Watching the demonstration for Lords of the Fallen, the upcoming, third-person action role-playing game from Deck13 and publisher CI Games, I was struck with a sense of déjà vu. Here was a very deliberate, calculated game where every blow was decisive and deadly. I felt like I’d seen this before, in a game GameSpot’s own Tom Mc Shea will never stop talking about. However, after speaking with developers Jan Klose and Tomasz Gop, I learned that Deck13 is aiming to distinguish Lords from Souls in a few key ways.
"We want to make our combat really feel credible and make you feel like you’re in control of every action and see the consequences," said Klose. "Dark Souls didn’t invent this style of game--but it did execute on that style in a really brilliant way. This is something more games should be doing, instead of just [hacking-and-slashing]." Devil May Cry, this is not.
During the demonstration, Klose and Gop emphasized the importance of observing--and learning--your opponent. Most fights were one-on-one duels, and when our hero attempted a blind assault the enemy cut him down in moments. The second time, our hero kept his distance while learning his opponent’s moves. A strategy was formed: dashing attacks could be countered by rolling into the enemy swing and countering from behind, while sword swipes always came in sets of three and left the enemy vulnerable after the final swing. Armed with this knowledge, victory soon followed.
Gop and Klose compared this style of combat to that of a fighting game: proper spacing, prediction, and reaction yielded greater payoffs than spamming attacks. It’s a challenging system that rewards putting care and thought into each attack. However, Gop was quick to note that, while their game will be challenging, they don’t want it to feel punishing. "We’re not a punishing game, at least not if the player doesn’t want [punishment]," he said.
I know challenging and punishing sound alike, but Deck13 wants to make sure players can have one without the other. If you want to make the game challenging for yourself you’re free to do so, and you will be rewarded for your efforts. But if you find yourself stuck on an especially difficult foe--or are simply uninterested in the extra challenge--Lords of the Fallen won't punish you. Instead, it gives you some tools to help odd out the evens and give yourself an edge in battle.
"The game still has this level of tactical approach, of complexity, but you don’t have to make it punishing if you don’t want to."
One example is the game’s magic system. Magical abilities are extremely powerful in Lords of the Fallen, such that the developers refer to them as "Smart bombs." One example I saw was a spell that knocked enemies off their feet, letting our hero score a few free hits before his opponent could right himself. So what’s stopping you from using these spells at every turn? Well, if you manage to defeat an especially challenging foe--say, a boss--without using magic, the game will reward you with extra loot or other goodies for you trouble.
"If there’s an enemy you feel is tough and, for whatever reason, you get a hint from the game that there’s only one way to defeat that enemy and you simply don’t have the time or patience to learn it, you can use supernatural powers to defeat it that way," explained Gop. "The game still has this level of tactical approach, of complexity, but you don’t have to make it punishing if you don’t want to."
Other tools for tackling tough opponents included sneaking up striking them from behind for extra damage, or in some cases taking an alternative route to avoid the fight entirely. Deck13 doesn't want you to feel hopelessly stuck in any fight. Lords of the Fallen is designed to be challenging, but exactly how challenging is up to you.
"And it’s not like you can use all these means to mindlessly rush through the game," Klose added. "They’ll give you a head start, but if you do not learn the basics of fighting and tactics you won’t make it through this game."