If I were to say to you that I’ve been playing a difficult dark fantasy game where death is inevitable, what game would you think I was playing? If I told you tales of a war-torn world inhabited by demonic creatures who fall by my sword and spells, what would you think I was playing? If I recounted the hours spent carefully calculating the movements of gigantic boss creatures to finally achieve victory, what would you think I was playing? Of course, you’d assume Dark Souls (probably). However I’m not talking about that at all. Instead I’ve been playing Lords of the Fallen and frankly, the similarities are uncanny.
In Lords of the Fallen you take on the role of Harkyn. Harkyn – the chap on the cover who looks a little too much like Ragnar from Vikings – is your cookie cutter anti-hero. He has been been sprung from prison to join the fight against the amassing armies of the Rhogar. After 30 hours with the game that’s all I can tell you. There is plenty of plot development and it progresses at a fair speed but, with no way to refer back to past conversations and the sphincter-cringing, woeful writing, everything that happens is far from memorable. Coming into Lords of the Fallenfor the story is like going out for a night on the town drinking spring water; all the fun is going on elsewhere.
Lords of the Fallen‘s most compelling aspect makes itself known right from the get go. Wading into the theater of combat as Harkyn means bringing to bear four tools all to familiar to the world of action-RPGs: attacking, blocking, dodging, and magic…ing. Dodging is barely worth a mention but the others serve something special on the table.
The use of magic is tied into both a gauntlet which can be modified to suit your needs and a wide array of spells. When I say wide array, I mean four different spells spread across three schools which all follow the same pattern. One attracts you enemy’s attention, one grants a shield or buff of some description, one is a ranged spell and one is an ultimate ability.
Using your shield and chosen weapon in tandem is the only real way to make any headway through the game. This is not a bad thing by any stretch because when swinging a greataxe with a shield in tow, Lords of the Fallen makes a good impression. The weight behind strikes is palpable and blocking any opponents strike with your shield fills the body with an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. It’s a game of timing when it comes to efficient blocking, and that focus on timing feeds into causing damage too.
Every activity, be it blocking attacks or running, uses up energy. Proper management of this energy is central to Lords of the Fallen‘s fighting mechanics and central to your survival. Attacks use a wide range of different amounts to enact so choosing the right method to damage your foes, much like From Software’s acclaimed series. Where it differs is with the use of combos. Timing your swings perfectly yields slightly quicker-than-usual chains of attacks and a small, but satisfying, ‘ping’ sound to let you know you’re a good warrior.
While we’re on the subject of sounds, the soundtrack of Lords of the Fallen is an orchestral smorgasbord of delights. There are a few choice themes that will be familiar to many – including one obvious play on the Jaws theme – which play their own part in pulling you back into this world. Besides one or two instances of pounding hums which anyone who’s seenPacific Rim or Inception will instantly recognize, the music stands out as a beautiful aspect of this dark work.
What turns the musical accompaniment into a true wonder is how well it conveys the darkness of the world around you. It’s rare to walk down stone-built tunnels with sounds so fitting to the experience. The source material is at times a painfully accurate adaptation of Dark Souls but its music side-steps the same trap, accompanying Lords of the Fallen with a more European flavour of orchestral music than the chaotic, yet beautiful, symphonies of From Software’s hit series.
Where Lords of the Fallen should really excel is in its boss fights. However, giving credit where credit is due, battling against powerful foes is a challenge in its own right. Aside from one fairly mundane encounter, dancing the dance of death with the other Rhogar Lords is a fulfilling experience. Each one has some unique mechanics which must be overcome to find victory. There are at times small clues to these, like in the case of the Worshiper[sic]but for the majority of fights it’s up to you and your wits to lead the way to victory.
Sadly, this is where the shining joy found within Lords of the Fallen peters out, only to be replaced with some rather less-than-stellar design choices.