I welcome thee, oh difficult third person RPG. Teach me the ways of your frustration, anger, and death. Lords of the Fallen (Deck 13 & CI Games) is the new guy on this third-person genre campus. While I try my darn hardest to avoid relating reviewed games to other games, Lords of the Fallen practically solicits comparison to the ‘Souls’ series; much how World of Warcraft is often used as the rubric of comparison to MMOs. As GameZone’s Souls series “expert,” who better and who worse to review a game of the same style?
Starring sin-champion Harkyn, your role is to defeat all of the “Lords of the Fallen” gods and make humanity less of their punching bag. You’ve been released from the shackles of your crimes because who else is more expendable than a hardened criminal? To quote Kaslo, the man who frees you, “These are desperate times, Harkyn. I freed you and the others because we need hard men to do a hard thing.” Errr… yea. While I enjoyed his character design (I really dig the sin-tattoos all over his face), his voice acting and development was dry. With a set character, I would have liked to see more in the field.
I didn’t feel compelled by the story and loved the fact that cutscenes can be skipped (I still watched them my first time through). While that may have came off as sarcastic comment, more games would benefit from this feature (cough Destiny). The story truly holds your hand, reiterates that Harkyn was a bad dude, and leaves little to the imagination. While this form of storytelling is fine, it is simply not for me. The fact that you are given options on how to handle certain conversations and situations was enjoyable though – this leaves room for different endings, replayability, and simply more content. Everyone can enjoy that.
For the next transition, I’d like to tell a story. While playing Lords in the office, I said to my coworker, “I would really like a jump attack, like in Dark Souls.” So, I locked on the target in front of me, put in the Dark Souls jump attack input, and lo and behold – Harkyn performed the jump attack I was longing for. The moral of this story is that Lords fundamentally plays just like Dark Souls. Every button is mapped exactly how Dark Souls is with the exception of Dodge being moved to the X/A button. Finding out these similarities meant that other tactics like weak attacks, strong attacks, blocking, parrying, etc, all worked the same. With an achievement / trophy called “The real Lords starts here,” you have to accept a powerful Souls homage.
This isn’t 100% accurate though. Lords has a way of adding slight spins to differ itself from the Souls series. For instance, instead of using the D-pad for item rotation, you press one button to rotate through items and hold it to use them, when you die you drop all your experience points but if you take too long the experience slowly disappears but also heals you before picking it up if you're near it, and instead of bonfires there are crystals that refill your potions, but don't respawn enemies upon use, unless you die.
The similarities stop with Lords of the Fallen’s risk and reward exp system. For each enemy you kill without refilling your potions, the larger your EXP multiplier will become and the more time you’ll be granted to retrieve your EXP after you die. This allows you to challenge your limits and be rewarded for successful recklessness. Since your ghost (what is left after you die) also slowly heals you before you pick it up, you can strategically use this for tough areas and boss fights. There is also a system of ‘banking’ your experience in case you reach a crystal and don’t want to reset your multiplier. This makes it so you can no longer lose those exp points upon death.
The three classes are really determined by which spell set you select at the start. While you don’t have to take cleric armor with cleric spells, the spells are the part that matter; After all, gear can and will be quickly replaced. While the spell lists determine your play style, I couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed by them. Tier one of each list is a clone that distracts the enemy while adding a different aura. Granted I don’t normally play ‘mage’ characters in action RPGs, but in Dark Souls for instance, spells are ‘easy mode.’ The clone becomes very useful for defeating certain enemies and works exceptionally on bosses. Even if you don’t want to use magic, putting one point in the clone is worth it for survivability.
On the topic of ‘easy mode,’ I can’t help feeling that Lords of the Fallen wants me to play with the heaviest armor and largest shield I can find. If you play a few hours this way and then play a few hours as a light armored duel-wielder, the difficulty will be night and day. The damage soak from heavy armor is remarkable. While light characters rely on dodging and invulnerability frames, this action feels sluggish. Even the quickest roll doesn’t seem quick enough. The damage from duel-wielding relies on timing your attacks to maximize damage. While this isn’t hard to execute, it takes time and patience to pull off. In several boss fights, the window to punish isn’t big enough for me to time three dagger swings perfectly – and as previously mentioned, getting hit in light armor is devastating. Granted I played as the ‘rogue’ type because it’s my preferred play style and is completely viable, but night and day from being Tanky McShielderton.
Encounters are mostly one or two difficult enemies instead of swarms of weak foes. Making Harkyn good at 1 v 1 situations seems ideal for both regular foes and bosses. Certain regular enemies took me a longer time to learn how to fight than bosses. These big guys with huge shields, first introduced after the second boss, could one shot me (again, I was playing the rogue mostly). Granted, the level design was telling me I was going to wrong way and shouldn’t be fighting them but I’m obsessive and thick headed. Bosses themselves come in diverse arrangements and are always found near a save point (crystal). Each boss has a special way of defeating it to be rewarded something better for committing to this tactic. That said, I’ve had bosses literally stand still and just let me beat on them until they die. I enjoy how Lords offers ways to challenge yourself if you want that extra push or specific item.
Weapons feel unique and come with their own attack sets. If you’re one-handing, two handing, or duel-wielding – it all feels different. The weak attack of either hand in a duel-wield stance is different. I really like this. Since duel-wielding takes more precision to maximize DPS output, having essentially four different attack sets which aids in your total versatility. Depending on if your focusing on strength or dexterity, will determine which weapons are available to you to realistically use. Armor comes in different variety and weights for you to mix and match and find what works for you. Personally, I try to wear the heaviest possible while keeping a fast roll.
Level and map design is more gear-gate-ish than open world. While there are splitting paths, there is really only one way to go to progress. The bosses must be defeated in a linear fashion. In most the cases, if you go off the beaten path you’ll come across enemies far too difficult for you to beat on a regular basis. While you’ll get a ton of exp for beating these foes, it’s the game design telling you not to go there yet. Most likely at the end of that area you’ll come across a locked door anyways. It’s something to farm though if you’re skilled enough, it’s an option and that's always good.
Graphically speaking, Lords looks beautiful on the highest settings (yes, I reviewed it on PC although I dabbled a bit with the PS4 version as well). With that said though, I was forced to play on the lowest setting due to just how demanding it is. This isn’t a fault of the game, but more of my aged PC. The areas are not terribly large but very intricate with shortcuts. As you get further in the game, the easier enemies are replaced with tougher foes. Most of the backtracking you do will be to open previously locked doors for loot and hidden paths. The art itself is reminiscent to a non-cartoonish Blizzard style. This is mostly present in the armor design, especially the spaulders.
I did experience a few bugs in the game which made my experience undoubtedly a bit worse. The game crashed a few times on both the PC and the PS4, and if you just beat a boss, you'll have to beat him again. There were also a few hit detection bugs where I'd clearly be wailing on an enemy during an animation that allows for it, but I was doing no damage at all.
Throughout the game you’re going to know where you should be going but getting there isn’t always as simple; after the second boss the difficulty ramps up. Yet while Lords can be difficult, it’s not as punishing as say Dark Souls. Boss fights are near the save points, the area where you died heals you, there is a potion to restore your death EXP without having to pick it back up, banking EXP also takes the pressure off of dying, and there is nothing stopping you from grinding. If you’re looking for something to fill that exact void in your heart of Dark Souls (not Dark Souls II), this game is probably not it. If you’re looking for a challenging, new action RPG, that borrows concepts from other successful fantasy studios while producing something new – it's certainly worthwhile to give it a look. Take the training wheels off Harkyn, die a bunch of times to horrific monsters, and embark on a familiar yet new adventure.