Being a game journalist is odd at times. If you haven't noticed, USgamer is a small team, so occasionally we'll cover games that aren't in our sphere of interest. When an appointment to see City Interactive and Deck13's Lords of the Fallen popped up, I did a quick Google search to see what the game was about. Everyone said the same thing based on its debut at E3.
"The gameplay is said to be a mixture of Dark Souls and Borderlands," said OXM.
"Lords of the Fallen is being described as much more akin to Dark Souls," said Forbes.
"From what we saw, the enemies seem to be just a difficult, if not a little bit more tough to defeat than those in Dark Souls," says the Examiner.
I hated Dark Souls. In the future, I may return to the title and it give another chance; more likely, I'll play its sequel. Dark Souls is not a game that suffers the weak. Right from the beginning, the game throws difficult situations your way and laughs at your many deaths. I'm quite sure that there are players out there who love that challenge. Players who thrive on climbing that particular mountain; Dark Souls has a thriving community that stands as a testament to that idea. Young Mike probably would've enjoyed it, but I don't have that kind of time anymore. It's just not my jam.
So, color me surprised when I came out of this hands-off demo intrigued by Lords of the Fallen. In fact, the game reminds me less of Dark Souls, and more of another "Lords of" title: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. Combat is more difficult and methodical, sure, but if I had to pick an analog, it'd be that title.
Lords of the Fallen producer and former Witcher 2 producer Tomasz Gop leads the demo and before he can even begin talking about the game, I interrupt him with a question.
"Is your hero supposed to look like Jeff Bridges?" I ask.
Lords of the Fallen's protagonist is Harkyn, a warrior out to destroy humanity's fallen god and his generals, the 'Lords of the Fallen' mentioned in the title. Gop explains that the design was an amalgam of hundreds of pictures, but despite that, someone always says that Harkyn looks like one actor or another. Someone else sitting in on the presentation offers up Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston as another option. I feel bad for the poor character designer.
There were only a few encounters in the demo, which took place in a sprawling cathedral and castle. Gop tells us that he wants each encounter to feel "like a Tekken or Street Fighter battle." If Deck13 has done its job right, each fight should be measured, forcing players to plan out their attack and defense strategies. The first fight is actually against one of the Lords, an armored fellow with a large sword and shield, and a skin problem involving lava.
Gop takes us through the fight methodically. Here's where the game diverges from Lords of Shadow: wild slashing is not something you can do here. Harkyn has a specific swing time for his weapons, like Monster Hunter or Dark Souls. A mace has a windup, and in the middle of that windup, you can get hit by your enemy. It's better to watch your opponent for a bit. Dodge and observe. After a vicious sword strike, there's a three or four second window where the Lord's sword is stuck in the ground. Use that. The game wants you find these moments or weaknesses and make your move.
But unlike the aforementioned games, you have less taxing options. When you begin the game, you pick a class: the demo had Warrior, Rogue, and Cleric to choose from. These paths aren't locking you into anything, they just determine which magic spells you have at your disposal. Rogue spells favor misdirection, while a Cleric's spells promote healing and protection. You can still equip armor and weapons for another class as you see fit, but the spells act as guardrails for you.
A later battle finds Gop using spells to create clones of Harkyn. One spell creates a quick clone to attack, another has a charge time and leaves a stationary clone to grab the enemy's attention. You can play the game without these spells, using only your wits and weapons, but with the spells the game gives you an 'out' in certain situations.
"It's challenging, not punishing," says Gop.
I concur. None of the battles look particularly difficult if you're paying attention. Another encounter involves a fast enemy and Gop switches to Rogue armor and daggers to increase Harkyn's speed. That same armor can be used against a heavier, stronger opponent if you're good enough, but that also means that the enemy could one- or two-shot you. Make your choices wisely.
There's also room to explore a bit; the game isn't open-world, just large areas connected by a world map. Like Lords of Shadow, you can return to these areas at anytime and as you progress in the game, you may find new skills and items that will open new paths in earlier levels. In the demo, Gop used an alternate route to get behind a larger enemy and deliver a vicious backstab. He could've faced the foe head-on, but he was still in Rogue armor and the backstab evened the fight a bit. Again, Lords of the Fallen can be hard, but that's not its default state. The choice is yours.
So, now my body is ready for Lords of the Fallen. The build I was shown was pre-alpha and the game isn't coming until 2014, so it'll be a long wait. CI Games will be publishing Lords of the Fallen on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC.