"Dollar store Dark Souls"
If there's one thing that's remained consistent over the years, it's that if a particular game becomes really popular, the floodgates will open and copycats will pour out in a deluge. While originality is a cool concept and all, I must admit to feeling a bit of pleasure when something I like is being replicated. Even if the newer games don't quite match up to the original, they're still providing a somewhat similar experience and that allows me to revisit those old vibes while also experiencing something new.
Because of this, I can at least be reasonably happy I played through Lords of the Fallen. Developed by Deck13 Interactive and CI Games, it's blatantly inspired by Dark Souls, although not exactly on its level. While I didn't have the same awesome experience with this game as I get from FROM's offerings, it at least proved to be a reasonably entertaining diversion.
You control a guy named Harkyn and have been enlisted to help the residents of a massive monastery with their demon infestation issues. Or, to be accurate, he was conscripted as he's a prisoner and, therefore, deemed expendable by the pious monks -- only released because he's the sort of muscular brute who looks like he'd make a good meat-shield. Despite the fact that prisoners get tattoos to commemorate each of their crimes and Harkyn is covered with ink, you still have the option to play him as a virtuous man willing to help anyone needing assistance, so, yeah, when it comes to storytelling, this is one of those games where it's best to follow MST3K's "It's just a show; I should really just relax" mantra.
Character customization options are limited. You can pick between three classes, corresponding to fantasy staples fighter, cleric and rogue. Just like a Souls game, you get experience for killing foes, which you'll spend to raise your stats and also to purchase and improve a small collection of spells -- of which each class gets four. My fighter got a lot of use out of one that can be used to distract enemies, while also restoring a small amount of health, because in games like this, it's always nice to be able to save potions for when you're in a pinch.
Also, much like a Souls game, you have a stamina meter which gets depleted by actions such as swinging a weapon or dodge-rolling. And you collect bottles that are used to hold health potions you can chug upon taking damage in battle. Enemies tend to be grotesque and range from weak zombie-like foes to big suits of armor and giant monstrosities. You'll regularly find treasure chests containing various weapons and sets of amor. The regions you explore are littered with cul-de-sacs and side paths and enemies often lurk just around corners. In the early stages of the game, going down certain paths will lead you to the realization that you shouldn't be there at this point in time. Nothing like exploring a watchtower in the second location you visit, only to get jumped by a giant spider that can kill you with a couple melee attacks or simply cause your health to quickly evaporate via its poison.
Of course, since we're talking about a Souls-like, getting got by that spider meant I had to trudge back to its lair in order to regain all the experience I'd collected. With a bit of extra pressure because in Lords of the Fallen, that experience will gradually dwindle the longer you take to get there. Because it's not bad enough to only lose the fruits of your hard work because you died again before you could reclaim it…
There are a few other aspects in which this game differs from Dark Souls. While you don't have the same ability to upgrade equipment, you can collect runes that can be placed on some weapons and pieces of armor to provide stat boosts after you've gotten a ways into the game and encountered a mysterious crafter. As opposed to having limited uses of your spells and needing to recharge them at checkpoints, you have a magic meter that refills on its own with time. Early in the game, you'll find a gauntlet that can be set to one of three types of fire to provide Harkyn with ranged magic attacks -- which will likely be an integral part of your arsenal regardless of how much work you put into building his magical power.
I guess that calling a lot of these things "different" from Dark Souls could be seen as a bit disingenuous, as they're mostly superficial alterations to the blueprint. For example, the "affix runes" thing was used by FROM in Bloodborne and that gauntlet brought back memories of the Pyromancer's Glove from the first Souls game. While Pyromancer was my class, I was essentially a warrior who happened to throw fireballs from time to time. Same thing here, except the projectiles weren't made of fire and I was firing them off as often as possible to weaken foes before I got within melee range.
There is one big way in which Lords of the Fallen is definitely different from its inspiration, though: It's a lot clunkier. It's one of those things you'd best understand if you play one and then the other. The dodge roll feels more awkward in its execution and Harkyn's motions in general are a bit clumsier. The game's playable, but it won't always be a smooth experience.
Boss fights are also a notable step back. Much like a Souls game, you'll be expected to read their actions and react accordingly. However, in this game, that leads to engaging in highly repetitive actions while whittling down their life one hit (or gauntlet blast) at a time. At times, the game can't even get the basics right. The late-game Lost Brothers could have been a passable take on the Ornstein/Smough combo…except for how they have some weird code of chivalry where one will fight you while the other hangs from the ceiling waiting until it's time for the two to switch places.
This game also has one of those weird difficulty curves where it starts out really tough and then you get the gauntlet for ranged attacks. And then meet the crafter and start enhancing your equipment. And then start finding great equipment that really boosts Harkyn's resistances. I died a fair number of times early on. The first few bosses all got me a time or two and a handful of wrong turns in early-game areas also led to my demise. And then, I found myself cruising because it's easy to eventually find an answer for anything. A large monster with powerful melee attacks that also inflict poison should be a daunting foe, but it mostly moves slowly, so I just locked onto it and backed in circles while peppering it with my gauntlet, occasionally doing a series of rolls when it unleashed its rolling charge. Took a little while to kill it that way, but it was easy! Hell, that gauntlet's a game-breaker when I think about it. Littered throughout the game are shield-bearing soldiers. In theory, you're supposed to bait them into letting their guard down, but those shields don't protect against your gauntlet's attacks, so just keep your distance and wreck them.
Lords of the Fallen seeks to ape Dark Souls and succeeds to a degree, although it's flawed enough that it's best recommended for people who love the Souls formula and can't get enough of that sort of thing. It contains most of the elements you'll find in that series to some degree and the game is short enough that its flaws might not overstay their welcome too badly, but clunky play control and mediocre bosses keep it from being an ideal experience. This was one of those games where I got a decent amount of enjoyment, but a lot of the credit for that simply comes from how I'm a sucker for games that try to replicate games I love.
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (July 09, 2021)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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