Lies can create illusions. The aristocrats and self-proclaimed pioneers of the city of Krat know this well. Lies of P is built around this premise, breathing new life into an overcrowded genre by allowing you to fabricate your own truth with the characters you meet, shaping the world with your choices.
Lies of P is the latest addition in the ever-growing lineup of Soulsborne-inspired games. On paper, it definitely dresses the part. It’s a hack-and-slash game with obtuse mechanics; challenging areas delimited by sweet, sweet checkpoints; and dramatic entrances for each and every boss encounter. The standout element is its narrative, which sets the tale of renowned lying apologist Pinocchio against the Belle Époque era.
Ergo, a powerful mineral found deep within the bowels of the city, has turned a coastal town into a mecca for luminaries. It powers the imposing structures and monorail systems that you plunge through, but it also fuels the puppets in the city, which once acted as butlers, police officers, and so on. Now, an unknown frenzy has turned them against humanity. The people behind these machinations task Pinocchio with finding the root of the problem, all while staying safe from harm inside the hotel that serves as the hub for your travels.
Pinocchio, however, is different from most puppets. He’s able to pretend that he’s a human, which is necessary for blending in among the humans hunting his kind. Developer Neowiz puts this theme into action in the form of Telltale-esque, time-based conversation decisions. Your choices can lead to specific item rewards, or even skip fights altogether by sparing the lives of characters who can aid you later on. Generally speaking, these decisions play on Pinocchio’s dual nature as a puppet and a (cough) real boy. I spent most of my time lying — like the rest of the humans remaining in Krat — and the world reacted accordingly: Characters in the hotel expressed concerns about my autonomy; a cat who previously pushed my hand away let me pet them as I gained more humanity; and Pinocchio’s very appearance changed, aa his hair grew and he aged.
During the first few hours of my 46-hour playthrough, the mystery surrounding this karma system of sorts kept me invested. It was a sorely needed hook because, outside of its vibrant art style, Lies of P is as derivative as Soulsbornes come. It leans heavily on Bloodborne nostalgia, but its combat is more akin to that of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice: You have to treat bosses like Dance Dance Revolution stages, which encourage perfect parries that completely mitigate damage. This strategy is pretty much mandatory in later areas, as enemies attack relentlessly at an overwhelming pace — even compared to the genre standards.
Lies of P’s most gripping conceit gradually emerges over time: Pinocchio is, in effect, a weapon in constant iteration. You use a Frankenstein’s monster-style chair to upgrade certain stats and actions (such as increasing your available number of health vials, or making enemy stagger periods last longer so you have more time to perform a strong attack), and your left arm can become a flamethrower, shield, or cannon, to name a few. It was exciting to experiment with these skills and attachments at first, especially in conjunction with the weapons I discovered throughout Krat. However, once I found a combo that allowed me to stand my ground against several bosses, I was rarely compelled to change my play style; at that point, it was experimentation for its own sake.
For all of the challenges and flexibility Lies of P offers, I kept coming back to the strengths of its story. It was refreshing to have some agency over the course of Pinocchio’s character development, however binary it may be. And it was rewarding to see NPCs’ intentions change throughout the game. A pair of siblings took advantage of my skills to clear an area on their behalf, instead of banding together against me. Later on, after finding out what they were seeking and for what purpose, I chose to help them again, expressing solidarity rather than opting for revenge. The protagonist is ultimately a weapon built to be augmented and reassembled — and it’s exciting to actually be able to challenge this nature with your choices.
As the Soulsborne genre continues its inevitable expansion, the entries that truly stand out are the ones that build their own identities on FromSoftware’s foundation. Ashen replaces obtuse mechanics with an approachable understanding of the genre’s strengths, inviting you to slowly build a community and see your home base change over time. The Surge takes the idea of mixing and matching weapons, and extends it to your character’s own robotic body. The recognizable patterns and pillars are all present, but they’re a structure upon which to build something new.
Lies of P’s contributions to the genre are slow burns. There’s just enough intrigue at the beginning to lure you into the world, and thankfully, it pays off. The game surprised and engulfed me with its grim tale, in which greed and obsession for power turned a city against itself. Despite a clear obligation to pay homage to its pioneers, it carves its own reality — one in which you decide which illusions to believe in.
Lies of P will be released Sept. 19 on Mac, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X. The game was reviewed on PS5 using a pre-release download code provided by Neowiz. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.