The comparisons were inevitable; Lords of the Fallen makes no qualms about where it received a large chunk of its inspiration from in the Dark Souls franchise. More of a Dark Souls lite than anything it takes that inspiration and still manages to forge something all its own in the process. Perhaps not quite as punishing as its mentor, Lords of the Fallen will still challenge gamers more than most other games do.
You are Harkyn, a mean, scowling criminal of the worst kind. The tattoos adorning your ugly mug are representative of all the sins you’ve committed. In a time of great evil you are thrown into the arena to defend human kind and redeem yourself of your past. A standard premise for any decent dark fantasy RPG but the story doesn’t get much deeper than that. You’ll find notes scattered throughout the world and other characters to add to the experience but the focus in Lords of the Fallen is very much on the combat more than anything else. The lore you find is interesting and the voiceover work is done well but it doesn’t stick with you in any memorable way. You’ll listen and then quickly advance to your next combatant.
The first choice you’ll have to make in Lords of the Fallen is your character class which is comprised of the three main stalwarts of any RPG really; warrior, cleric and rogue. If you’ve ever played an RPG you’ll probably know right away what suits your play style and won’t need to ponder too much on it. Up close and personal scrappers will go warrior, people who like to ‘cast magic missile’ will go cleric, and back stabbing sons of bitches will go rogue. Easy as pie! From there you get to pick your magic style which you can mix up from your class setting. For example I went with a warrior and I could have chosen Deception magic (best for a rogue) for spells that will trick your opponents or Solace magic (best suited to a cleric) for defensive spells. I’m not one to take risks so of course I went with Brawling magic to help boost my attack power.
There is no time wasted introducing you to combat and after a tutorial with one enemy you are pretty much left to your own devices. If you’re looking for someone to hold your hand this won’t be the game for you… Skyrim is down the hall. Jokes aside, Lords of the Fallen has a fairly strong combat structure heavily influenced by Dark Souls. Harkyn has a health bar, an energy bar and a magic bar in his HUD. Energy will be consumed while making attacks, evasive manoeuvres and blocking enemy attacks. It can drain quickly leaving Harky defenseless at the worst times so learning how to manage this system is paramount to your success. Shortly into the game you’ll also acquire the Gauntlet which, when equipped, can shoot magical projectile to help you in your demon slaying ways.
Any of the enemies Harkyn encounters are capable of ending his journey if they aren’t taken seriously. Battles need to be approached with care at all times lest you be trudging back through levels to pick up your lost experience. When Harkyn dies his ghost is left there on the spot along with all the built up experience he has made since his last checkpoint. In order to retrieve it you’ll have to make your way back to where you died all while dealing with respawned enemies. There’s a counter that slowly whittles away at the total amount of experience you can get back so speed is of the essence!
Lords of the Fallen uses a great risk versus reward structure with its checkpoint system too. When you encounter one you can choose to activate it and fill up your health potions and health bar as well as save the checkpoint. Your other option is to use it and claim all the experience you have earned. If you choose not to claim the experience you can continue fighting through the level with your experience gaining a multiplier for each successive kill. Of course, the risk there is if you die all that experience could be gone should you not reach your ghost in time to retrieve it all.
Boss encounters can be frustrating but if you’re patient, and also don’t mind grinding to level up Harkyn, you’ll get past them in time. Once you figure out their patterns you should be able to take them out with ease. As always though, be sure to approach the battle with caution because throwing an attack out of turn can be your end. Knowing your weapon also helps because timing is everything when it comes to bosses and each weapon has its own feel and speed with which to make an attack. If the opening for attack is a short one you won’t want to be running in with a two-handed great sword. Chances are you won’t follow through in time and suffer for it afterwards.
Now, Lords of the Fallen looks pretty good when you fire it up but a host of issues really hamper the immersion into the game. I mean you’ll have god rays poking through windows and blinding you in battle which is awesome but in turn you’ll have horrible screen tears, dismal draw distance with items popping up almost as you’re on top of them and some of the worst hit detection I’ve come across in a long time. Often Harkyn will run into something and stutter there having a seizure until you correct his course. The frame rate can also stutter too, especially in battle, and you’ll encounter some significant slowdowns as well. None of this was game breaking by any means but for a game that was strictly next (current) gen you’d expect these kinds of things not to happen so often. Despite the rather significant drawbacks in the game and the thinner than paper plotline I still found myself wanting to continue playing and that’s saying something. The combat is tactical and extremely satisfying, especially once you conquer a boss for the first time, and kept me playing through any of the glitches I encountered. Hiccups aside there’s no doubt that Lords of the Fallen is addicting.
There is definitely room for improvement in Lords of the Fallen but the base for success is certainly there. Should CI Games and Deck13 Interactive get a chance to make a sequel I’d be willing to check it out. The positives are that the gameplay is addicting and the rush of besting your adversaries is a great one. While the difficulty might not be of the calibre that Dark Souls fans clamor for it will challenge most gamers and is an enjoyable, albeit flawed, dark fantasy RPG romp.
*** Game reviewed on Xbox One via a code provided by the publisher ***