When a game borrows heavily from another it’s impossible not to make comparisons and for Lords of the Fallen the starting template was obviously Dark Souls. The difficulty of the Souls series has become legendary and impossible for challenge-seeking gamers to ignore. Going against the grain From Software crafted a masterpiece which they even managed to improve upon for the sequel.
Can Lords of the Fallen developers Deck13 and CI Games really hope to compete with Dark Souls? We’ve been playing the Xbox One build to find out.
The game is set in a world where humanity have defeated a god known as Fallen. Some 8,000 years have passed and now his demonic army known as the Rhogar are attacking in preparation of his return. These are accompanied by his Lords which are the bosses of the game.
Players take the role of Harkyn, a criminal who has been locked away in prison. His sins have been tattooed all over his face in runic symbols to ensure he never forgets them. Harkyn is released from prison by an old chap named Kaslo who becomes his mentor. This is Harkyn’s chance for redemption as long as he can save the world first.
As you’re given the character to play there is sadly little in the way of customisation that we’ve come to expect from RPG’s. You only get two choices which are your magic type and equipment selection and each of these contain three options. The equipment sets are for Warrior, Rogue or Cleric and for magic you can choose from Brawling, Deception or Solace. Each magic type contains four spells with two upgrade levels. A spell called Prayer is common to each type which allows you to spawn aggro-magnet clones of yourself.
The magic types and equipment sets feel like they have natural pairings but you are free to mix them up. For our first playthrough we went with Brawling and a Warrior equipment set. You aren’t tied to the equipment choice you make at the start and can use any weapon or armour piece that you find as long as you have the required stats. Equipped items affect your encumbrance so for example characters in full heavy armour with heavy weapons move far slower than those in light gear.
There are a large variety of weapons on offer including shortswords, greatswords, axes, hammers, claws, daggers, staffs and polearms. Weapons come with their own move sets and special features. Some feature sockets for runes that can be added via crafting. Small weapons can be dual-wielded and some of the larger ones can hit multiple targets on a single swing. Heavier weapons are slower to use but tend to cause more damage. A final weapon introduced early in the game is a magical gauntlet. This has three fire modes which are projectile (bullet), explosive (grenade) and blast (shotgun).
Combat takes time to get used to but we found it to be an incredibly satisfying experience. Combat is slower paced than in many similar games but this allows you time to think. Attacking drains your energy bar and your swings must be timed based on the weapon you are using. Enemies have nice variety in their attack patterns and learning these is key. For each you need to know when to block, roll and retreat. Blocking can be done with shields, your gauntlet and even two-handed weapons.
Although it’s not an open world game getting your bearings can take time. There is no map or waypoint system so you are largely left to work all that out for yourself. The areas are cleverly designed though and there are often multiple routes that open up as you explore. As you open up more of these getting around becomes easier.
The normal Rhogar enemies are really just a warm-up for the boss fights against the Lords. These fights are the most challenging and entertaining in the game. Here you need to use everything you have learned in order to stay alive and defeat them. If you eat Dark Souls bosses for breakfast then you’ll likely find those here easier.
The bosses are also the parts of the game where you are likely to die the most. Dying doesn’t happen as often as it does in Dark Souls and it is also handled differently. When you die a ghost spawns on the same spot. The ghost keeps hold of your experience and returning to the ghost allows you to retrieve it. You can’t wait too long to do this though as your experience points will slowly leak away. Getting back to your ghost usually takes a little time as enemies always respawn when you die. Another option before collecting your ghost is to stand near it for a buff. Doing so grants health, energy and magic regeneration which can be really helpful when stuck on a boss.
The experience system is one of our favourite features. Like many games you earn it for defeating enemies but it has no effect on you until you visit a save point to bank it. Here you have the choice of banking your experience against magic or attribute points. Initially we found it most useful to bump your stats but later you’ll want to invest in magic as well. Save points also allow you to replenish health and potion stocks.
The save points are placed generously and can be used without causing enemies to return. It’s tempting to bank your experience at every opportunity but there’s a good reason to wait. Each enemy that you kill increases your experience multiplier. The longer you stay alive, don’t use shards or save points the higher your multiplier will climb. This allows faster progression but you also run the risk of biting off more than you can chew and losing your experience before you can bank it.
Interactions with NPC’s can lead to choices that can affect the progression of the game. On top of the main questline the game also features plenty of optional content such as sidequests and areas to explore. There is no hand-holding and much of the optional content is hidden and requires you to work to uncover it. Each boss that you face is tied to a dimension portal that opens once you defeat them. These come in three flavours – Treasure Chambers (loot), Infinite Void (exploration) and Proving Grounds (waves of enemies). The bosses also give out special loot tied to certain conditions.
Once you’re done with the game (which will take at least 20 hours) there are plenty of reasons to revisit it. A first completion unlocks a NewGame+ and a second gives a NewGame++. Each allows you to unlock a new spell tree, the difficulty keeps increasing and there are also new items to be found.
We did encounter a few bugs during our time reviewing and while most were just little animation glitches there were a couple more serious. One boss periodically calls down a shield to protect him while you fight various Rhogar but we found sometimes he would just stand there instead making him an easy kill. We also found a save bug in the very first area that made it impossible to open a door needed to progress. Starting a new game resolved the issue and thankfully we didn’t come across anything like this late in the game.
We’ve had a blast with Lords of the Fallen and will be returning to it for some time to come. It’s essential for Dark Souls fans and approachable for those who found Dark Souls too intimidating. We hope the developers continue to improve the game and would love to see more customisation options as well as multiplayer features. Although maybe they are more suited to a future sequel?