Lords of the Fallen - Review
Lords of the Fallen is the first in what will undoubtedly be a string of copycat Dark Souls games. No doubt some of these imitators will be good titles, perhaps even improving on what makes the 'Souls series so unique amongst modern big-budget games. Until we get there though we have to get through stuff like Lords of the Fallen.
If you've played Dark Souls then you've played Lords of the Fallen. Combat has a similar rhythm to it, focusing more on timing and positioning than it does on flashy attacks or button-mashing. A stamina bar keeps everything in check, with every offensive or defensive manoeuvre draining it, forcing you to carefully launch attacks at the right time and always ensure you've got enough energy left to block an enemy sword swipe or dodge an incoming blow.
In this respect Lords does a respectable enough job, even if it does manage to copy Dark Souls to the letter, with the control scheme, stats and level up system being almost identical. The game even adds a unique, and pretty effective, twist to the process of collecting experience points. Like with the 'Souls games, killing enemies rewards you with a number of experience points that can then be used to upgrade your stats. Dying will result in you losing all of your souls or points unless you get back to the location where you died and retrieve them. Lords of the Fallen adds one additional twist by adding a bonus to your experience depending on how long you've gone without cashing in what you've got, adding to the risk versus rewards dilemma that was already present within Dark Souls.
Magic is handled a little differently, and, overall, sucks out some of the depth that's present in the 'Souls' magic system. Here each of the three starting classes has a different set of four spells. The Warrior's naturally lends itself to attacking, the Solace school is more defence oriented and the Rogue-like set encourages a more evasive playstyle. It's serviceable but very little else and filled with some odd design choices; why, when casting magic, does the game shove a horrible drab-looking filter across the screen that lingers until the spell wears off?
Sadly, everything else about Lords of the Fallen is so utterly predictable that it fails to be at all interesting. If the gameplay does its best to ape Dark Souls then the visuals and tone instead draw straight from the Diablo handbook. Every place is dark and brooding, characters wield weapons adorned with about sixty skulls, and most enemies and locations look as if they belong on the front of a C-grade death metal album.
The story is also a complete throw away. It tries its hardest to mimic both Dark Souls and Diablo; forgetting that Dark Souls story-telling is incredibly subtle (and bolstered by an original art style), and that Diablo's is simply background chatter. In Lords of the Fallen's case we get talk of Rhogar, the game's Orc substitute, threatening to destroy the world and something about gods wanting to punish mankind. It's by-the-numbers dark fantasy in every way possible.
What's worse though is how this lack of creative ideas seeps into the level design. Unlike the story, this is something Lords of the Fallen desperately needed to get right and it frequently doesn't. Most areas consist of dull grey corridors filled with the same five enemy variants. The developers frequently bottleneck you into tight claustrophobic corridors but rather than feel oppressive or threatening it simply leads to twenty minutes of tedium as you slowly whittle away a monster's health bar because you're unable to get behind and backstab it. It also makes navigating some areas an incredible pain, given there's no map and every pathway seems to look the same.
The bosses fare slightly better and make for some decent enough encounters. Some of the later ones try their hardest to ramp up the difficulty but manage to do so in frustrating ways. A few simply "cheat" by having much faster recovery times from their attacks than your character does. Many also fall into the "giant humanoid with hand weapon" category that plagued parts of Dark Souls II, except it's much more noticeable here, considering there's only around ten bosses in the game total.
That's right, ten bosses. My save file clocked in at around five and half hours by the time I'd reached the final area. It's an incredibly short game, with not a whole lot to do outside of the main quest either. There's a handful of side missions dotted around but they're so obscure, never appearing in your objectives or pointing in their general direction. In a sense, this is to mimic the obscure nature of the 'Souls games, but here the lack of instructions explaining the side quests is likely going to mean you simply ignore them, especially when the reward for completing them is likely a piece of armour that you don't have the correct parameters to equip.
All of this ignores Lords of the Fallen's biggest flaw though, and that's the way it runs. It's genuinely shocking that a game was released in this state. Playing the PS4 version, I faced numerous glitches where my character would seize up, freeze, or otherwise fail to operate, resulting in my death. Meanwhile, the framerate is so woefully inconsistent that it actually makes the game harder, constantly jumping about despite the game, on the whole, not appearing to be all that demanding. The worst glitch however, came around three quarters of the way through my first playthrough, when the entire game decided to crash during an auto-save, corrupting my save file and forcing me to start the entire game again. I'm told that the game faces similar problems on both the Xbox One and the PC and it's a disgrace that the game still remains in such a bad state, even after a hefty day one patch.
Lords of the Fallen is a shoddy attempt at mimicking a much more successful series. It understands the core basics but fails to capture everything else that its inspiration does right. Dark Souls isn't good because its difficult, or even because of its combat system, it's the fact that it creates an incredibly original and well-realised game world and blends this with a deep and meaningful set of game mechanics. Lords tries to be the Western equivalent of Dark Souls, but instead comes across as a poor imitator that's frankly bereft of any interesting ideas or mechanics.
If you've bled the 'Souls series dry and are hankering after more of the same, maybe, just maybe, Lords of the Fallen will scratch that itch. In most cases though it's more likely to disappoint.
Lords of the Fallen was released October 28th for PC, Xbox and PS4.
This review is based on the PS4 version.
© 2014 LudoLogic