Lords of the Fallen

Lords of the fallen

I don’t like Dark Souls 1 or 2 – I may even hate them. There. I said it. Do I think they are good? Yes.

Dark Souls games own a very special little corner of gaming and I respect them for offering such hardcore but satisfying gameplay to their fans. It’s a tough place, a bleak unforgiving landscape where the dedicated player will feel confusion, anger and huge amounts of frustration and eventually REALLY enjoy it!

Enjoy your loot, my friend. Hope it was worth it.

These action RPG games are about struggle, persistence and creating a real sense of achievement. They require heroic amounts of patience and the fans know this. Dark Souls players speak of reaching gaming Nirvana when visiting this dark place and I believe them. But me? I have little patience; I’m a big baby who wants to feel like a bad-ass right away. Dark Souls makes you bleed for every moment of joy, and I’m wrapped in the comforting swaddle of a thousand games played on normal mode. As a result, my natural reaction to the Souls games is extreme anger and rapid reaching for the off button.

This is where Lords of the Fallen steps in. I’m sure many players are interested in seeing a European take on the action RPG. So I sat down and tried the game. And…

In my three-hour preview session I got my ass kicked, wiped, and handed to me in a multitude of ways. The game is clearly some sort of twisted love letter to Dark Souls but as I struggled to kill the same knight in the first room (yes, the first) for the fifth time I decided the team making this have been fully corrupted by their love for that series. They have created another mean-spirited bad-ass game and there is no going back for them. Creating a normal challenge is not an option anymore.

This game in its current incarnation is likely to destroy the weak, but will it make the hardcore happy? I think it might.

What’s that coming over the parapet? Is it a monster? Is it a MONSTER?

The story? Sorta has one…

In the pretty intro sequence we discover we are playing a grizzled bearded warrior. Looking like a fantasy Hell’s Angel, he has tattoos covering his face and a permanent ‘just crapped my pants’ expression. He is aided by some traditional wizard dude, who I forgot about after ten minutes. Both characters were classic clichés (or archetypes, that works too). As this was just a preview, the story might well be expanded upon in the full game by the branching dialogue system. I really liked the dialogue system – it’s a welcome addition which revealed in one gory sequence how the player clearly could have a drastic effect on another character. Let’s hope the full game fattens out the characters and the story.

Gameplay? Everything hates me.

The game gives you a choice whether to be Rogue, Wizard or Warrior. This can influence armour, weapons and magic. Exactly how the magic works was a little confusing initially, but trying Warrior and Rogue quickly highlighted various speed and attack differences. Switching through the interface revealed a robust character, weapons and armour upgrade system.

After some story goings-on, you start exploring a castle. It’s classic stuff: Chat to fantasy characters, dash about looking for magic items and beat up monsters that get in the way.

When facing a beasty, the game uses the very familiar attack, roll and parry combinations. Timing is key, with a stamina bar defining how and when a player uses their light or heavy attack effectively. The bar regenerates very quickly and combos will refill it; if it’s drained, attacks will be far weaker. It’s an interesting system that foils random button stabbing, which sadly seemed to be my only skill while playing the preview. I engaged with a few monster types while playing: using a warrior I dealt with zombie mutants using my patented ‘random rolling and stabbing’ technique, while the large knights repeatedly crushed my puny attempts, forcing me to actually apply some battle tactics.

Yes, I know tactics are key but my sloth-brain and bear-hands refused to deliver them with any consistency. Those under the Dark Souls spell would have laughed at my pitiful attempts, I’m sure. And how does Lords deal with death? Unlike Dark Souls, it has more generous restart points. But leaving it at that would be too generous, so the enemies still re-spawn to crush your soul once more. This made progression very tough and tense. In three hours I had only travelled through a small set of rooms and dealt with one boss. If the game intends to be a more accessible take on Dark Souls gameplay, then the re-spawning comes across as somewhat harsh. If you want a game that well and truly hit the Dark Souls spot, you’ll be as happy as a frolicking lamb in springtime.

Fight! Fight! Fight!

The graphics? Nice. Undeniably nice.

It’s definitely a handsome game, set as it is in a fantasy world of snowy, mountainous castles. The graphics are generally very atmospheric and benefit from great lighting effects. The chunky, armoured characters look suitably next gen, with a high level of polish and detail. Intriguingly, the world has tighter corridors and much more claustrophobic architecture than Dark Souls… it’s a world packed with superbly realistic clutter. These feel much more like real rooms, like real places. Unfortunately, this realism forced me to repeatedly adjust my camera. In the heat of battle I occasionally struggled to see the action clearly because scenery and enemies obscured my view.

General impressions?

I’m sure you’ve picked up on the main running theme: Dark Souls fans should give this a try. They don’t have a lot of similar games to enjoy, and the team really haven’t pandered to weaklings like me. While it lacks an original universe, it’s good-looking and made by knowledgeable fans of the genre. Lords of the Fallen could well inspire many nights of joy and rage, and that may be exactly the grail you seek. If you like the sound of Dark Souls but have never played and have The Fear, this one may be a touch more accessible.

I shall, however, retreat to safety with a nice cup of tea and an episode of Downton Abbey.

28 October, 2014: Release date for Lords of the Fallen (PS4, PC, Xbox One)

You can pre-order Lords of the Fallen – Limited Edition (PS4) on Amazon now. If you pre-order before the release date you’ll get access codes for the soundtrack, Monk’s Decipher DLC and Demonic Weapons Pack DLC.