It might have been clear from my review of Fenix Rage, but I’m not really into “masocore” games – the kind where you die over and over again as you gradually perfect a level. I prefer a more gradual difficulty progression so I feel like I’m accomplishing something in the limited time I’ve got to play games. There’s one exception, though: I love Dark Souls. I love it too much, really. Dark Souls is the masocore game of the RPG world; it will stomp you flat until you learn every trick in the book for survival. Naturally, when I heard that Lords of the Fallen was going to be a “homage,” “spiritual successor” or “ripoff” of Dark Souls (take your pick) I had to give it a shot.
And it is! It’s so much like Dark Souls that they use several of the same game systems and even some of the same terminology. It’s almost lawsuit-worthy, really. Lords of the Fallen casts you as Harkyn, a criminal freed by the monk Kaslo to help him defeat an inter-dimensional invasion by the evil Rhogar and their titular Lords. Given that you always play Harkyn, you can’t actually customize your character beyond his initial gear and magic choice. It’s a little disappointing, especially since regardless of your choices Harkyn is your traditional enormous skull-crushing machismo engine and as such isn’t a very interesting character.
Though they look and play in a similar manner, Lords of the Fallen can’t help but feel a lot more “discount” than Dark Souls. The biggest offender here is the degree to which your build choice can affect the difficulty of your playthrough. There’s two main builds: agility-based and strength-based. Agility-based characters wield light weapons and armor and focus on avoiding attacks; they generally have a rough time on par with the Souls games. Strength-based characters, on the other hand, wield the heaviest gear and after the first few hours can absolutely crush any challenge the game has to offer. A Faith-based character is a third option, but Faith-based gear wasn’t as readily available in my experience and magic isn’t especially useful so this would also be a difficult choice.
The problem is that the degree of damage mitigation offered by heavy armor in Lords of the Fallen is obscene compared to what you see in Souls. While in Souls, loading up with the heaviest gear available might afford you another two or three hits while severely curtailing your mobility, heavy armor in Lords of the Fallen renders you extremely difficult to damage and vastly improves your survivability. It’s possible for strength-based characters to simply sit and “facetank” many of the bosses. Trying that in Souls is just asking to get murdered. Strength weapons are also especially damaging, particularly the heavier two-handed options that preclude the use of a shield. The heavier armor blocks enough damage that shields are unnecessary, though, so there’s not much reason not to use these.
The fact that the game lacks online play contributes to this as well. While in Souls it’s important to moderate your leveling so you don’t accidentally encourage high-level players to invade you and kill you dead, that’s not an issue in Lords of the Fallen. Careful play can allow you to increase your experience multiplier to crazy levels, making it easy to gain tons of attribute and spell points. This, again, is especially the case for strength-based characters who are very difficult to kill and will find it easier to survive for long periods. Level grinding can make tough bosses much more manageable…while in Souls, only skillful play can do that.
Finally, the enemy AI contributes to making this a much less difficult experience than the Souls games. Bosses, almost without exception, have massive amounts of “downtime” between attacks, allowing you to get in and pound away without fear of retribution. While their elaborate animations look amazing, they leave your foes wide open. Enemies are certainly intimidating but they rapidly become less dangerous as you find the gaping holes in their guard. Given that the Souls games are known for making you work for every hit you can sneak in, it’s a little disappointing that this isn’t the case here.
So, in general, Lords of the Fallen is much easier than any of the Souls games. Players looking for another crushingly difficult experience are likely to be disappointed; while the first few hours are difficult, it rapidly lets up once you’ve gotten the hang of the controls and how enemies work. That doesn’t mean this is a bad game. There’s a variety of gear to collect with varying effects and interesting descriptions to read, the plot – while not exactly innovative – is engaging enough and the environments are plenty of fun to explore. This just isn’t on par with Souls in terms of how difficult or well-tuned the gameplay is. It feels that way at first, but closer inspection reveals that there’s plenty of unfortunate flaws.
Graphically, Lords of the Fallen is a treat…sometimes. In my experience this is a pretty buggy game, so there’s plenty of muddled textures and bizarre physics glitches between the gorgeous set pieces and intense (for an agility-based character) boss battles. You should also expect the odd crash, though with any luck there’ll be some patching to fix this, and the game is relatively poorly optimized so even more powerful gaming PCs are going to run into some stuttering. Audio is acceptable if standard, with the highlights being the boss battles.
If you go into Lords of the Fallen expecting to get Dark Souls 3 you’re going to be disappointed. There’s not even a qualifier there. If, instead, you’re after a solid RPG experience on par with Gothic or Risen then you’re going to have a good time here. Those of us who are cool with that will get their money’s worth out of Lords of the Fallen. Everyone else might want to wait for next year’s Bloodborne.