Posted on November 4, 2014, Mitchell Saltzman Lords of the Fallen Review: Kindred Souls
Lords of the Fallen is a game that is unapologetically similar to the Souls series, particularly Dark Souls.
It is an action RPG with a slow and methodical approach to combat, it takes place in an interconnected open world that is broken up by checkpoints that restore the player’s health potions, and it features a death mechanic involving players dropping their experience at the point of their death, where it must be recovered or lost forever.
This similarity in design not inherently a bad thing — I love the Souls series and think it is fantastic that other game developers are trying their hand at the unique sub-genre of action RPG that From Software has helped to pioneer.
Lords of the Fallen has some great ideas that it adds to the mix as well, most of which build upon the core idea of risk vs reward. Unfortunately, those great ideas are often at odds with certain design decisions made to make Lords of the Fallen more accessible than the games that inspired it, leading to a game that seems to suffer from a bit of an identity crisis.
Lords of the Fallen
Platform: PC (Reviewed), PS4, Xbox One
Developer: CI Games and Deck13 Interactive
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Release Date: October 28, 2014
In Lords of the Fallen, players take control of Harkyn, a criminal whose many sins are forever tattooed upon his face as a reminder to all of his crimes. Well, a reminder to everyone but us. We never learn about Harkyn’s crimes, his past, or really anything about him. There’s a great missed opportunity to make Harkyn an interesting character by putting in some flashbacks highlighting what some of the symbols mean, what crimes he committed to earn them, and whether he was just in his actions. But instead, Harkyn is not much more than a gravelly voice in a muscular and armored up shell that can be either a jerk or a saint depending on the player’s arbitrary choices.
The actual lore of the world doesn’t fare much better, relying on audio logs to tell its story. But the problem is that these audio logs are typically poorly placed. Sometimes they’re placed right before a fight against an enemy, which makes it so you can’t concentrate on what’s being said. Or they’re even placed right before a cutscene, which will immediately cut off the audio log.
Add in a few throwaway and stereotypical NPC’s and a plot twist that could be seen coming from a mile away and you can see that Lords of the Fallen’s story has some issues.
But the star of Lords of the Fallen isn’t Harkyn or the story, it’s the combat. Taking several pages out of From Software’s playbook, combat in Lords of the Fallen feels very similar to the combat from Demon’s and Dark Souls. Light attacks are mapped to the right bumper, heavy attacks on the right trigger, and your shield on the left bumper. Every action that you perform drains your stamina, whether it be an attack, block, roll, or sprint, so stamina management is crucial to your survival.
The big difference is that Lords of the Fallen feels much weightier than any of the Souls games ever did. Most attacks have a significant windup and feel appropriately devastating when they hit with a satisfying bone crunching sound effect. This carries over to enemies as well, who also attack with a little more wind up and a little less ferocity than you might be used to if you’re coming off of the Souls games.
To compensate for the slower attacks of your enemies, rolling out of the way is much less effective. There’s very little invulnerability offered when you perform an evasive roll, meaning you’ll usually get hit while in the middle of it. And unless you’ve got light armor and a small weapon, you probably won’t be able to counter-attack very effectively either.
So shields quickly become very important in Lords of the Fallen. There are three different types of shields, each aimed towards a different combat focus. Bucklers are meant for agility based classes and offer very little defense, but give the unique ability to parry and riposte enemy attacks. The slower attacks of enemies and a generous timing window, combined with the large bonus to critical damage that most agility weapons offer, do a great job of making bucklers a viable option for dealing with large enemies with giant shields.
Kite shields have the relatively useless ability to shield bash an enemy, but they do offer good protection without weighing down your character too substantially. Tower shields are gigantic and heavy shields that grant Harkyn the unique ability to plant the shield into the ground and brace behind it to mitigate the damage from an otherwise devastating strike.
Another important aspect about shields that the game neglects to teach you until much later, is the ability to shield charge. This can be done with all shields by running and then holding down the left bumper to bring up your shield. Shield charges can knock down or stagger enemies, making this one of the very few effective ways of dealing with the aforementioned large enemies with giant shields.