Lords of the Fallen hands-on preview: brutally satisfying

Lords of the Fallen may cast you in the role of a grizzly, muscular warrior armed with a massive blade, but don’t let that fool you: CI Games’ hack-’n-slash is a brutal romp that looks to the likes of Dark Souls for its inspiration, as opposed to the fluid, fast-paced sword wizardry of Devil May Cry.

As you would expect, Lords of the Fallen comes equipped with a palpable sense of customization, with gamers able to select from three distinct classes: warrior, rogue, and cleric. To complement your chosen class, you can plump for three magic skills, namely brawling, deception, and solace. 

During our hands-on last week—which took place in a dimly-lit club kitted out like a medieval dining hall—we opted for the warrior class and equipped the brawling magic skill, which complemented our play-style ideally. After having a chinwag with an aging accomplice, we were quickly introduced to the game’s combat system, which saw us taking on a hulking, armored warrior before venturing deeper into the castle’s twisting halls in search of a key item.

Lords of the Fallen’s combat is lumbering and methodical, but never dull. Hitting R1 offers a quick slash, while R2 charges a more powerful blow, which comes in handy against boss creatures. Like Dark Souls, combat is more focused on timing rather than finesse; enemies must be carefully observed in order for you to exploit their weaknesses and openings, allowing you to counterattack where appropriate. Likewise, foes will also try to find chinks in your armor, so to speak, forcing you to adopt a more defensive stance as much as going on the offensive. 

While Dark Souls did this three years ago, it doesn’t detract from the fact Lords of the Fallen is as mechanically solid as its contemporaries. Furthermore, CI’s effort differentiates itself by being notably less punishing; you can make a mistake here and not end up a blood-splattered mess on the ground, though concurrently, there’s still a strategic undercurrent to all enemy encounters. Don’t expect its more forgiving nature to allow you to button-mash your way through the game. 

Character development is of paramount importance to Lords of the Fallen, as we quickly discovered. As you progress, you’ll accumulate XP, which can then be fed into an upgrade system at various points throughout each location. If you horde enough, you can raise attribute points, allowing you to steadily increase areas such as health, weapon damage, and other such crucial skills. The same can be said of spell points. We didn’t see the long-term effects of developing our character, but with so much to tinker with, it’s clear Lords of the Fallen is a game to invest your character in. Armor can also be equipped to change damage, power, energy and weight attributes, the latter being particularly important, as if you’re wearing too much, you’ll find yourself at a disadvantage against more nimble adversaries. Conversely, if you wear little, you’ll render yourself more vulnerable to attacks, but will be far more maneuverable as a result. 

We encountered two hulking bosses during our play test: The Warden and The Commander. Both proved a true test of not only skill, but patience, as you wait for your foe to make subtle errors before chipping away at their health. The solid visuals also help to accentuate each enemy’s—known as the Rhogar— individual traits, be it armored behemoths capable of chopping you to pieces in just a few hits, to grotesque, lizard-esque beasts that swarm their prey and work in packs. The medieval tone is apparent throughout, offering some superb eye candy, despite the occasionally choppy frame rate.

Packing all the tactically-rewarding combat of the Dark Souls series, combined with stunning environments and solid aesthetics, Lords of the Fallen is shaping up to be a brutally satisfying hack-’n-slash romp when it hits stores later this month.