For the sake of argument, let’s say you love the dark fantasy feel of the Dark Souls games, but you find the difficulty too overwhelming. You wish such adventures were a bit more accessible. You wish another developer would adopt a similar theme and tone, but provide you with a quest that doesn’t seem tailored toward masochists. Then you need to try out Lords of the Fallen , a solid action adventure that tries to straddle the line between challenging and simple entertainment. It’s just not as polished as From Software’s productions.
Graphically, the game excels in the realm of atmosphere and ambiance. It’s not so much the detail or scope of the game that grabs your attention; it’s the deep fantastical style that permeates to the core. Everything, from allies to enemies to your environment, seems to have this otherworldly, supernatural aura, and this provides the player with an immersive landscape. The visuals can feel a little repetitive and uninspired; simply due to the multitude of shadowy corridors you traverse. However, if you gravitate toward this type of atmosphere, you won’t mind in the least.
The sound stays true to the developer’s vision as well. The protagonist’s gruff, gravelly voice fits the situation perfectly, and the haunting orchestral score adds the appropriate sensations. There’s nothing particularly special about the voice performances, soundtrack, or effects, but they all work together to mold a cohesive, formidable style that remains consistent. It’s a great game to play with a decent set of headphones, because you’ll appreciate the ambient audio that continues to draw you into the experience. Overall, the technical presentation is the epitome of “greater than the sum of its parts.”
You play as Harkyn, a powerful warrior who doesn’t take a Dante-like delight in slaying demons and monsters. In fact, he’s sort of forced into his role as fighter and protector and as such, he comes across as an almost indifferent – yet strangely forceful – character. Unfortunately, the writers don’t do much with Harkyn and for the record, they don’t do much with the storyline, either. Lords of the Fallen doesn’t aspire to the lore-driven literary heights achieved by From Software’s team, but that’s okay. While we don’t get a particularly engaging plot and the characters fall shy, the gameplay is worthy of your time.
Above all else, this world is dark and deadly. It’s a vision of combat hell, where only the strong survive, and the meek are instantly swallowed by a rapidly spreading evil. Whether you meet your ultimate demise at the hands of a horrid creature, or you simply succumb to the murky, poisonous air, a regular ol’ human wouldn’t last long here. Now, what I don’t quite understand is why the developers decided to hide much of this extremely effective world. I’m not asking for a big open-world structure, but we just spend way too much time working our way through cramped spaces. You can’t appreciate your environment that way.
Despite this drawback, the atmosphere is so wildly oppressive that you’ll still feel the taint of this infested, infected realm. This adventure will last you 15-20 hours, although there’s more fun to be had if you take your time and explore. Yes, you can explore a bit more as the game progresses; those cramped areas open up and give you more freedom. Above all else, though, the combat is the overriding focal point. You’ll swing an axe or a sword, dodge incoming attacks, and utilize special magic that can devastate even the most dangerous opponents. When your energy begins to fall, you won’t have access to certain skills and that’s when you’ll be vulnerable. Plus, you need to understand your weapons and standard movement speed before you really start to master the fighting.
It’s definitely easier than any Dark Souls game but it’s not quite as bleak and foreboding. It errs on the side of gaudy fantasy, with huge, flashy pieces of armor and weapons that three men would have difficulty hefting. It focuses on the power of the main character as opposed to the weakness, and this I like. I really don’t get much entertainment out of games where the protagonist is woefully underpowered and overmatched. I understand the attraction, of course, but it’s not for me. That’s why I enjoyed Lords of the Fallen ; I happen to like being a super powerful bad-ass. So sue me.
This would’ve been enough to satisfy me, if only the game didn’t suffer from a variety of small problems. For instance, the targeting system is loose and iffy, the free-roving camera isn’t always your best friend, and it’s all too easy to get lost in the myriad of darkened corridors and pathways. Each of these corridors seems connected to a different part of the realm but until you find that connection, you feel like you’re caught in a maze. This is when the repetitiveness of the visuals starts to become more noticeable, and you start to wonder how often you’ve backtracked. The control just isn’t refined enough and the world design is questionable.
That’s unfortunate because this game has a kernel of excellence. It seems to combine the fun factor in Darksiders with the brutality of Dark Souls and for the most part, it succeeds. I think the developers just needed a bit more time (and perhaps a bigger budget). Bosses are properly formidable but not too difficult to dispatch, and the difficulty curve and pacing are definite highlights. It’s also interesting to make certain game-altering decisions within the classic Good vs. Evil milieu, because it adds a much-needed dimension to a game that thrives almost entirely on its ambiance and combat. As I say, there are undeniable sparks of greatness throughout.
It’s one of those games that strives to be boldly entertaining, to empower the player and make him feel like the lord of all creation. Thing is, even if you’re a powerful character, you’re not invulnerable, and I think the developers do a good job maintaining the balance. The game simply falls shy of expectations due to a lack of mechanics refinement and a scope that is admittedly narrow. There isn’t much to talk about beyond the fighting and atmosphere, as the story disappoints and the extra stuff is minimal. Still, if you’re looking for a decent challenge in the same vein as Dark Souls , but without the crazy stiff difficulty, you should try it.
I really want to love Lords of the Fallen . Being a big fan of Darksiders II and appreciating the mystical, forbidding darkness of the Dark Souls games, it really appeals to me. But there are issues I just can’t ignore and the more I play, the more I realize I can’t, in good conscience, gloss over them. It needed a bit more time to cook and perhaps more testing, as the game isn’t perfectly stable and those mechanics needed some tweaking. That all being said, I will heartily recommend it to those who love extremely dark auras, and gamers who like a more balanced – albeit less polished – fantasy adventure.
The Good: Great atmosphere from top to bottom. Sound fits the dark, even hellish, tone. Combat has the appropriate weight and is often rewarding. Fun without being brutally difficult. Character progression is well done.
The Bad: Story and characters are uninteresting. Questionable level design. Some mechanics (targeting and camera) needed more refinement.
The Ugly: “In games like this, ‘ugly’ is somehow beautiful.”