The world of Deck 13's next-gen action RPG Lords of the Fallen doesn't sound like the nicest place to live. We'll kick off with a brief history lesson. So humanity has successfully killed their god, who by all accounts was pretty old testament and enjoyed smiting the guilty and innocent alike. With his death at the culmination of a bitter war, demons are banished from the world. Phew. Understandably narked off by evildoers at this point, the surviving humans decide to banish anyone who's caught committing a sin, tattooing their face to make sure everyone knows how naughty they've been. Some centuries later, things start to go bad again. The demons are back, and the rulers of humanity ultimately decide that the only thing that can stand against them is a complete and total bastard. That's a guy called Harkyn, who's got more tattoos than the average Premiership footballer. That's you.
I'm always wary of starting a preview by banging on about graphics, but damn. Lords of the Fallen looks bloody lovely. The universe is a super-stylised slice of fantasy in the same vein as Warhammer; absolutely everyone wears elaborate armour inlaid with runes and skulls all the time, even in bed, and you can't set foot outside your door without some pus-dripping monstrosity wielding a rusty meat cleaver attempting to make Fillet Mignon out of your choicest cuts. These are all positive features. Rather than ape the faded nobility of Dark Souls' world, Deck 13 have ramped things up to eleven, and it's a great decision, because the art style is delicious.
Trevor the Demon's polite greeting tragically lead to a mallet in the head
Armour design in particular is glorious, all sharp edges, unnecessary ornamentation and vibrant colours. Rogues and lightly armoured characters will plump for hooded cloaks and leather, mages for flowing robes that have some of the best cloth animation I've ever seen in a video game. Warrior types will find a plethora of intimidating full plate and chain. The developers say that you can mix and match armour sets, too. No getting stuck with a design you don't like just because it offers better stats. Each style has the benefits and drawback you would expect, with a few interesting twists. During the demo we saw a hulking enemy monstrosity being lured over some fragile wooden boards, his weight causing him to plummet to his death. Looking to wear full plate armour yourself? Yeah, you might want to take that on board.
Speaking of enemies, they're looking pretty swell too. We saw a nice mix of types, from 'infected' footsoldiers that have a chance of re spawning when defeated, to the afore-mentioned hulking shield-bearers and creepy giant spiders fond of a good ambush. Like Dark Souls the key is to learn how each enemy operates, exploiting each one's weakness as you discover them. If you get killed in Lords of the Fallen the enemies will respawn, so there's no resting on your laurels during a dungeon crawl. Likewise, you should be prepared for some dastardly enemy behaviour. Spiders, for example, won't chase fleeing players, but instead lay eggs in anticipation of their return. The next time you step back around that corner you'll get swarmed by tiny baby arachnids. Lovely.
Lords of the Fallen really is a good-looking game
The boss fight shown was against the slightly uninspiringly named Champion, a hulking brawler brute with two massive claws strapped to his fists. Like Dark Souls (I know I keep saying that) the boss battle required players to learn and anticipate the enemy’s moveset, avoiding high-damage hits and taking advantage of any opening to rush in with a flurry of your own strikes. The Champion had his own unique tricks, including the ability to enter a nasty rage mode after taking a certain amount of damage in a short period, so expect to be kept on your toes by each boss battle.
Got killed by some horrifying nightmare spawn? Well, like some other games with similar features that I can't recall the name of right now, you'll get the chance to recover all that lovely experience you dropped, providing you can get back to your XP orb in time. In a nice touch that should stop you from getting too complacent, the value of your dropped XP will degrade over time, not too quickly, but enough to tempt you into rushing back to the scene of your destruction. And possibly making a horrible mistake along the way.
This dude might be evil
It would be very easy to look at Lords of the Fallen and dismiss it as a Dark Souls clone. The game neatly sets itself up for that comparison by using a good deal of the same tricks From Software's devilish fantasy title uses to such compelling effect. To be fair though, despite clear mechanical similarities, it does seem like this is a game forging its own path. Combat, although it rewards patience and timing, seems more flashy and fast-paced, and the stakes are not quite as high as in Dark Souls. Sure, dying will lose you your XP, but there were five or six checkpoints in the forty-five minutes of dungeon crawling that I saw, where in Dark Souls you'd count yourself lucky to find one. The developers were keen to point out that they're aiming for a “less punishing” experience than Dark Souls fans will be used to.
Perhaps Lords of the Fallen doesn't have originality on its side then, but judging from the demo session I watched, you'd be foolish to dismiss its beautiful, brutal charms too quickly. It's taking inspiration from the finest sources. There's clearly been a tonne of effort put into the world-building and art design, resulting in a lovely looking game with a very distinct atmosphere. Combat looks like lots of fun, and there's plenty of gribbly enemies to vanquish. It's set for release later in 2014, and if there's room in your life for one more challenging action RPG with a rich world to explore, Lords of the Fallen could be just the ticket.
Most anticipated feature:Exploring more of those gorgeously gothic dungeons and bashing things with a greataxe.