Lords of the Fallen Review–More Than A Souls Clone

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Posted November 11, 2014 by John Clark in Video Games

Developed by: Deck13 Interactive, CI Games

Published by: Square Enix

Price: $49.99 [PC], $59.99 [PS4, Xbox One]

Available On: PC [reviewed], PS4, Xbox One

At first glance, Lords of the Fallen reads like an expansion pack to From Software’s notorious Dark Souls games: a punishing third-person action RPG with a dark, interconnected world; methodical timing-based combat; a gauntlet of enemies that respawn upon the player’s death between each desperately reached checkpoint. In fact, when I started the game, I was worried that it would just be a pale imitation of the series it draws so much obvious inspiration from. After spending more than 20 hours with the game, though, I’m convinced that it doesn’t just set itself apart from Dark Souls; in many ways, I think it proves itself superior.

Lords of the Fallen follows the story of Harkyn, a convict with his sins tattooed forever upon his face, who has been sprung from prison by a sour-tempered monk. This jailbreak isn’t just an act of charity, though; the monk requires Harkyn’s unique skills to stop the Rhogar, an army of demons, from invading the human realm. Sadly, this potentially-interesting setup bears little fruit as Harkyn’s gruff voice, gritty determination, and lack of chemistry with other characters make him about as generic a fantasy protagonist as can be. The plot never goes anywhere compelling.

Despite this, Lords‘ world is a joy to explore. The scenery is gorgeous, with pre-rendered backgrounds seamlessly blending into the snowy monastery and shadowy hellscapes that Harkyn spends the game in. Interconnected paths with optional shortcuts provide a sense of immersion and place, though they were never difficult enough to find for me to really feel like I was making a clever discovery. On a technical level, the game looks great, with stellar lighting effects bolstering passable textures to provide excellent mood and color to the environment. On the other hand, Lords doesn’t perform nearly as well as it looks. I had to disable post-processing and a few other effects to get a steady 60 frames per second on a PC sporting a GTX 980 and i5 2500k, and support forums run rampant with console users reporting unsteady framerates as well. A day one patch fixed many of the issues that some players were having, but there still needs to be more work done to optimize it better.

 

The game's gorgeous, but often at the cost of a steady framerate.

The game’s gorgeous, but often at the cost of a steady framerate.

The real question of how Lords of the Fallen addresses the eight-hundred pound Dark Souls gorilla in the room, however, is the gameplay. I’m happy to report that, as far as I’m concerned, Lords knocks it out of the park. Those familiar with From Software’s games will know what to expect on a basic level: Harkyn travels from boss to boss, taking down enemies large and small through judicious use of a quickly-regenerating stamina bar that is consumed when he blocks, attacks, or dodges. Potions are limited and refilled at checkpoints, and if the player dies, they have to retrieve their body without perishing again or risk losing all of their unspent experience.

What sets the game apart is the tweaks it makes to each system. In addition to selecting their preferred equipment at the start of the game, players also choose one of three trees of magic to supplement their physical skills. These abilities, in conjunction with a mystical gauntlet found early on, let Harkyn buff himself temporarily, create a distracting clone of himself, lob grenades of magical energy, and more. These powers, combined with the fact that heavier armor provides a significant damage reduction in exchange for its loss of mobility, encourage players to be more bold than they might be otherwise. The bosses themselves seem designed to provoke the player; typically they have multiple stages with predictable patterns but sometimes mix it up with healing abilities or a stream of extra minions to force haste. This will surely grate some who prefer the more defensive play asked by the Souls games, but as someone who likes a more aggressive pace, I found myself having a great time.

 

"I will go towards that. That strikes me as a sensible decision."

“I will go towards that. That strikes me as a sensible decision.”

This isn’t to say that Lords of the Fallen is easy, however. Instead, it simply seems content to let the player determine how hard they’ll make the game for themselves through some brilliant mechanics. The longer Harkyn goes without using a checkpoint or dying, a bigger experience multiplier and better runes–powerful upgrades that can be slotted into equipment–he gains, meaning the game’s always pushing the player to challenge themselves and risk losing it all if they aren’t careful. Those who don’t wish to partake still have to deal with the fact that the checkpoints have a finite, slowly regenerating pool of potions, meaning that stopping repeatedly at the same station will eventually leave Harkyn high and dry.

With the exception of the empty plot and the game’s optimization issues, I can’t think of much to criticize about Lords of the Fallen. It’s not the most original game, but it wears its inspiration with such pride and executes what it does so well that I couldn’t help but be endeared to it. The tight combat, ingenious optional difficulty mechanics, and replay value provided by New Game Plus elevate it to one of my favorite games this year, and hopefully the first iteration of a promising new series from Deck13 Interactive and CI Games.


About the Author

John Clark