Borrowing from Success in Lords of the Fallen
To quote Tomasz Gop, the Executive Producer at CI Games, Lords of the Fallen isn't a "game that is unlike any experience gamers have had before" but rather "it's like all of the best experiences they've had before." This relationship with other games, particularly From Software's Dark Souls series, equally contributes and takes away from Lords of the Fallen in terms of success.
The game seeks to minimise the sense of frustration that players can encounter during battles with giant monsters and hoards of enemies. It appears that CI Games wished to grant the audience that were put off by Dark Souls' crushing difficulty an opportunity to enjoy a similar world in which they aren't punished as much for their mistakes.
Lords of the Fallen does a lot of things very well; its combat, visuals and variety of enemies is a lot of fun, but does it gel of these elements together into a rewarding experience? Does it contribute enough advancements upon From Software's formula to succeed? Let's find out!
Lords of the Fallen gives you control of the VERY angry Harkyn. He is a convicted criminal who's sins are etched upon his face in the form of symbol tattoos. By the end of the story his face should be just black with the overlapping designs following the inordinate degree of slaying, but no matter. The world's rulers are corroborating to banish all evil from the human race, what effect this will have upon our hero is unclear in the outset.
The human realm comes under attack from an army of long-defeated gods, in this moment, much like the outset of Gears of War, Harkyn is released from prison and so his adventure begins. His journey of redemption is accompanied by his mentor, Kaslo, as they venture to Rhogar, the dimension inhabited by demons. You fight your way through hoards of beasts and demons in order to reach the centre of all evil, seeking forgiveness for the sins of your past.
The game reminded me of some of the ventures we've taken with Kratos, with character builds that looked like Gears of War mixed with Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine. Harkyn is an equally infuriated being, who mindlessly slashes his way through his enemies to achieve his ultimate goal. He shares Kratos' anti-hero tendencies and mannerisms, though his level of anger seems to somewhat rise above the latter's.
Those of you that have played the glorious and understated Dark Souls series, these initial descriptions of gameplay features will surely sound familiar. But it is Lords of the Fallen's acknowledgement of its inspirations and slight additions to a trusted formula that are its most interesting elements.
This is a third-person combat game with a loose medieval-fantasy lore and setting where the system is built around a health and stamina bar. Upon your death the character leaves behind a 'ghost' containing experience that has to be re-collected before you die once more. You can parry attacks, roll to dodge them, drink potions refilled at checkpoints, and innumerable other familiar details.
Lords of the Fallen introduces interesting alterations to these aspects though. Your 'ghost', upon collection, will actually supply the player with free health, therefore if you perhaps die from a boss, your ghost can be left on the battlefield until later into the fight in order to gain some additional life.
The combat system itself also has its differences. In Dark Souls, the goal is essentially never be hit. Even a guy with a stick in a loincloth can tear you apart when you're at your strongest. However, in Lords of the Fallen, a lot of the smaller enemies fall quicker to your weapon, particularly after 10 hours. Combat features a timing element, which works quite well. You feel pressured to nail these moments accurately as enemies do pose quite a problem. The correct timing will be rewarded with a far more punishing attack, which is remarkably satisfying.
In this game you also have three variations of speeds, ranging from fast to sluggish, depending on your weapon and armour choices. The heaviest armour isn't quite as slow as Dark Souls', but it still hinders your abilities of dodging attacks enough to make you question whether you enjoy being this strong. Wielding the largest weapon possible will mean that your swings take ages to prepare. Though this created some of the best moments in the game for me.
With my enormous hammer I would have to swing at just the right moment as my enemy ran in my direction, a moment too late and I'd be thrown to the ground, but perfect timing is rewarded with a bash to the face that is simply beautiful as you watch your enemy go flying.
Bosses were occasionally disappointing though. You merely had to stand back and await for them to make their move, then run in, hit them and then regain your distance. Rinse and repeat. This lack of variety became tedious after a while, though maintaining control of Harkyn is certainly an enjoyable experience.
The game is essentially a faster paced, less difficult Dark Souls, with a few interesting tweaks that do make it worth playing. The difficulty has been toned down for sure, particularly in the sense that you are granted a save before entering every boss area, which allows you to simply re-spawn back outside. The game also introduces a welcomed XP system that certainly was its greatest innovation upon Dark Souls' formula.
Basically the more enemies you kill, the higher your XP multiplier will go – but this multiplier gets reset at a checkpoint when you ‘bank’ your XP into the status screen. So this encourages somewhat risky play, and also means that the further you travel without checkpointing the further you’ll have to travel to get that ghost if you die. LotF doesn’t have a difficulty setting so this is a great way of allowing players to establish their own challenge threshold within the game – and even though I was playing in a relatively small area, I did find it eventually making me more careful against even the cannon fodder.
For a player who adores everything that Dark Souls has on offer, this game feels wrong in many respects. Though I admire the studios' forward referencing of their inspirations for the game. It was only a matter of time before someone adopted the Dark Souls formula into an easier and more widely appealing game. For me though, some aspects seemed a little too close or a little too far.
That being said, I had a lot of fun in Lords of the Fallen, there was a good challenge to be had and the combat was intensely satisfying at many moments. Additionally, the game looks wonderful on NextGen. Many locations simply shone on the PS4 and I can't emphasise that enough.
For those that have been dying to play a prettier and easier Dark Souls, your game has arrived. Lords of the Fallen is out tomorrow for Xbox One and PS4.
7.8 / 10