With the Dark Souls series firmly planted in the last gen; and a while left to wait yet for Bloodborne, Deck 13 Interactive, CI Games and Square Enix have released Lords of the Fallen. A game very much in the vein of the Souls succession, offering careful yet strategic combat, enormous bosses and learning by your own mistakes. Will Lords of the Fallen become a simple stopgap, or will it rise to the occasion and prove to be an independent game in its own right?
Every good adventure needs a suitably, strong protagonist, expectedly more so in an RPG; initially that’s seemingly not the case here. You play as Harkyn, a felon bearing mysterious tattoo like daubing’s upon his face. Each one is directly related to a past sin he’s committed, but unfortunately that’s about as much detail as the game cares to enlighten you with. All that’s really presented to the player is that you used to vanquish foes left, right and centre, before eventually being put in prison. Now that the worlds gone to pot again however, you’ve been released, met up with your mentor Kaslo, and are now on a warpath to ridding the realm of both the Lords and Rhogar.
Don’t expect a Bethesda style offering of customisation off the bat, as the convicted criminal Harkyn is going to sport the bearded yet bald look throughout. Instead, aesthetic customisation is left to the different variants of equippable armour found in the game. Character interaction isn’t one of the games strongest points either, despite being presented with a conversation tree each time you talk to an NPC. Recurring characters might have something different to say depending upon the outcome of their previous conversations, but if it did change, it wasn’t too noticeable. Having established that the storytelling and narrative aspects won’t be the games strongest suits, it’s time to swing an axe or two and see how the gameplay holds up.
Within the first five minutes you are offered a choice of starting class; radically changing not only how you approach the game, but also the inherent difficulty throughout. The rouge class, for example, will see you play much more conservatively than the warrior and his (eventually) enormously damaging ‘quake’ attack; whereas the cleric focuses on endurance and deception to survive.
Whereas picking your class gave you a vague indication of what sort of playstyle you’d adopt, it’s eventually up to your equipped armour and weapons that will decide your combat effectiveness. Donning a light set of armour that may have half the defence rating of your currently equipped set may sound like a ridiculous idea, until you get into combat and realise you can literally run rings around enemies that is. As you might expect, the heavier the armour, the more limited you are in manoeuvrability; changing weight classes provides new challenges on its own. Instead of relying upon those select few invincibility frames you get whilst rolling from side to side, you’ll have to learn the intricate timings of blocking as a replacement.
Whilst certainly more forgiving than Dark Souls, in that a couple of standard enemies are unlikely to ruin your day, the combat system is relatively similar. It all comes down to management of your dwindling stamina bar; and what actions you perform to deplete it. Attacking, blocking, rolling and sprinting will all drain it, and once it’s gone, you’ll likely suffer a grisly fate if not you’re not mindful. Deft timing and learning enemy attack patterns play a crucial role in engaging foes; deciding when to attack or capitalise on an opening will often decide the fate of a battle. The slow, deliberate swing of a greatsword might deal tremendous damage, but at the expense of a more patient battle. Dual wielding daggers, conversely, won’t dish it out as much as you’d like, but constantly attacking and potentially cancelling their efforts certainly sounds appealing too. Best of all, you can completely switch up your equipped loadout at any time, (it even pauses the game for you) meaning experimentation is encouraged.
It wouldn’t be an RPG without levelling up and Lords of the Fallen is no exception here either; encouraging ‘braveness’ is partly how the XP system functions. You can bank and spend your accumulated experience points at any, frequent enough, save point; putting XP into either levelling your spells or just plain attribute buffing is up to you. The kicker being that the longer you hold onto those precious points, the more XP you’ll earn, due to the score multiplier increasing after each successive kill. Obviously the downside being that if you die before spending them, you’ll have to hotfoot it towards your corpse before it disappears; taking all those potential levels along with it. Several factors come into play here; firstly, all the enemies respawn, meaning you’ll likely have to deal with some of those on your journey back; secondly, despite the game not taking your weapons off you when you die, there is a time limit instead. Whilst not particularly harsh, it does increase the tension knowing that if you die before retrieving it, it’s gone forever.
Navigation toes the boundary between borderline fun and frustrating. Mainly in part due to the maze-like catacombs that re-tread previously explored areas alongside doors which look surprisingly pre-rendered, making them easy to overlook. There are no objective markers, maps or even vague hints of where to progress towards; and mostly this a refreshing case. For those that like to explore every nook and cranny, you’ll often be greatly rewarded with map knowledge and the prospect of hidden treasures. It’s rumoured that seeing everything Lords of the Fallen has to offer in a single playthrough can take over twice as long as just simply progressing, meaning you could easily squeeze 40-50 hours out of it should you wish.
In terms of difficulty, Lords of the Fallen is certainly no push over, however, depending on the player, it’s also certainly no Dark Souls either. The bosses can be often tricky with forethought and planning being good ideas, but after a while, the standard enemies lose their intimidation factors’, meaning a good portion of the game’s appeal may also dwindle for some.
Graphically, Lords of the Fallen can often look distinctly polished; with some of the backdrops looking fantastic. The Darksiders-style armour works well within the look of the game too, despite sometimes looking a little ‘cartoony’ on the equipment page. A huge mention needs to go to the music department, as some of the scores are truly rousing and suitably epic.
Due to Lords of the Fallen taking more than a few cues out of the Dark Souls franchise, you can safely expect the game to be fairly difficult. For veterans of the genre, it may not pose as much of a challenge as they could wish for, but it’s a great jumping in point for those who, for whatever reason, can’t get into the Souls series. A weak narrative and limited character customisation options drag it down a little, but it’s a solid start to what could be a great new run of games.