Is Lords of the Fallen a blatant rip off or just an outrageous homage to Souls’ series of challenging action RPGs? Though it’ll look and play far too closely to that heritage for some, it does have its own take on the medieval-themed RPG, building upon Dark Souls’ systems in a unique way, though sadly as a single-player only experience.
That first take however, leaves much to be desired. With no PVP or asynchronous multiplayer Lords of the Fallen eschews character customisation and that vital essence of its inspiration as you inhabit the grumpy bald form of Harkyn in a single-player only adventure. This narrow approach allows Lords to tell a very direct narrative with cut scenes and NPC conversations that bump along an extremely generic story. It lacks Dark Souls’ subtlety and the joy of finding out about its world through exploration and discovery. Instead opting for direct storytelling and faintly ridiculous audio diaries that are best left ignored.
Rumour has it that if you look closely, a grumpy Tom Selleck appears
But vanquishers of demons need neither a story or a packed lunch and Lords Of The Fallen places its singular vision on combat and its own take on From Software’s hardcore action mechanics. Most players will feel immediately at home here with its close similarity to Dark Souls and a very Darksiders-like art-style.
The differences though, are beneath the surface with different speed move sets for each individual weapon. Coming to this from Dark Souls I found the movement just too slow and the enemies a little too fast and unpredictable to be enjoyable at first. It took three hours and a new character for me to get the hang of Lord Of The Fallen’s combat and feel comfortable with progressing. Even so, there’s a ‘feel’ quality to a game like Dark Souls that’s difficult to put into words and Lords of the Fallen always felt that little bit off in comparison.
Once you do get the hang of it, Lords of the Fallen opens up in a less brutal fashion than it initially appears. Yes, you can argue that Souls is easy once you get the hang of it, but for most players even a lowly enemy wearing nothing more than a rag and a dangerous erection can render you dead if you left your guard down. The same can’t be said here and after levelling up a few times, enemies that caused you trouble in earlier levels will be squashed like flies. And that’s not necessarily a criticism as that feeling of empowerment is thrown into sharp contrast when entering a new area.
So far it’s easy to dismiss Lords as a blatant Dark Souls clone, but it does just enough to develop the combat experience from its inspiration and has some additions to the formula that left me impressed.
There are three classes you can choose in the beginning - Warrior, Monk and Rogue which determine your starting armour and attributes. In addition to this you have to decide which discipline of magic to choose from. Each of the three sets comes with four spells, though all have the identical initial skill of Prayer - which produces a clone to distract enemies and regenerate health, magic or energy (depending on class). That leaves only three other spells to level up for the entirety of the game which feels a little stingy as the other branches are locked off until you complete the game.
To compensate for this you come across a Gauntlet early on which adds magical projectile, explosive and blast abilities that stand in for any ranged weapons (you can only wield melee weapons, no bows here). It adds a surprisingly interesting wrinkle to the combat and you can quickly swap between the gauntlet and shield mid-battle to soften up enemies from a distance before closing with a melee attack.
The experience system is as close to Dark Souls as you could get without porting over the code yourself. Instead of souls for each kill you gain experience which can only be used at certain checkpointed shard points (basically a bonfire). If you die while holding this experience it’ll be lost unless you reclaim it when you respawn. The difference here is that your ghost will only hang around for a limited time, making a corpse run even more tense and potentially frustrating than ever before.
The gauntlet adds ranged combat. Excellent for those hard to reach areas
The real evolution of this system lies with the risk/reward of banking your experience at this bonfire-like points or keeping them with you. If you keep it then each time you kill a new enemy your experience multiplier will go up meaning you’ll gain more experience for each slain foe as long as you don’t die. It’s a brilliant addition to the system, essentially adding a combo meter and making experience farming far more entertaining and rewarding.
Aside from these bolt-ons to the traditional Souls experience, Lords of the Fallen has a wide variety of armour, weapons, shields and runes to keep you busy customising your load-out. There are rare bonuses for having a matching set of armour and you’ll be experimenting a lot to see which style of play suits you best. I started as a hulking great knight in heavy armour and it soon became clear I was terrible at it. Swapping to much lighter chain mail meant increased speed and a roll that wasn’t reminiscence of a sack of hammers being dropped on the floor.
Each weapon is wielded at a different speed and this is independent of your armour weight, meaning that you can look like a walking castle but attack quickly if you use a staff or hand claws. There’s enough variety in here to make playing Lords of the Fallen a challenge and an enjoyable puzzle to solve.
Where Lords of the Fallen starts to wobble is with its environment and story. Characters are desperately rote and unlikable. I had no desire to find out the real origin of the main character and none of the supporting cast were particular interesting. Animations in the cut-scenes are a little embarrassing alongside some dreadful over-acting that delves into the ‘so bad its good’ territory, but otherwise its totally forgettable.
Environments are typical of a medieval setting. Stone monasteries, dark rooms full of blood and bodies, graveyards and watchtowers all place it firmly in typical staid territory. The enemies too look like the Daedra had a one night stand with the demons out of Darksiders, so they seem pretty generic alongside their surroundings, but there’s a decent amount of variety here - and each flavour of evil comes with its own move set and habits - something you need to learn and predict in order to progress.
That’s true of the boss battles as well and just as in the Souls games you’ll need to sacrifice yourself many times in order to evaluate and crack the best method to kill them. All are big and imposing but with none of the character or variety of the Souls series, which is a disappointment. However, each boss has a unique extra condition that can be met so you can be rewarded with a uniquely perked weapon. These conditions can be take no damage or getting a boss to kill at least two of his minions. Again it’s another little addition to the formula that while doesn’t set Lords of the Fallen apart in any great way, still makes it worth playing.
Each boss comes with its complimentary Super Massive Shield
The main game is of a decent length, taking around 25-30 hours on first playthrough and much less when you know what you’re doing. There’s side quests and challenge portal areas to mess around with though that gain you experience and loot plus two New Game Plus modes that unlock each spell chain blocked off in normal play. These modes add harder enemies that drop more experience.
Visually, Lords of the Fallen looks pretty good with some nice lighting effects that add atmosphere to the dank medieval architecture. Though this is coming out for PS4 and Xbox One it doesn’t feel like a port with a smooth frame-rate on my mid-end rig even on the highest graphics setting. It did, however, cause system crashes every 3-4 hours. The release day patch didn’t seem to address this so be aware that progress is only saved after manually hitting a checkpoint or on death.
LORDS OF THE FALLEN VERDICT
Lords of the Fallen is easy to dismiss as a lowly Dark Souls wannabe and in many ways you’d be right to think that. With a setting and combat system that’s lifted directly from that inspiration it adds a few tweaks here and there but without changing the overall formula. The world and characters are forgettable and uninspired without any of that deeper lore and storytelling Dark Souls is known and loved for. But despite those criticisms Lords of the Fallen is still worth a look if you’re after challenging combat and a grisly dark medieval world to explore.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Restarting the game and cruising through levels in minutes rather than hours.
A good risk/reward experience system
Challenging combat with a variety of weapons and styles
Dull story and characters
Souls' purists will burn this at the stake