I expected Lies of P to be a competent soulslike rehash, joining the roster of games like Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty as a fun but fleeting taste of its inspiration. What I didn't anticipate, however, was a dash of spice from Neowiz Games that's actually an improvement over its source material.
It's a subtle change, but it addresses a huge pain point in the boss fights of FromSoftware's rogue's gallery. In Lies of P your Estus Flask equivalent—Pulse Cells—work exactly how you'd expect. You press a button, you get a chunk of healing back, you rinse and repeat until you either win or are pulverised. The twist comes when you run out of heals: you can scrape back your last Pulse Cell charge by dealing damage to enemies.
I like an old-fashioned Souls boss: a classic drag-out brawl with a crafty bastard holding a swiss army knife of attack patterns for me to memorise. The teething pains, however, come when I've chewed through my stock of healing items. This can lead to dissatisfying midway points in the fight where I'm fresh out of juice, knowing I'm doomed to the next missed parry or fumbled dodge. If I'm especially annoyed, I'll even run into the arms of death just to get it over with.
The Pulse Cell system, however, dangles a carrot on a stick in front of the player. It's a little Jiminy Cricket whispering in your ear: "Hey, clutch this for the next minute, and you'll be back in the game." It recharges slowly—slowly enough that you'll usually earn yourself one extra cell per attempt—but it's just enough to keep you in the ring.
Because of this change, I never had that fatalistic thought of "I might as well die and reset". Instead I stuck it out, dancing on a razor's edge to get myself a second chance. I thought back to how much more exciting some of my favourite FromSoftware fights—like Genichiro or the Knight Artorias—might have been with that tiny sliver of hope. It's a complete placebo of course, you can pull off these feats without a safety blanket, but games live and die based on how they feel—and getting that last charge back for good play feels great.
I don't think Lies of P is going to set the world on fire, but it's doing enough new things that it'll be pulling my strings for a few dozen hours after release. You can download and play Lies of P right now as part of Steam's Next Fest until June 26.