Lords of the Fallen Review

Lords of the Fallen Review

Successful innovators tend to be emulated. For a time, every shooter released after Doom was a ‘Doom clone.’ Some of them deserved that name. Others were fine games in their own right. Once there were enough titles following similar mechanical cues, First-Person Shooter became a genre. Given the great success of FromSoftware’s Souls series, it was only a matter of time (and has actually taken longer than I’d anticipated) for another company to have a go at challenging, third-person combat with stamina management.

Lords of the Fallen is a game full of systems and mechanics that are clearly influenced by the Souls titles (Dark Souls in particular,) which means it’s also letting itself in for a great deal of close scrutiny; an inevitable consequence of borrowing from one of the most analysed series’ in gaming. Though Lords of the Fallen is going to mostly come up short in a direct comparison, the conclusion ‘didn’t manage to be quite as good as Dark Souls’ should be read largely as praise, not as condemnation.

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There’s no multiplayer, so at least you won’t get invaded on this bridge.

The best way to demonstrate Lords of the Fallen’s healthy attitude towards the Souls games (and sorry, there’s really no way to write this review without constant reference to those titles) is that the ‘alternative’ gamepad control scheme is 95% of the way to being Dark Souls. It reminded me of the way FIFA and PES offer alternate control configurations from one another’s games. Producer Tomasz Gop (formerly of CD Projekt Red) and the rest of the CI Games team aren’t trying to hide any inspirations, and seem well aware that a significant amount of people picking up this game will want to settle in with a familiar control scheme.

And yes, as with FromSoft’s titles, a gamepad is recommended here. You can fully redefine the keyboard controls though, so if you’ve been comfortable using mouse and keys in Souls games you should be fine here too.

As the game’s tutorial takes you through the light and heavy attacks, optional parries (with the right kind of shield,) backstabs, locking on to foes, and the energy management of blocks and rolls, the Souls fan will be nodding along in recognition.

Feeding into that familiarity is the way in which equipment weight has an impact on your roll speed, how character stats like Strength and Agility provide scaling on different types of weapon, and the way in which those weapons offer distinct move-sets. Dual daggers are very different from swinging around a ten foot greataxe. Individual weapons come with stat requirements (but can still be ineffectively wielded by those who don’t yet have the numbers,) and the term ‘Poise’ pops up in relation to the stability of armour.

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Backstabs are just as enjoyable as ever, and you have to develop the same kind of ‘feel’ for them.

These familiar systems also translate to the kind of weighty, methodical combat Souls players are used to. Combat encounters with grouped enemies are fairly rare (unless you dash around the map like a loon,) with one-on-one or one-vs-two being pretty much the standard. Lords of the Fallen is definitely much more forgiving of mistakes, but you can still lose a chunk of health by ballsing up a one-on-one encounter, requiring a quick sip of the Not-Estus health potions replenished at the Not-Bonfire checkpoints.

As an illustration of Lords’ friendlier and more accessible nature, it’s possible (unlike in Souls) to cancel out of drinking a health potion in favour of a block or dodge.

Lords of the Fallen doesn’t tinker a whole lot with the combat formula, but incentives for timing weapon swings are one such addition. Timing your hits correctly (usually just as the previous swing ends) will cost less energy and sometimes lead to different combo flourishes that deal more damage. This works pretty well and serves as mechanical guidance for players not to just hammer away at the attack buttons.

Heavier shields also provide the option of a kind of charging attack that can stagger an opponent and knock away their own shield, offering an opening. Certain enemy types are specifically designed with mastery of this move in mind. Jumping attacks and the almighty kick are present too, though the latter is left rather redundant by the shield charge (there’s still the odd pit to punt foes into, mind you.)

In a further nod to accessibility, there’s no weapon durability. Nor do weapons ricochet off the walls of narrow corridors. You can, however, smash every bookcase, barrel and table in the realm into twenty thousand Havok Physics-esque pieces by rolling through them. That’s still pretty satisfying.

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Not the sort of graveyard anybody brings flowers to.

Lords of the Fallen consolidates ranged attacks into the Gauntlet, which every character is given access to early on. This can be altered using collected Runes at the inter-dimensional blacksmith, turning the default projectile types into (say) a flamethrower effect, or a poisonous orb. Runes can also be used on weapons and armour to bolster their effects and, occasionally, spent to open magically sealed doors and chests.

Magic seems tailored to a support role, as every player chooses one school (of three) and each of those schools contains four spells. The first of which (Prayer, a decoy spell) is roughly the same for each tree. Based on that, a pure magic run doesn’t seem like something that’d be all that appealing. As support for your combat style, though, the spells do serve their purpose. As a strength-oriented warrior, I made regular use of the energy-regenerating Rage. In subsequent new game plus play-throughs, it’s possible to select a second spell branch and then a third.

I’ve mentioned Lords of the Fallen’s checkpoint system as being rather similar to Souls’ bonfires, but again it’s both slightly different and a little less demanding. Activating a checkpoint will not resurrect enemies, only death will do that. The number of potions a checkpoint will provide diminishes if you use them too often, so that prevents a certain amount of abuse. Lords also implements an interesting risk-reward system regarding stored experience points. If you continue to hold experience on your character, you accumulate a steady multiplier for enemy kills. The moment you bank the experience at a checkpoint, that multiplier returns to the default 1.00.

It’s one of the game’s more interesting innovations, encouraging riskier play for those who want to press onwards without storing their experience points.

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The Crafter can augment your Warhammer-as-hell armour.

As with Souls, experience points remain at the location of death. Though Lords of the Fallen adds a twist here too, with the experience slowly ticking down over time until it’s reclaimed (or lost when you die again.) In addition to the draining effect, your experience ‘ghost’ provides a localised buff and slow health regeneration effect. This means it can be potentially useful for boss fights as long as it remains ticking down, giving you the choice of grabbing the lost experience or making use of it to give you an edge in the battle.

I say ‘potentially’ useful, because the bosses themselves (the titular Lords) aren’t terribly challenging. As somebody who just finished up the Dark Souls 2 DLC trilogy I absolutely accept that my concept of what constitutes a difficult boss fight may presently be hovering at the extreme end of the spectrum, but none of the fights here took me more than four attempts. A few of them, I beat first time. I killed the final boss in two. Lords of the Fallen has clearly not been designed to be as punishing as the game it’s inspired by, and that’s fine. That difficulty isn’t for everyone. But even taking that into account, the bosses here seem to have been tuned a little too easy. Even when the game throws a ‘2v1’ style boss fight at you, they take turns to attack.

Some of the encounters have some interesting quirks (a rage meter that increases as the Lord damages you, an insta-death attack that only standing on certain areas of ground will avoid,) but their design trends towards ‘large, burly humanoid who’ll roar at you in a pre-fight cutscene.’

They do offer a little self-imposed difficulty by each having a very specific (and harder) method of killing them that will provide unique rewards; things like finishing the fight without taking any damage. But the game doesn’t actually tell you what these are, so a ‘special boss killing method’ run isn’t going to happen until the internet reveals all.

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I’m the champion now, Champion.

Level design fares a bit better, and the developers clearly understand the appeal of the interconnected Souls map with decent enemy placement and secrets to uncover off the main path. Much of the game takes place inside the grounds of a walled monastery/citadel complex, complete with graveyard, catacombs and other such gloomy locales. There’s also a spot of portal hopping for some external maps. It’s a smaller game than Dark Souls, lasting around 15 hours or so on a first play-through (though to collect and accomplish absolutely everything possible, a couple of additional play-throughs are necessary.)

You can experience a certain amount of satisfying ‘I shouldn’t be in this area yet, but there’s some great loot so I’ll press on’ exploration, but the overall map size and the way the story unfolds prevents this from happening too often. While there are (mercifully) no quest arrows, the narrative tends to determine roughly where you’re allowed to be. Certain doors and areas will simply remain locked off until their allotted time.

The levels have some (very) sporadic platforming parts, which are just about as clunky as they are in the Souls games. Even Lords of the Fallen’s most Souls-ish control scheme delegates sprint to pushing in the left stick with jump on B, which is about as pleasant as it sounds. But aside from some brief jumps early on I believe none of the platforming side-bits are actually mandatory for progression.

