Lords of the Fallen seems to be proudly reveling in its honorary status as an accessible alternative to Dark Souls. But with Dark Souls 2 still holding people's attention with its DLC and vast gameplay experience, can Lords of the Fallen offer enough to attract newcomers or existing genre fans?
Focusing on animation priorities and deliberate paced action, comparisons with the Souls games are certainly justified. Trudging through the world you are still subject to bars that dictate your health, stamina, and magic, with careful management of all three required.
After a little more time with the Lords of the Fallen, however, and differences do begin to emerge. A more linear, objective based structure is one of these differences, but also it seems determined to have you go one on one with opponents.
Perversely, the only time it side steps this is during boss fights in which commanders seem willing to summon countless minions. These can infuriatingly pin you under their weight rather than letting you focus on the main danger at hand.
Like Dark Souls, dying leaves earned XP sat in the world. Here, however, once resurrected a timer starts to slowly reduce the redeemable experience, creating an interesting time pressure. On one occasion this had me trying to dash past a hulking, shield wielding knight to regain my lost XP. Unfortunately, my dash lead me to another feral looking creature and, with the knight chasing me, I was suddenly cornered. A quick death, and no lesson learned I found myself repeating the process, each time losing more of my precious XP.
Similar tiny alterations exist throughout Lords of the Fallen, all of which serve to mix things up just enough to keep it interesting for Dark Souls veterans.
Lords of the Fallen offers a vast range of weapons and armors to alter how Harkyn attacks and parries his way through the weighty combat. Plus, there are a few extra options, such as the different magics and a projectile blasting gauntlet, thrown in for good measure.
But, for each thing the combat does right there is always a small niggle to offset it. The most notably of these problems is that much of the game feels like it was designed with a mouse and keyboard in mind rather than a pad.
A mix of taps and holds exist for nearly every button in a way that feels cumbersome, especially when some of the pads buttons were left unused. Though this is probably something to do with my 300 hours with Dark Souls upsetting my muscle memory, you can’t model yourself so shamelessly on a game and not expect comparisons to be drawn.
Which is not to say that the WASD controls offer a significantly better option. Light attacks default to the right mouse button, while heavy attacks are bound to the E key. These, along with a dozen other command inputs, all feel manageable but ill thought through.
Technically Lords of the Fallen looks great on a good PC, though even with a powerful machine I still had to play around with some settings to get a good balance of looks and performance.
With grounded, oppressive gothic environments, filled with nightmarish horrors and hulking beasts, Lords of the Fallen is unrelenting in its dark atmosphere. The unfortunate side effect of this is that it all feels a bit repetitive and depressing. While Dark Souls would regularly alter its world, moving from sun soaked villages to dank swamps, Lords of the Fallen's castles and snow covered vistas are distinctly one note.
The character and creature designs all have an impressive weight to them that greatly influences the feel of play. You get the sense as you battle that each enemy's different resistances and combat style are rooted in their design rather than some arbitrary stat. From the fungus-like archers, to the massive arachnids that hide in the rafters, the variety of enemies you face is impressive, but does conform to a predictable look.
Harkyns back to Dark Souls
Lords of the Fallen tries (and fails) to go toe-to-toe with Dark Souls, but that should in no way to undermine the game's achievements. It is good alternative to a game that defined a genre and, while fans of the source material may at times struggle to adapt, newcomers might appreciate its slightly more forgiving difficulty and accessible rounded story.
I am happy to have Lords of the Fallen in my collection. While it may not be my first love, it makes a fine and attractive mistress that plays well.