Slowly creeping over the rubble through the hole I recently smashed into a crumbling wall, I hear a hiss from a darkened corner. Too late I realise my worst fear and watch helplessly as the four-legged spider-like Rhogar demon pounces, poisoning me. I die soon after and find myself back at a giant crystal, facing an all too familiar dilemma. Do I go back and try to recover my lost experience which is steadily fading away? Or do I try my luck elsewhere, vowing yet again to seek revenge when I am stronger? Moments like this will occur often In Lords Of The Fallen, a hardcore role playing game developed by City Interactive and Deck 13.
Lords Of The Fallen is a challenging game; survival against even the weakest of foes is not guaranteed. Even more so if you’re used to mainstream hack and slash affairs such as Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, and attempt to play Lords Of The Fallen in a similar fashion. Like the Dark Souls series, a more skilful approach is required. I was never able to get to grips with the Dark Souls games. The control scheme was one I could not get comfortable with, regardless of whether I tried using a controller or keyboard and mouse. With Lords Of The Fallen, however, I was soon able to settle into playing with a controller. There is a small trade-off between the control methods; certain actions, such as using potions or picking up lost experience points, are slower to perform on a controller. While dodging to the sides is far easier. It is also possible to use both methods simultaneously, for those cases where casting magic with the tap of a key is preferred. I did find that the shield bash move remained difficult to perform regardless of the control method, as did jumping.
While there are few on-screen prompts, these will display the buttons or keys to press based on the control method you used last. Such prompts appear most during the limited tutorial. But many were only displayed for a few seconds or were accidentally dismissed during a battle. This required me to either try and replay the tutorial (only possible by starting a new game) or to take a screenshot of them with Steam’s screenshot function. Other then these messages and a short reminder of your current goal, there is very little hand-holding in Lords Of The Fallen. By the time I reached later stages of the game, I was often becoming lost when first encountering a new area. There is always a sense of danger when entering an unexplored region. Enemies could be lurking anywhere, waiting to ambush those who are not careful. Bite off more than you can handle and death will be waiting. Dying causes you to drop any experience points you are carrying and will warp you back to the last used checkpoint crystal. Most foes will be respawned at this point too.
Checkpoints refill up to four potions and allow you to level up by banking experience. Magic and physical stats are leveled up separately by choosing which to put experience towards. Any amount of points can be banked at a time. Until you lose these points, ether by banking, spending, or death, they will also be applied towards a multiplier for subsequent kills. This gives the player the choice of risking points in order to earn even more experience faster. Once the blacksmith is met, experience can be used to gamble for better sealed shard unlocks. These shards can be used to enhance equipment. There is a range of consumable items in addition to sealed shards. The ones I found to be most useful (and rare) were the ghost shard for retrieving dropped experience immediately, and the attribute point shards for leveling up faster. Unfortunately, checkpoints do not allow for optional fast travel.
At the start of a new game, the player is prompted to choose a magic type and the starting equipment set for their character, Harkyn. Each magic type offers four spells. The first in each focuses on distracting foes with a stationary target while recovering a specific player attribute; health for Brawling, magic for Solace, and energy for Deception. The tiny amount of health recovery with Brawling provides a slight helping hand for those who like to recover lost health between fights; but this does take considerable time. Stab found in the Deception set of spells turned out to be highly useful.
As its name suggests, it’s capable of inflicting heavy amounts of damage to some enemies and can kill others outright. Although it is not possible to change a magic tree later in the game, upon completion there is the option of playing over in a New Game + mode. This can be done twice and each time a new spell tree can be selected, thus by the third time through, the player will have access to all spells. By selecting the Deception spells for my first play-through, I found Lords Of The Fallen to be fairly accessible even with my limited ability as a player. Upon discovering the Gauntlet, an item that provides a selection of ranged attack modes, I started to gain even more confidence in my ability to make progress.
Like many role playing games, Lords Of The Fallen has its fair share of bosses. The first of which is met as part of the tutorial area. These fights can be very frustrating but there is a really good sense of satisfaction when finally defeating them. One such encounter was particularly challenging, requiring the use of the environment in order to survive certain attacks. Managing to meet specific criteria in each boss fight rewards the player with a special loot drop. Once defeated bosses do not respawn. Although similar enemies may be found wandering around in other stages, these too appear to only spawn once, being replaced by other foes. Being a role playing game, Lords Of The Fallen does feature some interaction with other characters, but this is very limited often only really giving the player on choice on how such meetings play out.
The clunking and clanging of weapons, heavy breaths and grunts when exerted, along with the shrieking of Rhogar, provide a fitting audio accompaniment for the gameplay. Visually, Lords Of The Fallen is stunning. Even on my mid-range hardware it features a beautiful range of lighting effects. While there was some significant slow down when I first played the game, during the transition from the opening cut-scene. That was absent the next time I started a new character. During play, I had consistently high frame rates. However, texture pop-in has been very noticeable in some areas, especially around doors when first leaving the Citadel.
More jarring though is the clipping of certain weapons through cloaks. The camera can also be frustrating; objects do not turn transparent when they are between you and Harkyn. This can often lead to being trapped in a corner, unable to see an attacking enemy. I have died several times in such situations. Enemies have also become stuck on the scenery, only becoming free when you reposition yourself. While my time with Lords Of The Fallen has been mostly stable, I did have a crash to the desktop during third boss fight.
Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?
Lords Of The Fallen is a slightly more accessible Dark Souls style game. While there is a certain level of difficulty as a result, I consider Lords Of The Fallen to be a good single player focused entry point into the hardcore RPG. However, it would be nice to see City Interactive provide a helping hand to those still significantly challenged, through the addition of optional DLC such as more potions, or better armor and weapons to help with bosses.