When I first saw Lords of the Fallen at E3 I was hooked; I had to have more. Here is this crazy, heavily armored and rough-looking man named Harkyn that has a giant hammer and a big shiny shield trudging his way through a frozen landscape with snow and wind whipping around him. As he continues to push on the ground rumbles and this massive thing emerges and all this armored gentleman does is hunker down, raise his shield, and begin a battle. As more content about Lords of the Fallen was released, the more interested I became; utilizing a loose "class" system, you can choose between three different primary styles of play.
You can choose the stout warrior, a fighter of great constitution that stands fast and takes punishment with his giant shield and his longsword. There is the rogue-like character, nimble, lightly armored and armed to the teeth with fast blades. Finally there is the cleric, a holy warrior whose faith, shield and massive mace are his weapons against the demonic hoard that is ravaging the planet. Which of these classes will you assume as you work to save the world? Does Lords of the Fallen stand toe-to-toe with perhaps the best Action RPG of all time, Dark Souls II? Read on to learn more.
Lords of the Fallen is a gorgeous game with stunning volumetric lighting, a healthy dose of particles such as dust and weather patterns, and goodness the models are top notch. Take Harkyn's starting Cleric gear, the flowing cloak shows some wear but not so much to be ratty and torn; his pauldrons have these tassels that swing and sway when you move or when the wind blows (which it is blowing a lot in some areas) and the steel of his armor looks like it has seen better days. The battered steel and fading cloak are held together by well-used leather straps and the cloth that shows under the breastplate and pauldrons looks suitably used; and that is just the armor.
Harkyn's face is wonderfully rendered, showing scars, tattoos, spattering of blood and glistening with sweat; simply put his particular character model is one of the best that I have seen in a long time. The sheer amount of detail that CI Games put into Harkyn is stunning and helps set a tone for the modeling throughout the entire game. The NPC's that you encounter have had the same attention paid to them, giving them tattered robes, battered armor, or other realistic and believable aesthetics in a war-torn world. The demons though, there is a certain twisted beauty to a majority of them even though the basic fodder all look identical, the more powerful demons all look and feel a bit unique which helps create more of a personality for the demon's side as they do not seem to be simple clones of the same variety running at you (again, minus some of the basic fodder; those different units all look identical).
While the character models are all wonderfully animated and textured, the real winners are the different levels. Some of the different areas that you will be visiting will be some of the most atmospheric locations that you can find in a video game; I truly felt like I was a part of the world and could almost feel the wind slamming into me. CI Games managed to pull off some of the most atmospheric gaming I have experienced in years and I love it.
Music is moody yet forgettable; thinking about it I cannot recall any music that stood out. I do remember that a few times where the intensity and tone would change which is how I could tell that an event such as a mini-boss battle was about to play out, but beyond that the music, while not being a distraction or annoying, simply exists. On the other hand, sound effects and ambient audio are top notch, providing aural cues as to what is happening and if you play anything like I do, you will use those cues to help prepare yourself for what is ahead. I found myself listening intently for the telltale growls of the different Rhogar to see if I could determine from which angle they were approaching and then prepare myself for the oncoming onslaught.
Ambient audio, such as creaking floorboards, howling, winds, and distant yelling or screams are all over the place and help each area feel more alive as it gives them a nice depth that you will not find in many other games. The voice acting is adequate, being neither excellent nor terrible, the script is read in a rather monotone fashion which perfectly sums up the way all of the voice actors in Lords of the Fallen feel. Flat but not boring though each voice actor, with the exception of the female, sounds similar to the other male voice actors so there is no real variation to the voices unless you pick up one of the audio scrolls that are laying about. In all I was not overly impressed with the audio but I was not let down either and I can chalk it up to being a casual experience when I consider audio alone. A sense of urgency, given the story, would have been more appropriate than the blasé and rather bored tone of the current script-readers.
Music, sound effects, and graphics are only small portions of what makes up a game, though they are important in setting a moody and gritty environment for gameplay that matches those same tones byte for byte. I have heard and read a few times now that Lords of the Fallen is something akin to a "Dark Souls Lite" and while I can understand that sentiment, I do not know if it does Lords of the Fallen enough justice. Now, Dark Souls is an excellent game, and Dark Souls II is one of my favorite games of all time; Lords of the Fallen is an action RPG that is not very forgiving and I believe that is about where the similarities end.
Where Dark Souls was mysterious, dark, and made you work to understand what you were doing and why you were doing it, Lords of the Fallen has a more cohesive story with scrolls and other lore-based objects strewn throughout the dungeons, monasteries, and foreign lands that you will visit. Combat is fairly straightforward as well, as you have a dodge button, a light attack, heavy attack, block and parry button and a button for what passes as Lords of the Fallen's magic system.
Where I think some work needs to be done is in the magic system; more often than not I found myself foregoing the use of magic because it simply takes too long to do much of anything and does not last long enough to be of much benefits. As an example, it takes a solid 3 to 5 seconds for any spell to start up and another two or three seconds for it to complete; up to 8 seconds for a spell to 'fire' is a long time and no self-respecting Rhogar (the bad guys) will stop and wait for you to complete the spell as they will take it as a prime time to pound you into the ground, and pound you they will. You could simply start the spell before wading into combat but the spells only last a few moments and are good for about 10 to 15 seconds after it starts up; if you walk into a boss fight, by the time the "intro" of that boss is done your spell has fizzled away and there is simply no time to start them back up. While the different spells per 'class' are nice, the practical use is just not there and more often than not gamers will rely on shields and dodging to stay safe, not magic.
With plenty of loot, challenging mobs, difficult bosses and a detailed, if simple storyline, Lords of the Fallen is a fresh face in the emerging genre that is finding its home in unforgiving Western action RPG games. Gorgeous graphics, amazing ambient audio and engaging gameplay are offset by monotonous narration, a poor magic system, forgettable story and a handful of bugs (buttons would just stop working at times, or if the Volumetric Lighting option was turned on it would turn the entire screen white) but given the few of its faults, Lords of the Fallen is a solid addition to a growing style of games.
From the lack of a map to minimal resources like potions, Lords of the Fallen, while not as polished as the Dark Souls titles, is certainly worth the time and investment. Awaiting you is a decent tale of an ex-con turned war-time hero and an civilization's fight against overwhelming odds; I was hooked the moment I saw Lords of the Fallen at E3 and it paid off in every way possible.
Review by Robert