Lords of the Fallen was always likely to draw those ‘Dark Souls copy’ arguments and that’s completely understandable, the developers themselves even acknowledge that they are huge Souls fans. For many people though, this was never going to be a bad thing; Souls fans have very little else to play other than going over the same series so the thought of a brand new IP in the same genre was actually pretty exciting. Unfortunately, though Lords of the Fallen is a good game, it stands nowhere near the series that inspired it and, perhaps worst of all, it often shows you how good it could have been before disappointing once again.
So lets start with the comparisons, is Lords of the Fallen a straight up copy of the Souls games? Well there’s a lot of similarities but still just enough to separate it as it’s own game. Developers Deck 13 and CI Games have designed the game with the vision of being slightly more accessible to the less hardcore audience, while still providing enough of what From Software’s fans are looking for. One of the main ways they’ve got round this is through the way the game handles XP. Each enemy you kill will raise your multiplier, which resets if you die, meaning the longer chain of kills you can manage, the more rewards you’ll be receiving. Hardcore players can then essentially set themselves their own challenge of taking enormous chunks of XP into fights in the hope of collecting even more. For the more cautious player, XP can be banked at the checkpoints, you don’t even have to spend it on leveling up until you’re ready. This lets you take on bosses, figure out what stats you think you need if you’re struggling, and then go back to level up safely. The other slight change is that XP dropped when you die will slowly degenerate over time, meaning you cant dawdle on your return to where you died. Overall I really like these features and it keeps things feeling a little different to the Souls games.
For combat itself, everything will be pretty familiar to anyone who’s played the Souls games. You’ll find the same relatively slow, tactical fighting, with an emphasis on blocking and evading, though in Lords of the Fallen the overall feel is perhaps even a little slower than say Dark Souls 2. Overall the combat still feels good though, the animations are great (especially the epic backstab attacks) and it makes you think about every action. There are a few cheap feeling enemies though, ones that take a lot of effort to kill because of their annoying mechanics, which takes away any feeling of accomplishment, you simply end up feeling relieved its over rather than pleased with your own efforts.
Overall the game isn’t as hard as any of the Souls series, which isn’t surprising really as the developers were keen to make Lords of the Fallen a little more accessible. The boss fights are mostly quite fun and there are a couple of them that have really awesome mechanics. The problem is though that I found them to be far too similar. All but one is a regular humanoid shape; two arms, two legs and a weapon of some kind. Every time I met a boss, it was a feeling of ‘just another big guy’ and I’d set about working out its attacks. There was never a feeling of ‘oh god what is that?!’ nothing that made me think it would be impossible to kill or that I’d need any particularly clever tactics to beat. For this kind of game these points are a little disappointing and, considering some of the bosses were fun to fight, its clear that the developers had some good ideas, but never really took them very far at all.
In terms of gear you can choose between heavy/medium/light armour, as well as huge 2h great weapons, 1h weapons and dual wield weapons. There’s a clear difference between playing as a lightly armoured, dual wielding rogue-type class and a heavily armoured beast, they appeal to different playstyles and it’s fun to play around with the classes. None of the equipment is locked down to the class you choose but of course your various stats will ultimately govern what you can use effectively. The gear does look incredibly awesome, with some of the coolest designs on armour sets that I’ve seen in a long time, I regularly found myself simply wearing what looked awesome rather than what was actually the best fit for my class. It’s a little disappointing though to find that there is nowhere near the diversity you find in Souls titles; the dual wield weapons are very specific, you cant just equip whatever 2 weapons you want and there’s no specific ranged or mage classes. Quite early in the game you’ll acquire your Magic Gauntlet, which is your main source of ranged attack and it can be upgraded in many different ways. It’s a cool weapon and certainly useful, something different to the standard bow and arrow, but perhaps it would have been nice to be able to make a build that uses it as a main weapon for example. I also mostly found magic to be pretty pointless as the cast times are ridiculous.
Lords of the Fallen has a great atmosphere; the location and setting gives a slightly more high fantasy feel than the grim darkness of the Souls games. Though the locations don’t change that much, most of the environments look really nice and it gives you a feeling of where you are in this broken land. Despite some fairly nice views though, the game doesn’t really feel particularly ‘next-gen’. Some of the textures are quite low res and the character models especially are quite poor. Considering it’s only been released for the new consoles and PC, I’d have expected things to look an awful lot better. There are current issues with frame rate drops, bugs and glitches and (especially on the PC version) frequent crashing. These will apparently soon be fixed in patches but, considering there is a day one patch of 5gb this should have been solved sooner, it still feels like things were a little rushed for release.
Really though, the main thing that holds Lords of the Fallen back is the one thing that the developers wanted to add to make it different to the Souls games – its story. The story is fairly weak but that isn’t the problem; this kind of game doesn’t need much story to drive players on, the problems come in other forms. The story pits the Human race against the Rhogar armies and, because you fight this one race, there is very little variety in enemies. Almost all of the enemy types are reused over and over throughout the game and there’s very little change in design or strategy to the majority of the game. Also, as part of the story, you’ll come across various NPC’s that ask you to complete side quests, something that I thought was a really interesting addition to a game like this. The problem is though that for almost all of the quests I tried to do, when I later went back to the NPC, they’d either disappeared or died because things had moved on without me knowing. The story also comes across as very much an after thought at the end. You’re asked to make certain decisions throughout the game but at the end all of them are glossed over very quickly as the narrator basically says ‘you chose this so that happened…’
To sum up then, Lords of the Fallen is a game that tries to pay homage to the series that inspired it but falls quite a way short of doing so. The idea of making things more accessible is fine but whether people who don’t like Souls games would have any interest in this is very unlikely. Much of the game feels rushed and there are quite a few cases of lazy design choices, particularly in the story. As I said before though, the main disappointing thing is that there is still plenty of excellent features and genuine fun to be found. If we get to see a Lords of the Fallen 2 then maybe things will be a lot different, the developers certainly seem to have that great game inside them somewhere. For now though, if you’re a fan of the Souls series and are waiting excitedly for Bloodborne then Lords of the Fallen is still a fairly good game to keep you occupied for a little while. There’s even a New Game + if you decide you like it enough though for me personally I think that one playthrough was enough.
Screenshots taken on the PS4
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