In the past year I’ve become a big fan of the Dark Souls series. After several unsuccessful attempts starting the first Dark Souls, both on Xbox 360 and PC, I finally dug my heels in and found an entry point into the infamously difficult action RPG. I moved on to Dark Souls 2 after finishing the original and spent many hours exploring the world and leveling my characters. Eventually my interest waned and I moved on to other games. Even though there was new Dark Souls 2 DLC, I’d become burned out and needed a break.
Cut to a few months later and I started to see footage of a new Souls-like game called Lords of the Fallen. The game looked beautiful and was an unapologetic Dark Souls clone, an action RPG with tight combat mechanics, high difficulty, and punishing bosses. Lords was positioned as a western version of the Japanese Souls series and looked to move into the specific niche carved out by Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, and Dark Souls 2. As a fan of these games I was immediately intrigued. How does Lords of the Fallen compare? Is it a true successor to Souls series or is it just a pale pretender?
Developers Deck13 Interactive and CI Games have delivered a game built from the ground up to appeal to fans of Dark Souls. If you’ve played any of the Souls games you’ll be able to pick up and play immediately; there’s even a control scheme that matches that found in Dark Souls, save for a few minor differences. Rather than going through all the ways Lords of the Fallen is similar to Dark Souls, I’ll highlight some of the most interesting ways they differ.
The first major difference you’ll notice relates to the character you play. In the Souls series, there are no set characters. You’re responsible for choosing the way your character looks and there are no clear backstories. In fact, the story in the Souls series is largely opaque, with a few hints here and there. In Lords of the Fallen you play as Harkyn, a former prisoner with a troubled past. Although you can still customise your playstyle with creation choices, everyone experiences Harkyn’s story. This streamlines the story but also serves to limit your role-playing possibilities.
When starting a new game you choose class and magic type. Class determines starting skills, armour, and weapons. Magic type is a little misleading, as your magical powers are closer to special combat abilities rather than specific types of spells. Every magic type enhances combat, whether by weakening your enemies or strengthening your attacks. There’s no option for a pure magic user, for instance, as the game is specifically tuned for melee combat. What magic there is supplements hand to hand combat rather than replacing it.
This focus on hand to hand combat means that fights are slower and more deliberate. Even fights with low level enemies can take a minute or two to win. Shield-bearing enemies are everywhere in the world and they take up the most time; unlike Dark Souls, where you’re able to break their guard and attack during the opening, the shielded enemies in Lords of the Fallen recover quickly and don’t offer many attack opportunities. Thankfully you’re given a gauntlet that can fire magic projectiles and this soon became my go-to method for dealing with frustrating shields.
Lords of the Fallen streamlines the gameplay formula set in Dark Souls. This makes for a generally easier, friendlier experience. One of the most tedious aspects of Dark Souls relates to running back after dying during a boss fight. Bonfires are normally not right next to the boss. This means you have to struggle your way through groups of enemies in order to have another go. Lords does away with this frustration and typically places checkpoints right next to boss areas. You can also bank experience at checkpoints and then spend it later.
In general, Lords of the Fallen is a much more linear game, and that’s both a strength and a weakness. I prefer the open world of Dark Souls and the nebulous character motivations. I like having the option to try a different route or move to a whole new area if I’m stuck. The bosses in Lords of the Fallen, the titular Lords, are also pretty unoriginal. Mostly heavily armoured knights with shields, there are no bosses on the massive scale seen in the first Dark Souls. While there are different patterns and stages to their attacks, most boss fights are grindy and tedious.
Some of the game’s mechanics are poorly communicated. I was halfway through the game when I realised some walls could be broken by dashing into them while holding up your shield. The health potion replenishment system could be clearer as well; sometimes I’d have them all refilled when saving at a checkpoint and sometimes not. I later discovered this was regulated by how many enemies you killed between checkpoints; there might’ve been a tip explaining this, but if there was I missed it.
The story in Lords of the Fallen is much more transparent than those in the Souls series. There are dialogue trees and clear quest objectives. I had a much better idea of what my character was doing and where the story was going. That said, I didn’t necessarily know where I needed to go. I lost track of how many hours I spent backtracking, looking for that one door I hadn’t opened yet or struggling to find an obscure corridor. There aren’t that many different areas and some of them are ridiculous mazes with similar paths that blur together.
On a more positive note, Lords of the Fallen looks beautiful, with great lighting and animations; it’s definitely got Dark Souls 2 beat. However, my biggest gripe with the visuals is the inconsistent camera. Several times I found myself losing my character into first person mode by getting too close to a wall in combat.
Ultimately I enjoyed Lords of the Fallen; however, there isn’t as much replayability for me when compared to Dark Souls. You’re limited in character creation choices and there’s not that much difference between a cleric, a warrior, and a rogue. There are extra boss challenges that’ll reward you with a special weapon if you complete them but some of these are exceptionally difficult and don’t interest me that much.
I beat the game once in about 20 hours and then again in New Game+ in another 10 hours or so; I had a lot of fun playing through the first time but NG+ wasn’t that different. The combat kept me coming back but at a certain point the enemy scaling outpaced my own and I stopped having as much fun. The interminable backtracking also wore me down; there’s only so much time I want to spend running around a circular room.
Playing Lords of Fallen made me appreciate the Souls series even more; it’s been enough to whet my appetite for another Dark Souls 2 playthrough, and an attempt at the new DLC. I’m looking forward to Lords of the Fallen 2; hopefully Deck13 Interactive and CI Games will deliver a game with wider scope and more interesting bosses. Until then, there’s always the endless appeal of Dark Souls.Colin Le Sueur