RISING TO THE OCCASION
I remember the first time I ever played Demon’s Souls. I was working one day, and I had someone go grab a copy for me because I’d heard such great things about it. However, after actually playing the game, I didn’t understand a thing about it. I pestered a friend by text messaging him for hours as I tried to comprehend the world and mechanics of the game, but it was all for naught: Demon’s Souls just wasn’t for me. However, I could see how others enjoyed it. Lords of the Fallen falls (no pun intended) into a similar category for me. It has interested me ever since it was quietly announced at E3 2013. Lords drew me in thanks to its unique fantasy art style, and I’ve been waiting for the game ever since. Luckily, while it isn’t the best Western RPG I’ve played, it definitely didn’t disappoint me.
The main aspect of Lords that kept bringing me back was the fun (but sometimes frustrating) combat mechanics. Blocking until you find an enemy’s weakness then executing your plan to perfection is extremely satisfying. The left and right bumpers and triggers of the controllers are used to block and attack, respectively. This is a small problem on Xbox One, where the left bumper and right bumper aren’t meant to be pressed that often. The short click of the Xbox One controller just didn’t lend itself well to being pressed frequently, which made the experience uncomfortable.
Holding down the bumper or trigger you’re pressing will charge up Harkyn’s attack to be more powerful. Doing this, though, sacrifices time and makes Harkyn vulnerable to the many enemies that will be surrounding him at all times. The fights in this game do remind me of Demon’s Souls, but it seems slightly more forgiving than that game. I enjoyed how the game let me choose a weapon class and magic type at the outset of my adventure, but overall the combat experience you choose doesn’t limit you to that certain weapon set. I opted for the fast and swift rogue, partly because my problem with the Souls series is how slow the combat feels. The rogue class is the speediest class in the game because its light armor sets and daggers allow the player a high level of mobility. Killing each and every generic enemy will eventually bring rewards for Harkyn, as new weapons and armor sets will be randomly dropped. After trying heavier armor and two-handed weapons, I was definitely glad I chose the rogue class. The stat increases granted by choosing this class definitely helped me progress through the game at a much faster pace. Another interesting addition to this game is the Gauntlet, which is a long-range firing device comparable to a bow and arrow (which is missing in action in this fantasy RPG). The Gauntlet uses magic from your meter, so you must choose between spells or long-range attacks, which creates an interesting dynamic when you’re in the middle of an encounter.
Lords works like a traditional RPG, where killing enemies grants XP and killing bigger enemies grants more XP. However, Lords also has a unique system at play, where the more XP you carry, the more you earn. You are putting yourself at risk, though, because if you die, all that experience is lost and must be regained before it all disappears. XP can only be spent at checkpoints, which I found to be an interesting, yet logical choice. When upgrading your Harkyn, you are given the choice to upgrade his overall character stats, such as strength, agility, health, magic, and your other typical RPG perks, or his magic skill tree, which is where I would recommend investing that experience. However, to unlock certain magical skills to use, Harkyn’s magic stat must be upgraded. This leads to an overall back-and-forth that can make Harkyn powerful enough to make short work of almost every enemy and progress quickly through the story.
I wish I could tell you all about the story of Lords of the Fallen. Unfortunately, there isn’t much of one, and unlike Demon’s Souls, one can’t even be obtained from the environment. You play as a convicted criminal named Harkyn, who has only been freed because the people believe they should fight the coming forces of evil with their own evil. Harkyn must kill several Lords throughout the game to find the ultimate threat. Scrolls are spread throughout the game that try to piece together a story, but I can’t help but feel that the story could have been something much more special with a simple introduction to the world and what’s happening. Instead, I had to piece that all together myself, and I honestly didn’t have much motivation to keep moving forward. The game has a weak opening and unsatisfying ending, with characters that are poorly fleshed out and uninteresting. A fallen god, whose only sign of existence is his giant hand sticking out of the ground, is causing these issues, but no one knows why. The boss fights, in which Harkyn must defeat a Lord, are repetitive and uninteresting, mostly because of how long it takes to find a weapon type or strategy to defeat each one. Namely, the second boss took me around an hour to defeat, because none of the weapons in my inventory allowed me to attack him fast enough during his small windows of vulnerability. Honestly, the only reason I know as much as I do about Harkyn is because of marketing materials and previews I read about the game before it came out. Harkyn is a bad man that has been released from prison for the sole purpose of fighting demons in an effort to save the world. That’s about all there is to it. It could have been so much more.
While the story may be generally bland, Lords of the Fallen is quite the looker. For its lack of story, it makes up for it in its amazing art style and graphical presentation. The frame rate is solid. Brilliant particle effects are as frequent as sunshine on a sunny day, and the details on Harkyn’s face and the many armor and weapons in the game are remarkable. While some of the environments were a little generic, the combat arenas were interesting enough to distract me from the bland textures.
For all the accomplishments of the game’s graphics, its soundtrack is a major letdown. In-game audio, such as the crunch or ching of an axe hitting an enemy’s bone or shield is satisfying, but the rest of the music is as generic as it gets. The soundtrack attempts to find a medium between games like Uncharted and Darksiders but instead ends up creating something that doesn’t feel like it belongs in the game. Harkyn is made to sound like a drunken Irishman, rather than the sinful badass he is portrayed as in trailers. The actual voice acting itself isn’t terrible; I just feel like the wrong voice actor was chosen for this role. Something about his voice just doesn’t fit in; it doesn’t seem like the voice fits the character, which throws the experience off a bit.
The Verdict: 7.5 out of 10.0
Overall, Lords of the Fallen is a fun action RPG that is sustained only by its gameplay and looks. Its uninteresting story can’t carry itself throughout the whole game, and its small, cramped world unsuccessfully tries to elongate itself between its only signature moments, which are the far-too-frequent boss fights. While the story is normally what draws me into an RPG and keeps me there, Lords of the Fallen kept my interest with addicting gameplay that made me think, “How can I kill this creature without losing so much health? Maybe with a greatsword instead of my daggers?” and sometimes, that’s all that’s needed to keep players coming back. There’s no doubt that Lords of the Fallen could’ve been something more, something that drew me into its lore and made me a huge proponent of the game and the studio behind it. For what it is, though, it is definitely worth a look from RPG fans and fans of the Souls series. I’ll be keeping my eye on whatever City Interactive works on next.
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Matt Middleton is an associate writer for MONG. He is also a lover of Mexican cuisine, How I Met Your Mother, and fun video games. Follow him on Twitter for a daily dose of song lyrics and pictures and thoughts about the aforementioned food and video games.