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Enemy variety isn’t vast, but new ones do keep popping up right the way to the end.

As may already have been implied, Lords of the Fallen’s narrative presentation is straightforward in nature. Closer to a traditional RPG, NPCs converse with you through dialogue trees and give you pretty clear quest instructions (fetch me a dagger, kill those guys for me) rather than just launching into a weird monologue and ending with a disturbing laugh. The voice acting is not particularly great, and at times even seems to have been recorded at entirely different levels, but did temporarily win me over with what I can only assume was a total non-sequitur reference to this semi-obscure MST3K moment.

It’s also unfortunate how stilted the NPC animations are, given that the combat animations are impressively fluid.

Collectible audio log items flesh out much of the story, though you can glean a little bit more from reading item descriptions too. Both demonstrate Lords’ more traditional approach to RPG narrative, in contrast to Souls’ more ambient, enigmatic approach.

There’s also no visual character customisation available. You’re stuck playing the designer’s version of protagonist Harkyn, which is a bit of a shame. Even being able to change the face a bit would’ve been welcome. The story wouldn’t suffer for you being ‘different man/woman with tattooed face and the exact same backstory,’ but time and budgetary restrictions may well have been a factor here. Like Souls, however, your starting ‘class’ (Warrior, Cleric, Rogue) can quickly be tailored and developed into a unique build through the player’s allocation of earned stat points.

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Did I mention that the armour style is Warhammer-as-hell? It really is.

Technically speaking, I experienced a couple of strange, hard-lock crashes when rampant fire effects were on-screen, but otherwise things seemed pretty stable (which doesn’t appear to have been the case for everyone reviewing this game.) The PC version offers a reasonable array of graphics options for texture quality, geometry details, post-processing and the like. It’s not exhaustive, but you’ll be able to fiddle around until you find a 60fps sweet spot or whatever you’re looking for.

Outdoor areas proved rather demanding for my i3-2100/8GB/7870 system (dipping as low as 30 on medium-high settings,) with the indoors sitting in a more comfortable 45-60 zone. It never climbed above 60, but whether that’s due to a hard cap or simply my machine is hard to say.

With so many familiar mechanics, Lords of the Fallen’s comparisons with Dark Souls are inevitable. It comes across as a courageous, non-cynical effort to transplant that combat system and some of the level structure into a game that’s a bit less challenging and much more straightforward in its narrative presentation. In doing so, Lords loses some of the mystique that gives the Souls games such lasting appeal, but can instead claim to be more accessible. The title embraces its influences too closely to ever escape claims of being derivative, but with such a heartfelt homage it’s difficult to hold that too strongly against it.

Lords of the Fallen isn’t going to triumph in a direct match-up with Dark Souls, but seeing the Souls combat system and level design transplanted with this degree of success into a shorter, more accessible game is really no bad thing.

  • USMC03Vet

    I can’t stand Dank Souls. Is this less tedious and more enjoyable with less corpse running?

    Dem graphics are enticing.

    • OrgunDonor

      From everything i have read, it seems like an easier Souls game. If you like the concept of Dark Souls, but don’t want something as punishing, it may be worth a look. But so far I have yet to play, unlocks in 6 hours for me, so take what I say with a pinch of salt.

      • thyco

        i would actually play my copies of Dark souls and Dark souls 2 if the keyboard and mouse controls were not complete arse

        • OrgunDonor

          Dark Souls 2 is the reason I still have a controller perma plugged in. Lords will be reason 2. I am really looking forward to it. But I do dislike that using the KB+M is so ham fisted.

        • lazerbeak

          do you hate joypads then?

  • Majestic AF

    From what I’m gathering, it seems like the game all of us Souls fans momentarily envisioned when we first heard that mistranslated interview where the developer said Dark Souls 2 would be “more accessible” and read into that as “we’re going to make it easy and straight forward this time”. If this was a souls game I’d be pissed. It would get 5/10 across the board on review sites. We expect better from From. But it’s not a Souls game. I guess I’m going to buy it, but I’m doing so begrudgingly and I’m going to have to remind myself like Dorthy in Wizard of Oz “there’s no place like Lordran. There’s no place like Lordran.” and attempt to appreciate this for what it is. Which, again, is not Dark Souls. But sort of is.

