Tough enemies: Check. Intimidating, hulking Bosses: Check. Satisfying backstabs: Check. Spooky, but beautiful locations, and an interconnected world on top of stamina and inventory management: Check, check and check. If you’re thinking FromSoftware and the much-loved Dark Souls franchise, you’d be wrong. In a collaborative effort by Deck13 Interactive and CI Games, Lords of the Fallen has nothing to do with Dark Souls. But, on the other hand, it also has everything to do with Dark Souls.
It’s quite surreal how familiar Lords of the Fallen feels to previous titles tied to the action-role playing nature of the Souls franchise. Using a near-identical control scheme, there’s a stamina and weight management system to account for your preferred evasive roll, the bread-and-butter backstab mechanic, and save points that will likely be referred to as ‘bonfires’ on a few occasions.
It may be hard to distinguish, but this game isn’t a mere cut-and-paste job because Lords of the Fallen also manages to find its individuality. Here, there is a story to be told. I’m not talking about sections of plot and lore found through item descriptions, but a more cohesive, mainstream tale told through scripted cutscenes.
Harkyn, the main character of the game, is tasked with eliminating the powerful army of a devilish entity as they attempt to reclaim the world from which they were banished. Harkyn isn’t customisable in any way and his voice-acting is so gravelly and cringe-worthy that it almost gives Sam from Vanquish a run for his money. But the uninspiring voice-acting is only bested by the below-par character animations. The lip-synching rarely matches character dialogue and character movement is kept to a minimum. Lords of the Fallen has a number of similar flaws seeping through its game design, such as surprising conversation options that, unfortunately, don’t affect the narrative at all.
The weaknesses in this title may be obvious – but so are its strengths. Graphically, Dark Souls still holds true as an impressive game and Lords of the Fallen overtakes it with some fantastic visuals. Locations are, at times, stunning and Deck13 and CI Games have crafted one world battered by harsh weather and another one decayed by demons and otherworldly creatures. There is a stark difference between the mankind and demon dimensions as the contrast between mountaintop cathedrals and eerie underground labyrinths dominate Lords of the Fallen’s appeal.
When it comes to melee combat and strategy (the elements that gravitate players towards the Souls series) Lords of the Fallen adopts its own formula. Each starting class – Warrior, Cleric and Rogue – has their own set of default stats and abilities that are consumed by using magic. Each magical skill can be upgraded three times and become extremely efficient at aiding players in battle. As a Warrior, my Ram ability summoned a clone to sprint ahead and damage enemies for a certain distance. Combined with Rage, which granted me a period of unlimited stamina, this proved deadly against opposing demons still recovering from prior attacks.
But if hand-to-hand action is more your thing, prepare for a dramatic change of pace. Most enemies are large, slow and heavily-armoured; a far cry from the eye-opening enemy variety of FromSoftware. As a result, confrontations require a more patient and methodical approach as you wait for an opening to strike. This is ultimately a negative aspect of the game, as the huge shields transform some the AI into impenetrable enemies. Several hindrances soon build up, such as frequent lag resulting in reduced strafing speed and a lock-on mechanic that occasionally fails to register. Lords of the Fallen’s major bookmark, though, is the boss battles, where each opponent’s health bar is divided into sections. These sections may represent the introduction of a new ability or a more aggressive opponent, but it’s an intuitive and fresh approach that adds to the test of clearing a specific area.
Games like these are remembered for their difficulty, if nothing else. For veterans of such titles, Lords of the Fallen will be a step down from the familiar because your bulky adversaries are challenging rather than punishing. On a positive note, this makes Lords a lot more accessible for newcomers, despite predictable AI attack patterns where progress came more freely than expected.
Where Dark Souls uses the concept of bonfires as checkpoints, Lords of the Fallen uses ‘Shards’ – levitating rocks lit with bright red energy. Here, players allocate ability points into character development and are introduced to the unique gameplay concept of banking experience points. Much like bonfires, players can reset potions and current health from shards. However, doing so will also reset your experience multiplier that has increased since your last shard checkpoint. Without using the shard, players can empty their XP into Attribute Points (Physical abilities) and Skill Points (Magic abilities) without resetting their multiplier. It’s an interesting take on the risk/reward formula in this genre and it works well.
Another unique feature in Lords of the Fallen are small portals that unlock when a certain enemy or quest has been completed in an area. These are divided into Treasure Chambers, Infinite Voids and Proving Grounds challenges, all of which offer useful rewards upon completion. The Treasure Chambers simply contain a number of undefended chests, while the Proving Grounds and Infinite Voids require more strategy.
Combat is assured here, with the former using a wave-based format and the latter using a wandering light to illuminate progress in a pitch-black cave. The Infinite Voids are an unnerving experience with a variety of enemies, such as distant archers and giant axe-wielding demons, littered throughout the arena. This series of modes is a nice way of breaking up the gameplay and welcomes new strategies towards completing objectives.
Harkyn’s venture is a forgettable one signposted with visual appeal with a subtle but highly effective soundtrack. This title manages to show some originality along the way but it is, unfortunately, superseded by technical errors and lacklustre voice-acting. On the whole, Lords of the Fallen is constantly fighting the games that came out before it. Deck13 and CI Games have made a decent proving ground that puts you in good stead before moving on to tougher experiences, such as Dark Souls.
Different, But Similar
Lords of the Fallen struggles to juggle individuality with familiarity and technical prowess.