Ever since Demon’s Souls first hit the market back in 2009, everyone has wanted to get a piece of the action. It was a title that went back to old school gaming roots where players had to work for their satisfaction, consistently developing strategies to defeat certain sections and bosses. That’s what Deck13 Interactive and CI Games have set out to accomplish, creating a challenging RPG ripe for adventure and gratifying gameplay. With weighty combat, a provoking setting, and a dark demonic campaign, Lords of the Fallen has all the makings of a great RPG, and while it may stumble in some areas, it also propels itself in others.
Mechanically, Lords of Fallen is solid. This is a fantasy Action-RPG where players will be assigning attribute points, equipping armor and weapons, and clashing steel with enemies. It’s standard as far as the genre is concerned, but stands out due to its slower-paced combat system. There’s no getting around the obvious comparison to From Software’s Dark Souls as Lords of the Fallen not only has the difficulty, but most of the general concepts as well. This includes interwoven environments, a dark, hidden fantasy story and one of the most notable concepts of having to retrieve your lost XP after death. Deck 13 Interactive has at least spiced the last idea up quite nicely, introducing a system that slowly drains the XP away and encourages the player to rush to their last death. Not only that, but if the player is near their “Ghost,” they’ll slowly be healed, so it becomes an interesting tradeoff, especially during boss battles.
Lords of the Fallen also tries to accurately portray the action of swinging a weapon. Even for a giant man such as Harkyn is, the protagonist of the story, swinging a great sword or halberd takes a lot of effort and can expend a great deal of energy to do so. This ultimately makes combat feel a little bit sluggish, but at the same time, puts an extra layer of challenge for the player to properly master. The various types of weapons, ranging from different speeds to special elemental traits, make combat surprisingly diverse. It’s also a balancing act of the attributes as min-maxing is absolutely a necessity, causing much frustration if points are spread-out too thin – so pick which direction you’re going towards and stick with it. In the same sense as the Souls series, this is a difficult game, one of which rewards you for your hard work and determination. While other games may be about swarms of enemies, this is more about a singular one-on-one battle where a demon can drastically reduce your health bar with one unblockable combo. Considering how much stagger comes off most enemy’s strikes, this becomes a test of patience and skill, especially within the confines of the various corridors.
There are roughly ten different bosses throughout the campaign, and each are finely designed, but their strategy for defeat is leaves much to desire. They’re not particularly difficult in comparison to the hordes of demons, and while they change up their attack patterns mid-fight, it mainly comes down to waiting for a specific opening, striking once or twice, and strafing away. The number of enemy types isn’t large, either, but it slightly makes up for it as each class will pose a great threat to Harkyn’s life in different ways. Overall, combat in Lords of the Fallen is surprisingly addicting, and while the enemy quantity isn’t quite there, there’s still fun to be had pinning down how to defeat each type with taking the least amount of damage possible. It also helps that there’s no need for grinding as the progression of the story will take Harkyn to new locations where experience points will be distributed properly.
The world itself is bleak. While that’s exactly what the developers were going for, a rather demonic, cursed world filled with war and bloodshed, the environments are somewhat lacking. The first main area that takes place in a castle is notably appealing with its snow covered topping, but that’s where it stops. The rest of the campaign takes us through generic ancient structures, prisons and various other grim locations that do little to show off the very striking graphics. It is neat how most of the environments are intertwined together, but considering there are only six locations and constant load times, you will quickly think everything is segmented. It doesn’t help that Harkyn is one of the most generic, uncompelling muscleheads you can find in a video game. Most of the story is placed in hidden audio logs (scrolls) that can be found in the environment, but even then, it barely helps expand the universe. There are so few interactions with other humans, it makes you wonder, as a knight, who you are protecting when the world is so seemingly desolate. The campaign itself isn’t particularly lengthy, either. It will take most people roughly 12-15 hours to complete, with a couple somewhat simplistic side missions to partake in.
It’s also notable that the camera can be downright atrocious. There are some games where it can become bothersome in the midst of combat, but few measure up to what Lords of the Fallen has to offer. There are certain areas where it will act fine, but the various corridors will cause significant problems, with the camera even not knowing where to go when a backstab is pulled off. There are also a lot of technical issues we ran into. The frame rate, at least on the PlayStation 4 version, can be all over the place, but really what irked us the most was a lot of the audio, specifically from characters, would disappear entirely and would require a complete restart of the game for them to return functional. This is something that could be patched in future updates, but it became apparent and quite bothersome.
Some parts of Lords of the Fallen are surprisingly enjoyable, but many weigh it down. Enemy AI can occasionally be frustrating, not because of difficulty but their odd defensive patterns, and while boss battles may look cool at first, their strategy for defeat usually boils down to simplistic attack patterns. Occasional bugs plague the game, not to mention an absolutely atrocious camera that doesn’t even know what to do during a backstab animation. Some of the early architecture pieces are visually pleasing, and the snow-covered terrain gives off some vibrancy, but it’s quickly apparent how uninspired most of the world really is. With that said, combat feels weighty, ensuring each swing of the sword, axe, or whatever weapon you may wield needs to be on target, otherwise death may follow swiftly. Lords of the Fallen is a divisive game that has all the charm in its presentation, but doesn’t follow through with its execution.
Version Reviewed: PlayStation 4