Lords of the Fallen is a game that will have you feeling emotions that range from the nervous apprehension of knowing that just around the corner could be your death, to the sweet euphoria of downing a boss that claimed your life several times over . Deck 13 has made it no secret that their title is inspired by the tough as nails RPG, Dark Souls, and seeks to do their own spin on the franchise’s trademark difficulty. After playing through this Dark Souls-like game, I can definitely feel their inspiration, but there is also a lot more in Lords of the Fallen to distinguish itself. The question is: Is what it does differently adding to the overall experience or making it a confused mess?
You play as Harkyn, a rough ‘n tough reluctant hero tasked with slaying a god and stopping the demon-like Rhogar hordes from exterminating humanity. While Lords of the Fallen certainly takes more of a direct form of storytelling than Dark Souls, I feel Deck 13 may have missed the mark a bit. There is a truly solid foundation to the world’s religious and political aspects, but there is just not enough focus on individual characters and their motivations. All characters have wafer-thin personalities with motivations simply told, not shown through actions. Worst of all, the little amount of foreshadowing is done in the most ham-fisted of ways. I appreciate that Lords of the Fallen tried its hand at a more direct cinematic narrative, but they missed out on several aspects. Let’s put it this way, if your main character is a criminal of many severe crimes, and you go through the entire game without knowing what those crimes even are, that is a problem.
Combat is broken into three movement speeds: Light, medium, and heavy. This is all dependent on the type of armor you choose to equip. The game fundamentally changes with each of these play styles. Light armor allows you to quickly roll around and dodge foes, as well as inflicting quick strikes to your opponent. Heavy armor is slow, but powerful. You will find that rolling out of the way borders on useless so you spend most of your time blocking enemy blows. As you might expect, medium armor allows for a blend for both styles.
Difficulty is major factor for Lord of the Fallen. By modern standards, it surely is more difficult, but it doesn’t quite reach the Dark Souls standard. This isn’t a bad thing. The game handles difficulty more naturally than its inspiration. Starting out at level one, death is all around you. You must quickly learn to balance your strikes, blocks, and energy in order to down opponents or die again and again. This style of play will continue, and even become more brutal if you fail to manage your character correctly. One of the major ways to increase Harkyn’s abilities is to complete various side quests around the world. Most quests give you either a talent shard, or spell shard, which automatically give you an attribute point and raise you a level. Being someone who loves to complete as much of the side activities as I can, I noticed my time Lords of the Fallen only getting easier, but it was because I earned it.
At the same time, there is no method of tracking these quests. Once you find someone with a task for you, you are only given the information they tell you, and nothing else. No map to show you where to go, not even a panel on the start menu to help you remember what the quest is. I often found myself stumbling into quests, or completing them before I even started them. At first I found the lack of direction a refreshing change from the “hold your hand” directions in most RGPs, but as I played, my enthusiasm turned to frustration when the quests became so impossibly vague.
Risking it all can also pay off when playing Lords of the Fallen. Every time you kill a foe, the percentage of experience you receive increases. This is reset every time you activate a checkpoint, which also heals you and refills your potions. When you reach a checkpoint crystal, you must decide whether to go with the safety of activating it or the reward of venturing forth unprotected. If you die, you not only lose your experience multiplier, and are forced to go back to the last checkpoint you activated, but you also drop all of your unassigned experience. If you go back to the spot of your death, collecting the dropped experience is possible, but there is a timer that slowly lessens the amount of experience the longer you take to get pick it back up again. This risk-reward system left me with a gambit of emotions throughout game, but I’m more than happy that Deck 13 added this system in.
Difficulty may be lessened if you choose to do side quests or take advantage of the experience multiplier, but the enemies’ mechanics only grow more complex. Each boss adds new attacks and tactics that constantly make them interesting. While some main bosses can be downed by just engaging in a straight-up slugfest, others require more finesse. Learning through repeated deaths is how this game is played, and it really works well for Lords of the Fallen.
The world you traverse is less of a world, and more of a series of corridors for you to navigate. Whether in the monastery citadel of humanity or Rhogar realm, the environments are beautifully grim and add to the overall feeling of desperation created by the difficult gameplay. It is only unfortunate that the world couldn’t be more expansive. In most cases, what you think are side areas are actually just future main story areas either devoid of bosses or completely blocked off. You end up doubling back to the same areas time and time again, and a world so fantastically designed begins to grow dull.