Lords of the Fallen

Lords of the Fallen is the Dark Souls of, uhm, Dark Souls games. Yup.

By Daavpuke, Posted 13 Dec 2014

In 2014, games have seemingly forgotten how to be genuinely hard to master and instead just want to be “the Dark Souls of X.” While Lords of the Fallen takes the aforementioned roleplaying game (RPG) example to extremes with the amount it copies from its soulful paragon, it also takes the time to improve on actual game design. It has inconsistencies of its own, but it does put thought in building a better, more satisfying adventure through a desolate nightmare world.

What City Interactive can’t count on, however, is the budget of a giant publisher. Textures are often blurry or outright blocky on details like dying grass. To counter lower resolutions, chasms and greyed out cathedrals are smothered in light beams and stagnant fogs. Fire and other light sources cascade the view with flares, which also lets shadows dance around. Effect play does put on a mesmerizing ambience, but it can periodically reflect too much as well, particularly when sceneries are mostly lighter colors. Lords of the Fallen is an almost literal smoke and mirrors trick to not focus too much on rougher textures.

Lords of the Fallen,Review,PC,PS4,Xbox One

In turn, it is possible to turn off a lot of this excess and still have a decent ambiance, thanks to some creative level and enemy designs. Robes flutter in the wind, iron-clad monsters feature boils or pointy ends and ravines look over simple yet pleasing skyboxes with tons of detail worked in. Modest rigs will be thankful. Unfortunately, the downside is that the initial load time for a game is tremendous each time and comes with poor framerate optimization either way. As much as Lords of the Fallen tries to put on its pretty lipstick, it’s unsure how to properly combine it all. Its presentation gets a lot of points for effort, but its limited funds are showing and while it isn’t necessarily bad, it does need to be taken into account.

As expected, gameplay follows the “Souls” model of setting up a giant, medieval horror zone that one brave warrior of distinct ability needs to conquer; pitfalls, monsters, bosses and all. Three classic styles are provided: Warrior, Rogue and Wizard. That translates to melee, a mix of hits and spells or magic caster.

A character can be equipped with a range of weapons and armor, given they have the proper requirements or aren’t slowed down by the weight of it. Weapons can be handled double-handed or with the use of a shield to block incoming strikes at a varying degree of success. Rather quickly, the game will throw in an additional gauntlet, which can provide some magical alternatives, such as an exploding bomb or a missile projectile. There is a sizable starter world that tacks on more game elements one after the other to ease its participants into the rapidly growing challenge.

Combat is determined mostly by the amount of stamina used for a quick or large hit. These moves can be chained together and some may throw foes off balance. If not, a dodge roll or quick shield block can prevent from getting pummeled, if not winded. Enemies can quickly overpower Harkyn, the tattooed protagonist of the game. A blow that stuns or traps the warrior is likely to be followed by a few more strikes that deplete the health bar quickly. Death comes quick to those who don’t manage timed hits and dodges. It’s possible to drink a potion to alleviate the pain, but those are finite in nature as well. Upon death, vials can be refilled at the last checkpoint.

Lords of the Fallen,Review,PC,PS4,Xbox One

Variety in battles comes from both enemy patterns as well as the tools at hand. Monsters vary from well-guarded shield units, swiftly leaping dogs or huge, crushing tanks that kill nearly instantly. Taking on any one kind requires a steady lock and a good eye on the environment, most importantly, not to get cornered. Lords of the Fallen plays with this model by altering the open-ended world with funneling encounters in small rooms or by putting enemies on multiple tiers. This design forces Harkyn to prioritize targets, taking out some quickly with melee strikes, while goading others to a more advantageous place.

There are a lot of satisfying tactics that Harkyn can use to best opponents. For example: Shield units take forever to open their guard for a quick shviving. Instead, Harkyn can load up a body double that will be targeted, which opens the opportunity to sneak in the unit’s back for an immediate execution. Some charging enemies are too risky to dodge. Here, it’s possible to take to the offensive, get a running start and do a leaping jab, like Brad Pitt in Troy, which catches them off guard. Versatility of encounters pairs well with the protagonist’s range of capabilities and that makes for some juicy, juicy challenges.

Naturally, boss fights are the pinnacle of this design, ranging from regular yet deadly captains with sundering swords to huge abominations in even less friendlier arenas. During these bouts, Lords of the Fallen usually extends its tight combat model to the environment, making it important in some sense. Whether it is an extra area to avoid or one used for temporary cover, positioning and so a keen eye are more important than ever here.

Fallen souls yield experience that can be used for character progression. Alternatively, it’s possible to take this essence along to increase the chance at item drops. A growing amount of experience is required to unlock a stat point, put into one of several choices to increase damage, magic potency or the amount of equipment that can be carried. With the proper Faith, it’s additionally possible to get points for magic spells specific to each class. Upon death, any unattributed souls will linger at the spot of Harkyn’s demise, but these will slowly dissipate into nothingness, leading to a forced, frantic rush to get back hard-earned spoils. Since enemies are resilient and deadly, it provides a double barrier of moving as quickly as possible, yet avoiding another death.

Lords of the Fallen,Review,PC,PS4,Xbox One

With equipment runes, hidden treasures and optional quests, Lords of the Fallen still has wiggle room for an even more diversified challenge.  Should it have one downside, it’s that occasional glitches can trigger strange enemy animations or trap them behind scenery. Fortunately, this isn’t always life-shattering, but it can be annoying to have to wait for monsters to unstick themselves. Additionally, a few quests are extremely vague, which clashes with the game’s otherwise clear instructions.

Some technical kinks aside, Lords of the Fallen is a tough RPG with quite the bite. It has limited visual potential, but it masks it well and in return, it provides a varied open world full of fiends, each requiring their own approach. Solid and clear progression gets pinned on smooth, gratifying combat tactics and sufficient side content to keep it all interesting for quite some time.

Daav Valentaten, NoobFeed (@Daavpuke)

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General Information

Platform(s): PC, Xbox 360, PS3
Publisher(s): Bandai Namco Games, Square Enix
Developer(s): Deck13 Interactive, CI Games
Genres: Role-Playing
Themes: Action, Hack And Slash
Release Date: 2014-10-28

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