Lords of the Fallen
- Street Date:
- October 28th, 2014
- Reviewed by:
- Levi van Tine
- Review Date:1
- November 3rd, 2014
- Game Release Year:
- Xbox One
- Bandai Namco
- CI Games
Xbox One disc version reviewed.
'Lords of the Fallen' was co-developed by German studio Deck13 Interactive and Polish studio CI Games, and then distributed in North America by Japanese company Namco Bandai. Neither of the developers have had a massive, instantly recognizable success, with the most notable series between the two of them probably being 'Sniper: Ghost Warrior' from CI.
The game is a third-person action-RPG set in a dark fantasy world. It uses the proprietary Fledge engine and was originally designed for last-gen consoles, being pushed into the eighth generation only later in its development.
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
I began playing 'Lords of the Fallen' with a bit of trepidation, having previously experienced the addictive and masochistic phenomenon of 'Dark Souls'. While I would not characterize either game as a horror title, there were some moments in 'Lords of the Fallen' when I was terrified of dying. Not in in a petrified, deer-in-the-headlights 'Slender' kind of way, but in a "please don’t die and lose all of my precious experience” kind of way. Lots of games have player death, but most can't approach the level of tension I'm referring to here.
Every time Harkyn defeats an enemy, either with his magic, melee weapons, or magical projectile-shooting gauntlet, he earns experience. Unlike most RPGs, this experience gain is not immediately permanent. With my freshly collected and hard-earned experience points in tow, I have two choices - I can kill more enemies to build a streak and earn more experience for each successive kill, or cash in my chips at a save point as soon as possible. This effectively creates a scaling difficulty level for the game that is subject to the player's discretion. When I felt more confident, I would let my experience multiplier run up, leading to greater rewards but also potentially greater losses upon death. When I felt less confident, or after a string of painful deaths, I would quickly bank the experience to avoid a loss.
While certainly derivative of 'Dark Soul’s' bonfire system, the experience bank is a genius mechanic that puts risk and reward firmly in the player’s hands. For instance, after defeating the first boss, a giant bruiser named the First Warden, I held onto my experience for a long time while I worked my way through the levels to the next boss. If I could defeat the boss with that massive experience multiplier, I would net huge rewards. Determined to stay alive throughout the fight to maintain my bonus, it became a grueling gauntlet of cat and mouse for the better part of twenty minutes, with me panicking at several near-losses. Sadly I was unable to defeat him on the first try and lost my soul. I collected it, and then died a dozen or so more times before I beat him. This is how 'Lords of the Fallen' is played.
It is sword and sorcery at its heart with an edgy kind of low fantasy that aspires to be a 'Game of Thrones' or 'Witcher', but doesn’t quite meet those lofty goals. Harkyn, the main character, is a burly, heavily tattooed, recently escaped convict. He might be humanity’s only hope against an advancing army of menacing, resurrected demigods, but all of that is really window dressing. The storyline never really picks up, even though the setting has a modicum of potential. What can I say - the Lovecraftian in me loves the idea of sleeping, angry gods.
There is a heavy roleplaying component in 'Lords of the Fallen', evident right from the beginning. My choice of rogue magic and cleric armor bestowed upon me the class of "Executioner", one of nine classes available from the start. The choice of class dictates how attribute scores are arranged, the beginning movement speed, and selection of magical spells. Many of these attributes can be altered later at the player’s discretion, and there is a shallow loot and crafting system that presents itself further on. With my Executioner ready to go, I was dropped almost immediately into combat and received the beginning of the cryptic, withholding tutorial. The controls are not advanced - there’s a few attacks, a dodge, and a block - instead, winning fights is about timing and strategy, not button mashing. I am proud to say that I did not die in my first fight, although my handiwork was not spectacular either. The deaths would come later - many of them.
'Lords of the Fallen' is a blast from the past, a game from a time when releases were not as common as they are now and fans would devote endless hours to a single title to gain mastery over it. The arcade era encouraged this kind of behavior, urging players to drop more quarters and tokens to survive, and players would in turn feel invested and seek to outdo their friends’ and their own high scores. While 'Lords of the Fallen' doesn’t have any kind of "pay-to-win” monetization scheme, it also doesn’t have what I would describe as a mainstream difficulty level. It is like a 'Devil May Cry' or 'Ninja Gaiden' (although not quite as difficult as the latter), where practice, patience, and frequent death serve to temper the player over time and gradually create an expert.
Of course, there is a fine line between challenging and cheap, and 'Lords of the Fallen' does walk that line at times. This stems from both game design and a rather lackluster performance on the part of the Fledge engine, which I will discuss in more detail later. Some fights are well-designed, with an enemy who is challenging but does have weaknesses that can be exploited after careful observation. Other fights seem just plain cheap, designed to kill Harkyn just because. I can appreciate a great, hard game like 'The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai' or 'Alien: Isolation' that stays fun throughout. 'Lords of the Fallen' likes to punish those who play it, for better or worse.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
'Lords of the Fallen' is built on the Fledge engine, which was specially designed for this game. The engine has some substance underpinning it, as many of the textures are highly detailed and the environments beautifully rendered. As I moved slowly from level to level, I could not help but compare the game’s ambiance to German Expressionist cinema. Those early films were distinguished by long, dark, panoramic shots of the countryside and other natural environments. 'Lords of the Fallen' is a game that is intended to be played slowly, with the player savoring each ponderous fight and each setting.
Despite the pretty gloss on the surface, there are some deeper issues. Animations are not fluid and are sometimes just plain weird. There is some clipping, especially on clothing and armor. The Fledge engine has a powerful lighting builder, but some of the shadows and darkness on the Xbox One version clearly exhibit grainy blocks. Also, the Xbox One has been given the lowest resolution of all three release platforms, and checks in at the currently dreaded 900p.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
The voice actors here do an admirable job with the rather weak script, although some performances are far better than others. The score is lovely and has a strong European flavor. It remains engaging throughout the game without crossing the line into operatic melodrama. The sound effects are a bit weaker - the screeches and grunts of the enemies aren’t very convincing, and the melee strikes don’t have quite enough power behind them.
For the truly dedicated out there, 'Lords of the Fallen' has two new game plus modes that are played in consecutive order. Each one puts you through the same game, but adds tougher enemies, more experience and items, and more spells. For those who really loved the first playthrough and want more, it’s perfect. For everyone else, who is exhausted and just happy to have beaten it at all, there is not much to reel them back in.
It is not a frame-for-frame clone of 'Dark Souls', but neither is 'Lords of the Fallen' a worthy competitor. Imitation is certainly the sincerest form of flattery, but this game gets more wrong than it does right. Difficult gameplay is its own reward if the player has the proper tools, and while I had some of those tools in 'Lords of the Fallen', I never quite got on board with what it offers. A stronger tutorial or even a minimap goes a long way. Even so, the time I spent with it was not without enjoyment. For those with the patience and conviction, who don't mind taking a beating and putting up with some visual issues, 'Lords of the Fallen' may just scratch an itch not met by anything else currently on the Xbox One.
- 7.1 LPCM
All disc reviews at High-Def Digest are completed using the best consumer HD home theater products currently on the market. More
about our gear.
Puzzled by the technical jargon in our reviews, or wondering how we assess and rate HD DVD and Blu-ray discs? Learn about our review methodology.