E3 2014: I Was Impressed by Lords of the Fallen

Alex gets hands-on time with the upcoming action RPG and discovers that it's definitely not Dark Souls.

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Lords of the Fallen is an action role-playing game with dark, claustrophobic corridors, brutal enemies, and huge bosses. In other words, it looks like Dark Souls.

And yet, I left my hour-long demo of CI Games and Deck13 Interactive's upcoming game encouraged by the project and confident that the developers are making something very different. From what I saw and played, Lords of the Fallen is not just Dark Souls reskinned. Between its interesting implementations of weaponry and magic and its personal and choice-driven story, it has the potential to be a competent action RPG and a competitor to the Souls series.

Before I got hands-on with the game, I had the chance to talk to Deck13's creative director, Jan Klose. He told me that the developers fully and enthusiastically acknowledge Lords of the Fallen's similarity to Dark Souls. The game is heavily inspired by the success of From Software's franchise, but CI and Deck13 think that the formula could be streamlined and improved. Klose easily admitted that Lords of the Fallen is meant to have a lower level of entry than Dark Souls. Specifically, he said that the developers want the game to be "hard, but not punishing."

Then, I was able to play an hour of Lords of the Fallen. In my first battle after the demo started, I encountered a creature that was hulking, humanoid, and wielding a sword. Growths grew from its body, and its skeletal arms swung wildly as it charged. The creature attacked erratically, and I couldn't discern a pattern governing its moves, which, Klose told me, was because it was blind. The creature reacted to the sounds my character made. This explained their unpredictability, and it made for some humorous moments when it sprinted into a wall that I had just moved away from.

Klose emphasized that there will be a huge array of different enemy types in the game, some with certain traits like blindness that differentiate them from the rest. The developers are striving to avoid rote, repetitive battles and to create moments that feel genuinely nuanced and unexpected, even if you play a sequence again and again.

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This design choice apparently didn't apply to boss fights, however. Thirty minutes into the demo, after fighting through several enemies, including spiders and a heavily armored knight, I entered an arena containing a massive boss. After about a minute of avoiding the monster, I fully understood its pattern and was able to put together the necessary attack plan with ease. The fight was simply an exercise in concentration. The boss battle stood out because, in contrast to the rest of the demo, it didn't reflect the developers' philosophy of making diverse and engaging fights.

On a more promising note, the demo fulfilled Klose's initial statement that the game would have a great number of options for approaching combat and developing your character. I especially enjoyed the weapon selection. I used a sword, a staff, and a pair of giant gloves with blades jutting from them. I preferred the sword, but the giant claws were fun to use, if just for their absurdity. They shredded through enemies, and their damage multiplied when I strung their attacks into combos.

The developers are taking an unusual approach to magic, as well. Gauntlets in Lords of the Fallen act as magical slingshots. They enable your character to perform a variety of ranged magical attacks, such as throwing fire grenades. Your character can also use spells independently of gauntlets. A combination of three spells is chosen at character creation and is constant throughout the game. The spell I relied on was a powerful fire blast that used up all of my mana but took away over three-quarters of the health of lower-level enemies. I often used it as a last resort when I found myself cornered by multiple monsters, because it hit every enemy in front of me at once.

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What the demo didn't show, however, was the most intriguing and mysterious element of the game: its story. You play as a criminal named Harkyn, who is given an opportunity to redeem himself by fighting against a demon invasion. I asked Klose to elaborate more on the moment-to-moment progression of the story, and he revealed to me that the narrative is not linear. Instead, you will have to face moral decisions as the protagonist either becomes a hero, goes rogue and joins the villains, or chooses a path somewhere in between. The decisions will be intensely personal and will drive Harkyn's progression throughout the world. Klose also told me that there will, indeed, be several endings to the story, with variations within each ending, as well.

At the end of the demo, I felt pleasantly surprised. Lords of the Fallen is not the shameless Dark Souls clone that people thought it might be. Instead, it felt like a genuine competitor in an area dominated by the Souls games. It is often brutally difficult, but it is not punishing. Each battle is a puzzle, enemies act unpredictably, there are a number of different ways to fight, and the story is full of potential. I am excited to see what Lords of the Fallen has to offer when it's released this fall for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

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