Lords of the Fallen is More Than a Dark Souls Clone

Survived the frigid wastes of Dark Souls II's final DLC package, and want more intense action combat? Lords of the Fallen could be for you.

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At first glance, City Interactive Games' Lords of the Fallen bears striking similarity to From Software's Dark Souls. The game's near-identical interface, as well as a particular flow to its combat will be familiar to any Souls veteran. But is it more than just a Dark Souls clone? Is the Souls formula ripe for new takes that change how dark and punishing it can be? I huddled by a bonfire with executive producer Tomasz Gop to find out.

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A LIGHT AT THE END

Dark Souls does not shy away from imbuing its setting with a suffocating sense of gloom and doom. This context stays in lockstep with the punishing combat and hostile environments. Though Gop describes Lords of the Fallen's fantasy world as being similarly dark, he adds "...It’s not as bound to be doomed as in Souls. We were not after that degree of dark."

This also means you'll encounter fewer surprise deaths in Lords of the Fallen, such as falling off high ledges, or being ambushed by hidden enemies. "Environmental deaths in Dark Souls aren’t cheap," Gop elaborates. "But most of them would feel cheap in Lords because of the way we’ve designed the game. There are places where players will have a chance (here: high probability) of falling to their doom, but not only will they not be frequent, but also they’ll mostly be found in optional areas."

MAGIC MOMENTS

Dark Souls allows players to build classes who wield magic as their primary means of dealing with a threat. Lords of the Fallen takes a different approach by turning magic into what Gop calls a "smartbomb" that any class can use. It's a highly powerful, limited use spell that can be deployed to make a particularly demanding fight more survivable. "It will never be an 'I win' button but it can buy some breathing space." Gop adds.

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MAN AT ARMS

For class builds that do not rely as strongly on magic, Dark Souls places great importance on learning its wide variety of weapon types. Though Lords of the Fallen relegates magic use to dire situations, the game still contains a diverse arsenal of melee implements.

"We have 11 weapon classes, from great swords and heavy hammers to staves and daggers," says Gop. "Each class has its own full set of attacks and animations, all based on motion capture sessions. A twirling staff is good for keeping two or three opponents at a distance and hitting them all at once while two fist weapons are a lethal combo for single-target hit and run tactics. Each weapon’s attack speed and damage depends on character attributes and of course there’s their range to consider. With three types of shields and the magical gauntlet with interchangeable runes, it all adds up to an impressive number of tactical combinations."

It’s not as bound to be doomed as in Souls. We were not after that degree of dark.

You'll still need the required attributes to wield a particular weapon, but unlike Dark Souls, Lords of the Fallen won't require you to pay attention to the physical space available to you when striking; it won't bounce off a wall if swung in an enclosed area. "We just think it’s challenging enough to hit your opponent without that extra bit of realism," Gop explains.

SO YOU'RE GOING TO DIE

Death comes with significant consequence in Dark Souls, including the loss of resources that can be used to purchase weapons and stat boosts if you don't make it back to your corpse before a subsequent demise. Bonfires act as both save points and safe harbour, where those resources can be spent to take the pressure away from carrying them through the next hostile area.

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Lords of the Fallen uses a similar save point system, but contains a few minor differences regarding how experience points (the equivalent of the souls resource) tie into making death significant. "The ghost of your experience that lingers around the place you were last defeated will start gradually vanishing with time, so you don’t have forever to reclaim it," Gop explains.

You can "bank" these experience points at any save point, but it's optional. "When you keep killing enemies without banking your experience at savepoints or dying, each next kill increases your “killstreak” multiplier, so there’s something for those really challenge-thirsty too," says Gop. "But keep in mind, the game was primarily balanced for people who play 'by-the-book', using the savepoints."

Those save points will be "relatively frequent, and never too far from boss fights," according to Gop, while a relatively rare consumable item will allow you to reclaim dropped experience after death.

WE'RE NOT IN THIS TOGETHER

Asynchronous connectivity in the form of messages left by other players created a sense of a communal struggle in Dark Souls, while its invasion system provided additional challenges in the form of direct player versus player combat. Lords of the Fallen, quite simply, won't feature any multiplayer features such as these. "We had some very interesting ideas but we’re a relatively small team so we had to prioritize singleplayer," Gop explains.

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DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES

Ambiguity is the best way to describe Dark Souls' storytelling methods. Though a consistent narrative does underpin your exploration of its dark world, that story must be pieced together through environmental features, item descriptions, and by deciphering cryptic character dialogue. Even then, some pieces remain a mystery, which leads to much speculation and communal lore deduction amongst hardcore fans.

Gop says the approach taken to Lords of the Fallen's own storytelling leaves less to interpretation. "To those who are interested in putting the whole story together, it needs to be clear," he says. "There’s a lot of optional exploration involved in order to find all the audio notes, quests and sights but once you put in that effort, you’ll know the whole story."

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