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Lords of the Fallen

Score: 80%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: BANDAI NAMCO Games America, Inc.
Developer: CI Games
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: RPG/ Action

Graphics & Sound:

Iím an extremely patient man, but Iím not always the most patient gamer. So while I adore the Souls series, I find myself extremely resentful of certain aspects of it. What I take issue with the most is the brick wall of inaccessibility; for all of From Softwareís talent with designing extremely deep gameplay systems, they sure donít like to explain them very much. So thatís why Iím grateful for games like Lords of the Fallen. If youíre the kind of person whoís wanted to love the Souls series for the longest time, yet could not find a way to penetrate its armor-tough skin, this might be the game you never knew you wanted.

Unfriendly. Thatís the word I would choose to describe Lords of the Fallenís visual style. Of course, given the genre it belongs to, that should come as no surprise. The world of Lords of the Fallen is rife with religious imagery; the citadels with all their symbols and talismans try to act as a counterpoint to the unforgiving environment that surrounds them. Itís almost as if you can actually see the life force engaged in a futile attempt at pushing back at a world that is equal parts indifferent and oppressive. Main character Harkyn is a thoroughly ugly human being. His joyless Viking mug is blemished by runes signifying the multitude of sins he has committed, and his massive bulk is carried with a purpose thatís as just as grim. He and the rest of the characters (enemy and friend alike) animate beautifully; a must for games of this type. Like in the Souls games, you will need to become familiar with each attack animation down to the frame; otherwise, youíll never pinpoint the correct windows of attack or be able to evade the punishing onslaught of your enemies. Technically, Lords of the Fallen could have done with a bit more polish; the frame rate is not locked down, and while it never plummets to Blighttown levels, it can get a bit janky.

Lords of the Fallen maintains its despairing aesthetics with sound design that reflects them perfectly. The soundtrack is pure gothic horror from start to finish, and it quiets down a bit, the ambiance fills in the gaps quite nicely. Voice acting is serviceable, with gruff European accents giving the otherwise lifeless world a handsome helping of color. Finally, the otherworldly guardians from the Rhogar world sound like the faceless evil entities that they are.


Gameplay:

Storytelling is the primary point where Lords of the Fallen divorces itself from the notion of being "Dark Souls but easier." Souls games tend to shroud themselves in their own mysteries, which can be uncovered through careful exploration and observation of the game world. Lords of the Fallen opts for a more traditional approach. You donít get to create a character; instead you are cast as Harkyn, a criminal with a barbaric past. Along with your mentor/steward Kaslo, you venture forth to do battle with an unholy scourge from another dimension, and hopefully, redeem yourself. Itís a decent fantasy yarn, albeit one thatís poorly put together. The first half spends an unhealthy amount of time meandering; so much to the point where you might be tempted to sit back and just let the world tell its own story. But it eventually comes into its own.

Lords of the Fallen, like its inspiration, is a behind-the-back action role-playing game that pits you (as Harkyn) up against a series of increasingly difficult enemies as he explores the devastation of the world he inhabits. There are secrets everywhere, many of which offer rewards such as loot or even insight into what makes the world tick. But the evil that infests Harkynís world is out to kill, and it doesnít really care who it must quench its bloodlust on.

So Harkyn is inevitably drawn into battle with these eldritch abominations. And like in Dark Souls, combat in Lords of the Fallen is a thing of calculation, of preciseness. It has weight. Power. Consequences. Thereís a distinct rhythm to the deadly proceedings, and learning how to dance to the step of each Rhogar is perhaps the gameís greatest joy. That glorious moment when you sneak in the attack and pull away at just the right moment is difficult to replicate, but developers CI Games and Deck13 have managed to do so often and with great success.


Difficulty:

Lords of the Fallen is probably the easiest game of its kind, but that doesnít mean itís a walk in the park. You will die, make no mistake. But death, as always, is an implement of education; a way to help you correct mistakes. Enemies hit hard, but you wonít find yourself one-shotted very often; a very common occurrence in Dark Souls.

However, you will absolutely need to leverage your own abilities in accordance with each enemy encounter, lest you find yourself losing time and experience. Aggro management is a must. Itís tempting to finish off weaker enemies immediately, but in games like these, you canít leave anything to chance. You must be capable of formulating an attack plan and an escape plan on the fly, and youíll need to execute both perfectly if you hope to survive long enough to put your experience to good use.


Game Mechanics:

First things first: there are a few choices that must be made before venturing forth to fulfill Harkyn's destiny, and all of them have to do with what kind of combatant he is. You must choose a magic scheme and pick your class. There are three of each, but regardless of which ones you choose, you're bound to have a balanced experience that is different each time you start a new game.

The three magic types are Brawling, Deception, and Solace. You probably have a good idea what to expect just from the names alone. Brawling magic is offensive in nature; from damage buffs to devastating area of effect attacks and even a near-suicidal ram attack; Brawling spells are intended for aggressive players. Deception magic allows Harkyn to shift the world around him in an attempt to gain the advantage over his enemies. For example, he can go into a fully cloaked stealth mode by casting Shift, or he can summon an ethereal cutthroat to dash out of nowhere and deliver a powerful strike. Solace magic is for the defensive player who wants to make the conditions for attack perfect and relatively risk-free. So defensive buffs, attacks with status effects (fear, slow, etc.), and an instant reprisal ability are the hallmarks of the Solace mage. Common to all three magic types is Prayer, an ability that allows Harkyn to create an ethereal motionless clone to draw aggro and, depending on what kind of mage you are, regenerate health, energy, or magic.

Governing Harkyn's equipment aptitudes is the class you choose from the outset. Warriors are capable of donning heavy armor and wielding a sword and shield combo. Rogues lie on the opposite end of the spectrum, opting for the mobility afforded by light armor and daggers. Clerics lie somewhere in between the two, bestowing the ability to wear medium armor while wielding hammers.

Mechanically, Lords of the Fallen has more than just a touch of Souls DNA. Youíve got your heavy and light attacks, as well as a handy lock-on mechanic for all the circling youíll end up doing.

Harkynís experience accumulates as he kills Rhogar. If he dies, he drops all of his experience on the spot. But if he returns to it before dying again, he can reclaim it. Sound familiar? Of course it does, but hereís where it changes a bit: if he reaches one of several red shards littered around the world, Harkyn can invest his experience into one of two pools. One dictates his magical abilities and another his physical abilities. By investing Harkyn's experience in each pool, you can earn Spell and Attribute points, which ultimately improve his effectiveness in combat via swinging melee weapons around or using magic.

Experience carries with it a risk/reward dynamic: you see, each time Harkyn kills an enemy, his experience multiplier increases. And the more unspent experience he has on his person, the higher the likelihood is that higher quality items will drop.

Regardless of how you played Dark Souls and Dark Souls II, you're going to have to learn to be a jack of many trades in Lords of the Fallen. And you'll want to: the magic, melee, and defense create a synergistic triangle. Everything feels like its in its right place, and if you develop a balanced character, you'll never feel like you're missing the right tool to advance forward.

Lords of the Fallen is one of those special dark horse titles that show up with very little fanfare and quietly surprise those who are paying attention. I'm among that number; this is a very good game that should be played by as many people as possible. It might not be as punishing as Dark Souls, and as a result, it may lack the prestige associated with its inspiration, but if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, From Software should be blushing.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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