Lords of the Fallen Review
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 4Also available on PC and Microsoft Xbox One
Look, it’s just not realistically possible to ignore the fact that Lords of the Fallen is basically Dark Souls done again the same, only different. Yes, there are changes and yes it is a new game but to all intents and purposes it’s mimicking From Software’s masterpiece. We could ignore this similarity but to do so would be gross incompetence on our part as reviewers. Lords of the Fallen would not exist in the absence of Lordran. It’s as simple as that. In The Digital Fix towers we have a mixture of passionate fans and vehement opponents to the Souls series. Our love for it is well documented; what isn’t so well known is that one of our number has purchased the first game, Dark Souls, on three separate occasions and on each of those rage quit no later than the Undead Parish, and sold the game. So, we do have a balanced view of that series’ merits, providing a grounding on which to accurately breakdown the level of quality present in Lords of the Fallen.
Lords of the Fallen is the first game, other than something from From themselves, to take the template, innovate a little, and produce a complete game. You play as Harkyn, an imprisoned criminal recently freed by his jailer as he is uniquely predisposed to save the world from the native demons of the Rhogar realm. Story is not the game’s strong point. It’s poorly told narrative best described as forgettable guff with minimal impact on the overall experience. Storytelling is via some collectable cards, discussions with NPCs as heard through B-movie dialogue and some infrequent but short cutscenes. It’s not involving and there’s no desire generated within you to go searching through the lore available in the cards, or via discussion with the community. One of the great things about Dark Souls was the ambiguity, the mystery behind the lore and the opportunity to search out information if you wanted, ignore if you didn’t and then use it all to determine your own understanding of the story compared to others’. Here what you have is what you get and frankly, it may as well not be there for all it brings to the end product.
The game is a third-person action adventure RPG. On starting your first journey you have to play as Harkyn - no opportunity to customise your character in the way they look; not even their sex, something which may disappoint folk. Regardless, there are options you have starting out. You can pick one of three classes and also one of three types of magic. Class-wise (defined by the equipment you would typically carry) whichever option you decide upon you are able to develop your character however you want, rather than be forced to build a tank-like warrior. Experience can be converted into spell or attribute points and these can be used accordingly. Spell points are self-explanatory, and there are attributes ranging from vitality, strength and endurance to luck. Options are limited but there are enough so that where you spend your hard-earned experience is an important choice.
In addition to experience points you’re free to equip your character in any way you like. You can use a sword, a greatsword or a brutal axe, for example, and each does make your attack approach that bit different due to the speed of action or the angle the weapon comes towards the enemy in question. You can wear fancy armour but light and feathery boots if you desire. Equip burden is a thing, and as you’d expect the greater that burden, the less agile your character when maneuvering. There are three roll speeds and each affects battle noticeably. All of this means you’re not constrained by the class you choose at the start. You are though restricted according to the spell class you choose. There are three options where you might for instance want to focus on reducing enemies’ health bars or regenerating your own. Maybe you prefer to trick them. Your magic choice will impact upon this, although as you progress the actual spells you spend points on within that class enable some flexibility.
Graphically the game is very clearly a current generation project. The artwork is appropriately classical, befitting the setting which is seemingly from a time past in European history. Everything is pretty colourful, and each character, from your own avatar to the NPCs, through the enemies, has been done well imparting the right level of differentiation from others to enable the player to anticipate the attacks coming their way. It’s really Dark Souls without the in-depth use of real architecture from around the world, but with a wider-ranging colour palette. There’s even some intricate design whereby different paths fold back in on themselves, returning you to somewhere you’ve been before. There are problems with the visuals though. In the main it’s the camera, in combination with the locations. Although there is good variety between exterior and interior areas, when inside you’re often in a small room which has corridors running to and from it. These areas without fail make fighting a challenge due to the limited space but as you try to find the way into your opponent you invariably end up with you and the camera both up against a wall. This means you effectively disappear and have no idea what you’re swinging at, or which way you need to push the left analogue stick to escape. Most of the time you’ll be locked onto a target thanks to pressing R3, but that doesn’t help when you’re trying to move, only when you’re attacking. Alongside this camera issue there is lots of stuttering at times, and clipping too. Nothing game-breaking here but - with the camera in particular - it is enough to cause some apoplexy.