    • thyco

      thing is almost every game now that comes out that has a hint of having something from the DS series automatically becomes “X is just like Dark Souls”. hell a game just has be called challenging or hard and the game will be compared to dark souls and then when it turns out that no its not at all anything like dark souls everyone cries bloody murder

  • lazerbeak

    Sounds too easy shame theres no difficulty setting

    • OrgunDonor

      Everyone seems to have gone Strength Warrior in reviews. From what I remember hearing, playing as a cleric is harder, rogue harder still. But I am not sure if that is just for the first hour or if that continues through the game.

      • Peter Parrish

        There was apparently a Day 1 patch which includes references to re-balancing difficulty, which complicates what I’m about to say a little bit .. buuuut.

        I did experiment with the Rogue a little. You’re a lot faster and back-stabs are easier, but you’re (obviously) a bit easier to damage as well.

        The first boss is kind of annoying as a Rogue because he’s not exactly hard, he just takes longer to whittle down. You get some decent Agility-type weapons later on which I’d imagine help with this. Some of the bosses are actually easier when you’re more maneuverable – for several of them I wore lighter armour so I could dodge around.

        • OrgunDonor

          I’ve played about 4 hours so far. I must admit playing as the rogue with the warrior magic(forgotten the name), the need for a shield is next to nil. Very quick dodging coupled with Prayer is seemingly very strong.

          The only boss i had issues with so far is the worshipper, I didn’t see the blue pods so kept getting swamped by the minions. The speed seems really strong.

          The first boss I didn’t find that hard/long, the perfect hit thing while dual wielding the daggers was doing as much or more as a sword or hammer(from the pre-order bonus items). But the Monk staff you get soon after the boss is great fun. Been finding the staffs have been great fun in dual wielding.

        • lazerbeak

          This a interesting point, games are getting major patches after release which can radically affect the game, maybe they need updated reviews?

  • USMC03Vet

    Is this a bad port?

    I checked the Steam turd discussions and it’s just over flowing with technical complaints of the game not functioning correctly. Not sure if PC illiterates or legit complaints any longer.

    • Peter Parrish

      I think it’s legit. Some of the other reviews have mentioned regular hard crashes and other technical problems. I didn’t have any of that (beyond about two crashes that I mentioned – and the outdoors draw distance halving frame-rates.)

      Based on how many people are mentioning this stuff, I think I either just got lucky or have the exact set of hardware needed for LotF not to screw up.

      The game did also get a patch today. Not sure if the bulk of complaints are pre or post patch.

    • lazerbeak

      most games have got to the point I don’t bother with them until patch 1 they are all released 95 percent completed, whats the point in playing a broken game you might as well for the patch first

      • USMC03Vet

        True that.

    • OrgunDonor

      I haven’t had any issues(just shy of a 4 hour play session), but I’m running on hardware well over the recommended, i5 4690k with a 980. I’m getting 1080p 60 on very high.

  • Zerito

    Is it good with Keyboard + Mouse or a controller is recommended ?

    • Guest

      its down to taste but personally I always play third person view games with a joypad

      • Zerito

        These games with swords and stuff I prefer playing with a controller too !!! But I was asking to know if it is recommended or if it is perfectly playable with Keyboard+Mouse

        • lazerbeak

          “And yes, as with FromSoft’s titles, a gamepad is recommended here. You can fully redefine the keyboard controls though, so if you’ve been comfortable using mouse and keys in Soulsgames you should be fine here too.”

  • CBR600

    Lords of the Fallen made ??a big impression on me. My only regret is I do not have more time to spend with her. :). Is not easily .;). but what I expected. Locations and graphics look great. Pleases the eye.

  • KitKat

    Rating the most deserved. Although I have a feeling that it could be higher. As for the game of CI, it still is a big success. The Lords possible to play, even very nice;)

  • Trailer

    Anyway you slice it, the game is pretty cool. Even though there were errors. Graphically it looks amazing. Lots of weapons, there is plenty to choose from. The only thing that pisses me off is that they often die .;)