Lords of the Fallen is unabashedly ‘inspired’ by Dark Souls, a game that has created a cult so staggering that it is not really a cult anymore. And that is why a game like Lords exists: essentially a shorter Souls game with an actual tutorial, missions that have objectives, NPCs that make sense from the get-go (well sort of) and the ‘deliberately-slower-and-meticulous’ battle mechanics.
In so doing CI Games/Deck13 Interactive have eased the barrier to entry for the newer audience, although the package can feel a little non-disruptive and unoriginal to the seasoned Souls players. Keep in mind, although the game aids the players’ foray into the combat and its basics, it’s still a challenging one. Enemies pose a serious threat at each encounter and can easily dispatch your hero if not vigilant.
As a primer, you play Harkyn, a tattooed, bald, chiseled, raspy-voiced protagonist who is sort of an über sinner but happens to have a chance at redemption because, unsurprisingly, he is the only one powerful enough to slay the army of baddies, called Rhogar, from invading. It’s an encyclopaedic setup compared to any of the Souls games, but that’s not always the best thing. You never get to piece together the lore over what meets the eye. In all of its specificity, you are revealed to a plot of other-worldly evils by way of audio notes (yes, medieval audio notes, that carry sound on paper scrolls) and a sparse cast of NPCs who are plot guides and side-quest givers.
The game’s environments are aesthetically quiet similar: Ancient and castle-y, with interior sections of catacombs, planetariums and colsseum-esque arenas. All too fantastical and forgettable. What’s not forgettable is the structure of the world however. Lords is structured such that you are forced to backtrack and access the previously locked doors that lead to later parts of the game. Having a smaller world helps. The more intricate the map, the better its sense of place. Absence of fast travel can be an issue for some, but revisiting areas to find them inhabited by stronger enemies is always exhilarating and adds to the sense of character progression. It’s in this way the game creates an atmosphere of mystery.
It’s not smartly executed though. Towards the end, the game tries to give an illusion of how the several areas of the game are inter-connected via seemingly locked doors. But in doing so it betrays the continuity of the world. And the reason? Loading Screens. They are a sin here, unlike Dark Souls they not only disrupt the flow of the game but also cause confusion amid the convoluted pathways.
Lords does try to inject some novelty to the dungeon crawling formula via segments called the Infinite Voids that you can access after having slain the boss of that area. They are brilliant in concept, an endless expanse of darkness relayed with just a hint of light to guide you towards the treasure. More than the challenge of the boss itself it’s these sections which represent the risk you need to take for your spoils.
Though it never quite captures the Souls DNA in terms of the overbearing nature of the world, Lords does show hints of invoking a feeling of dread. For instance, there are two versions of an enemy that look the same but function differently, one among the two disfigured abominations resurrects seconds after being killed, capable of taking you by surprise. Then there is the enemy who is practically invincible until you discover and destroy his life source, before whittling him down to zero. Such innovative design seems incidental and rather inconsistent.
Lords of the Fallen‘s combat, though, is top-notch – with heavy reliance on stamina management, correctly timing swings and timely dodging of incoming attacks – though the options seem slightly limited. The game offers a starting template of Warrior, Rogue or Cleric, which technically only defines the skill tree you have access to. But, overall it relies heavily on melee combat. You need to get physical and battle up close, almost always. The game is fairly brisk in its loot deployment however, as you gain new weapons that offer different functions almost every 45 minutes.
So would a newcomer be welcome to the Souls genre by Lords? You should definitely try. Lords captures the sadistic nature of the combat successfully, while aiding players enough so that you don’t feel entirely intimidated. You will die many times to the highly choreographed attacks of a the enemies and arena bosses, but on the plus side, checkpoints are plentiful and there is never a long struggle to reach the bosses.
It takes upwards of 20 hours to complete Lords of the Fallen (there is an NG+ and NG++) which is slimmer than the inspiration. And honestly, I could have played it for twice as long, because the feeling of knowing that an unchallenged boss awaits deliverance, is weirdly seductive.
Lords of the Fallen was reviewed using a PlayStation 4 review copy provided by Bandai Namco.