Dark Souls hasn’t had much competition in the industry, because trying to compare to such a niche title would be the ultimate challenge. Lords of the Fallen has a lot of ambitious ideas and concepts that its comparative does not, but does Lords have what it takes to differentiate itself or will it be the first clone attempt?
The former prisoner Harkyn finds himself freed from his shackles in a time of pure chaos. He learned from the jailer who released him, Kaslo, that he is the only person capable of fending off the Rhogar invasion. From here, Harkyn meets other survivors and faces many different types of monsters and bosses that make up the invasion, and it’s his job to stop the Rhogar from infiltrating the human realm.
Throughout the game, there is a constant on-screen reminder of what needs to be completed next, but Lords doesn’t feature a map to help get around. Without a map, navigating requires trial and error as well as a good memory. However, this type of mentality caters to an explorative mind, as every nook and cranny holds enemies, prizes, treasure chests, and collectible notes that detail scenarios of others struggling through the Rhogar invasion. While a game like this will bring in a specific fan base, the lack of a map doesn’t necessarily welcome newcomers easily, especially since the on-screen reminder uses specific area names, resulting in a lot of backtracking.
Right from the offset, the game’s sound effects are pretty good. While the soundtrack accompanies the game’s changing pace, the voice acting is delivered in a peculiar way. Generally, all voice actors sound like they were recorded in a sound-reverberating room or through a helmet, and there were only a few times when those voiced characters were actually wearing helmets or in an enclosed space. At other times, the events going on around Harkyn end up drowning out what’s being said, making the already lackluster voice acting almost disappear.
The visual style, on the other hand, has a very intriguing aesthetic that looks as realistic and vivid as it does artsy. A few discrepancies, jagged edges, and pixelated textures are still present occasionally throughout the game, but the general look of the game is unifying in the sense that breakables don’t appear any different or brighter than their pre-rendered surroundings. Overall, the graphics play well to create the morbid and diversified ambiance—from snowy, dead locales to cramped, dank dungeons and cave—that the Rhogar invasion has exacted on the world.
Lords of the Fallen takes a unique stance on character creation. Instead of giving complete reign over traditional character types, the character is determined by two encompassing choices: Magic Type and Equipment. For Magic types, there’s Deception, which uses decoys and passive damage against enemies; Solace, which heals and fortifies defenses; and Brawling, which uses physical force to damage enemies. After one of them is chosen, it is combined with an Equipment type between Warrior, Cleric, or Rogue to make a class specific to each combination. When coupling the Equipment types to their similar Magic, they result in Warrior, Cleric, and Rogue classes (Warrior with Brawling, Cleric with Solace, and Rogue with Deception, respectively). This leaves two other options for each Equipment type to fit, ranging from Paladins to Rangers to Executioners. There are a lot of options available, but the real differences are only in which abilities are available.
Since all classes can essentially use every type of weapon (except for the heaviest ones), the weapons aren’t exactly as important as the abilities. Bosses featured throughout the game will require different strategies along the way, so the ability to use different weapons whenever possible is perfect in these circumstances. Through my experiences, weapons were more relative to bosses than abilities were, but abilities helped to even out the playing field overall.
With bosses on the brain, they were a mixed bag. At times, they were beyond frustrating while at other times they were simplistic. The one consistency, after the first boss, is that it takes a few deaths to finally figure out how to beat each one. This aspect of the game makes the entire experience challenging. However, some of the bosses along the way can be beaten with simple exploit strategies, which makes the learning process feel unjustified. Not all bosses feel this way, but each boss’ strategy requires a different use of weapons and abilities, even if the strategies aren’t always fulfilling.
Weapons and equipment can be found through the game as well as crafted at the blacksmith, and the blacksmith can forge existing gear into better ones by attaching to them runes that can be found almost anywhere in the game. Customizing weapons isn’t necessarily diverse or game changing, but it does help to make some of the more specialized classes balance out their weaknesses without having to wear heavier gear that’ll slow Harkyn down in combat.
The elephant in the room is none other than the Dark Souls franchise. With so many similarities here, Lords of the Fallen will receive clone accusations to the challenging series, but it does a few things that Dark Souls doesn’t. For one, it averages out challenge and progress a bit better for the average player. While bosses will have their frustrations in Lords, they’re not as impenetrable as those in Souls. Outside of nitpicking, the big difference really is in how much damage each enemy does. Dark Souls aficionados will know that any given monster on any given day will have the ability to ruin said day. While Lords holds a similar premise, it allows more damage to be taken in order to help cater against the learning curve. Equally so, health potions are refreshed when accessing a checkpoint, already making the experience easier. Ultimately, there is still plenty of challenge here, but Lords grants more chances to learn rather than be defeated, which is a nice change of pace.
Lords of the Fallen is a good adaptation to a very centralized niche, and with a little more work, Lords has the chance to make this challenging genre more accessible to a wider range of players without losing the genre’s integrity.