Lords of the Fallen (Xbox One Review)
Everybody is always banging on about Demon’s Souls and the Souls series; whether it is the next game in the series or a chosen genre’s painstakingly difficult equivalent. I guess the same might have applied when Wolfenstein came out; we never really had anything to compare those that would succeed to but Wolfenstein itself. So what Lords of the Fallen brings to the table is diversity, a new perspective on an increasingly popular genre in the same way the Souls series changed it’s genre a few years back. It’s a game for the masochist in all of us.
Lords of the Fallen is the culmination of German studio Deck13 Interactive and CI Games. Both companies have an expansive back catalogue of games and have been behind the Sniper: Ghost Warrior and Blood Knight games. There is a lot of experience in the companies and it shows in the worlds they have designed for Lords of the Fallen.
We are first introduced to a mysterious figure and his powers in a grandiose battle in which a behemoth cowers from his might, a sudden interruption from the heavens stalls the battle and then we are brought to the present. Harkyn stands in front of us, his sins tattooed on his face should he ever forget his past and his weapon in hand. Lords of the Fallen sets the tone spectacularly in the opening. You see the true power of magic and what is capable through it in the opening scene, even gods fear it. Unfortunately this is one of the very few gripping cinematic moments of the game, the rest of the story is played out in dialogue trees and scrolls scattered throughout the campaign. To keep it simple Lords of the Fallen is the story of man versus god. The Rhogar are invading the human realm and Harkyn has been freed, along with his mentor Kaslo, to help in the fight against evil.
Usually it’s the unforgettable characters you meet that really bring a story to life, but while traversing Keystone and the demon realm the characters you meet often have very little impact on you, or it at least felt that way. This is perfectly portrayed by a female scoundrel you meet along the way. You agree to help her with her quests and recovering lost artefacts only to be left to do all the hard work, gruelling challenges and numerous boss fights. While she prances off in to the shadows and somehow manages to arrive at the destination just in time to progress the story. The reality of the situation is that your actions, even some of the discreet ones, actually have an impact on your ending and it could have been conveyed a tiny bit better. The same can be said for the dialogue options, I was never sure if it would have an impact on the situation or not and I never fully felt like I would have taken either of the options at some point.
In terms of game play Lords of the Fallen is a gruelling and testing Action Role Playing game spliced with a Hack and Slash. It has a lot of similarities to the Souls series but just enough to set it apart from being a carbon copy clone, especially when you compare the pacing of the two. Lords of the Fallen is fast paced and unrelenting to a point that fighting enemies is never dull. There are 3 archetypes that a player chooses from the offset; Rogue, Cleric and Warrior. Each of these has different base stats that cater to how you would intend to play while in the role, although you can always gear them differently later on and upgrade whatever stats you wish. On top of that there are 3 different types of magic that work to compliment your play style. I tried out all 3 and ended up sticking with a hybrid of a Cleric base but with the more aggressive magic. The magic definitely can change how you approach many situations but the animations could look similar, especially “Prayer”. For such a diverse game that focuses on some really common roleplaying archetypes one might feel at a loss without a ranged or magic based characters, fortunately for those who prefer to keep harm at arm’s length there is the magic gauntlet.
The gauntlet feels rather out-of-place, it almost looks part of Samus’s or Megaman’s armour as opposed to a magically powered gauntlet to kill demons with. It is just a little jarring when used in culmination with old school maces and traditional magic. That being said very little compares launching a bomb in to a crowd of enemies and to use a magical blast like a shotgun when somebody gets too close, especially when it has a poison damage over time effect. Latterly you find out about runes and how to change the properties of the gauntlet like I have previously alluded to with the poison effect. The ability to change the magical properties of the gauntlet and the type of effect it had really did ground it in the lore and made it feel far more natural in the surroundings. Especially when using it to break magically sealed doors becomes integral to traversing the world.
Overall the combat in Lords of the Fallen has a great impact with a lot of power behind every strike flowing right in to your fingers. There is a dramatic difference in between playing a fast and agile build in comparison to heavier builds with larger weapons. In fact the game does it so well that there is a great sense of awareness of your play style, I felt I had to be sneaky as a rogue but when playing as a heavier character with far larger weapons I was unstoppable. As a slower character my opening gambit would be to chip them down with my gauntlet and then to finish them off with a mighty swing of my polesword. There is a great impact of the hits and when I was rogue it was amazing to set a trap by luring the enemies in with prayer and to then assassinate them while they were distracted. No matter what build I chose the pace was always great and when I reached New Game + I truly started to appreciate the combat system. Perfect timed strikes reduce the amount of stamina used and when dual wielding weapons these timed strikes also lead to devastating combos with additional damage. These combos look and feel great, enemies stagger with the final blow and you are greatly awarded for your precision. All this combat and killing leads to exp and runes, but what do we do with them?
Well, exp points are used to level up your character along with a few other cool additions. Much like the Souls series you drop all your exp when you die but Lords of the Fallen goes one step further to offer players checkpoints that are optional. By skipping a checkpoint you keep an exp multiplier and in turn gain more exp by risking your progress. In time this amassed exp can be used to level up spells, level up attributes and more interestingly gamble with the blacksmith while unlocking runes. Runes (big and small) are random drops from enemies and can be found in chests, these runes add elemental damage or defence while equipped in a slotted item. When unlocking these runes you can also gamble experience based on their size, with larger runes costing more exp. It’s an interesting take on the exp system and much like the reward of a better multiplier through avoiding checkpoints it adds a different approach to the game. But don’t spend all your runes in one place as they can act as keys to chests and doors too.
The worlds that you traverse in Lords of the Fallen all look really interesting, there is a blend of archaic aesthetics tainted by the encroaching demon presence. There is a serene beauty to be found in the ruined lands of Keystone that emits a feeling of hope in a war-torn land. The scenery is amazingly complimented by the orchestral score that feels epic and reminiscent of Lord of the Rings. At times the corridors were unreasonably tight for a game that requires a lot of sidestepping and rotational movement to the point that I often felt claustrophobic and the closed camera could make identifying/attack enemies difficult. These tight areas open up beautifully in to scenic areas filled with lots of interesting architecture. The game is one big wonderful maze and the discovery of what links where and how to open up the world in new ways to explore is impressive. A great deal of satisfaction can be gained by pushing through to the next area to open up a short cut to areas you have marked to return to later.
That being said the maze like structure can also be frustrating at times in such a short game. More often or not you end up retracing your footsteps over a rather limited campaign that even these amazingly detailed landscapes lose their charm, a notion that runs throughout the campaign in general. Everything feels played out by the end, in spite of having some truly amazing character/enemy design they all feel like they are cut from the same cloth with a few exceptions. It doesn’t help when the game crashes on multiple occasions and you are forced to drudge on through already explored areas, going through the motions in hopes of it successfully working this time.
Overall Lords of the Fallen was great fun and challenging enough to keep you entertained. There is a great deal of potential nestled between the frozen screens and the fidgety camera. With a few changes and bug fixes it could have easily been one of the stars of this year. In fact even with it’s issues I really do hope to see more from the studios. There is so much they have tried to do different and more importantly done well. I love their take on the reward system and how different the classes can feel and the pace is fantastic. I always found the souls series unforgiving to a point of frustration and at times slow, Lords of the Fallen rectifies this spectacularly. It was just a shame I had to wait until New Game + to fully appreciate the game.
Lords of the Fallen was acquired early through a retailer and no embargo has been signed or agreed.