right weapon combo can mean the difference between victory or searing defeat.
Lies of P might not rewrite the book, but it does an excellent job of making its own additions to a well-worn script.
New mechanics like the stagger feature are useful for landing high-powered fatal attacks, as is the chance to backstab an enemy, but it's hard to know how close you are to enacting a stagger without a requisite bar to tell you so – making this aspect of combat something of a guessing game. I frequently miss my windows of opportunity, struggling to get enough quick hits in from time to time, but extending that window is nothing a P-Organ upgrade can't solve eventually. It doesn't give you a visual on your stagger progress, but at least it's something.
Despite the odd stray hitbox and unknown factor of stagger mechanics, Lies of P's approach to combat is a thoughtful rework of the classic Souls formula. The sheer variety of combinations means it retains the best of Bloodborne's combat while making welcome improvements when it comes to crafting a specific build. Failing against a particularly ruthless bossfight can feel a lot like hitting my head against one of the elegant wrought iron fences peppered across Krat, but being able to come away and totally switch up my playstyle makes me even more determined to succeed where I last failed.
Picking up dropped ergo – Lies of P's answer to level-fuelling souls – right outside a boss battle arena is another welcome change that gives you time to dash back after defeat, pick up the resource, and teleport elsewhere to farm a little more if needed. There's more to Krat than hulking mechanical bosses and the harsh scrape of blade against metal, after all. It's an absolute joy to simply stroll around and kill stuff, but the story is plenty intriguing to boot.
The devil in the details
The strong narrative component in Lies of P is something that works surprisingly well for the genre. Where Elden Ring's plotline could feel a little sprawling and intimidating at times, Lies of P succeeds in using a popular fairytale story to aid its immersion factor, and it makes all the difference in creating and maintaining heightened stakes.
The blue fairy takes the form of Sophia, a so-called "listener" who uses her powers over ergo to help make P stronger. You're sent on rescue missions to find Gepetto, the father of puppets, as well as stranded puppet-builder Venigni, whose factory of faceless mannequins have been corrupted by the puppet frenzy. There are even neat little hints to Commedia dell'Arte stock characters in the form of mysterious Arlecchino, whose riddles you can solve to earn keys to secret safes, and the mention of Venigni's puppet butler, Pulcinella.
Familiar names and characters are given a distinctly somber makeover in Lies of P, building out the lore of this grim new world to make it feel like more than just a beautiful graveyard. Repeated assets and clunkier level design elements are easy to excuse, though once you notice the exact same carriages and dead bodies being placed on every street corner, it's hard to ignore entirely.
At the crux of the narrative is the lying system – Lies of P, geddit – which has a small influence on the opportunities presented to you throughout the experience. Lying is something that puppets shouldn't be able to do in Krat, but by choosing to lie or tell the truth at crucial moments, P's journey to becoming a real man is constantly being shaped. Telling the truth feels cruel at times, especially when faced with the decision to tell a dying woman whether the baby doll in her arms is a real infant or an inanimate object. It adds a unique morality component not seen in similar action RPGs, and while these moments are few and far between, they are some of my favorites.
Lies of P might not rewrite the book, but it does an excellent job of making its own additions to a well-worn script. The cherry atop it all is the combat, malleable enough to evolve alongside your case-by-case needs rather than presenting an agonizing choice between power and speed; shock-inducing throwing cells are my method-of-choice when it comes to finishing off a boss battle, and the flame-imbued salamander dagger works wonders against the undead of Moonlight Village. There are secrets to be uncovered in this once-prosperous city, ranging from sidequests to treasure hunts, and while the linear pathfinding might throw off those used to Elden Ring's open world, Lies of P adds rare depth and personality to a hollow tin frame.