You tend to take on each enemy in much the same way. Strafe around them ready to lift your defence if they attack, and retaliate when the opening is there after the enemy’s go at you. It works and it’s the best way to keep your health up and get to the next enemy. Boss fights are very similar also. There isn’t the grandeur of certain other third-person action games (*cough* Bayonetta *ahem* Dark Souls *cough*) and although the variety of attacks they have is greater than the normal enemies, the way to defend against each is normally hold up your shield, or evade by rolling; strafe around the foe, and attack back when the opening is there. Often a boss will summon minions to distract you but the same rules apply. You obviously can utilise your gauntlet and your spells but none of it is really ever needed. If you’re going about the game in the correct order a boss fight merely becomes a test of patience as you’re strong enough to defeat them normally. No real benefits come from mixing it up and you don’t need to, like perhaps you would in other games. It’s not as if you even need to strategise too much about whether a nimble, but reduced-armour - approach is best over just tanking the encounter. For a game where levelling up and utilising your array of resources, be that equipment or offensive measures, is pushed as being important, this over time lends a certain amount of apathy to the gameplay.
It’s around the main gameplay that you’ll notice positive innovation versus the game’s inspiration, as well as some more similarities which in part succeed in doing justice to the source material, as it were. Most prominently is the way lost experience is managed. As you tackle the bad demons from the Rhogar realm you obtain experience. Each successful encounter builds a multiplier up to a maximum and gathers more experience when you defeat the tenth baddie compared to the first. It’s a risk-reward scenario though. You can keep going, building up that multiplier and getting more from it but if you check in at the equivalent of the wonderful bonfire, your multiplier is reset to zero. Of course, if you don’t do that it’s possible you’ll run out of health potions, wither and die - losing all that lovely experience in the process. It’s a great way to build a difficulty modifier into the game for anyone who wants it. It can be abused early on to make the end game that bit more straightforward but for folk who couldn’t cut it in Lordran, or are coming to this type of game for the first time, it’s not something you would want forced upon you. An elegant way to cater to all kinds of players, then.
It doesn’t stop there, though. If you do die then you leave behind your ghost and that ghost retains your experience. As you restart, your experience can be collected once you get to it. But as time progresses the experience slowly disappears until it is no more. You do not want to lose all that lovely levelling ability so it encourages you to push on quickly to maximise the benefit. The whole game drives you to be more aggressive and action-oriented than Dark Souls did in honesty. In part the desire to grow stronger, mainly to gather the experience when it has most value, and perhaps also because of the relative ease of the game versus the benchmark. It makes for a different experience to Dark Souls in totality despite the obvious data to the contrary. It’s like you’re starting on NG+ having built an overpowered beast which makes you feel that bit more invincible. You’ll still die, a lot, unless you’re a savant when it comes to this genre. One extra piece of intriguing design is that you can choose not to collect your ghost immediately, because fighting in its vicinity buffs you. It’s not massive, but it might mean the difference between success or failure against a challenging opponent.
With Lords of the Fallen we have the first true ‘inspired by’ Dark Souls game and the developers have had a good stab at recreating the wonders of that title and ended up delivering what can be described as Dark Souls for the MTV generation. It’s a big, brash and colourful rendition of what makes the genre wonderful, with a sprinkling of innovation and a chunk of failure mixed up into a forgettable story, with some fun but ultimately limited gameplay. You’ll enjoy it whilst it lasts and if new to this type of game the length it lasts will extend quite a way, but it could have been more had it kept in mind what was proven to work and added to that, rather than taking some of those bits and pieces and building from that foundation.