Lords of the Fallen preview: Europe takes on Dark Souls, and they got the dying part right

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Written by Chris Norris-Jones

In the span of my 30-minute PAX demo with Lords of the Fallen, a single player action RPG in the same vein as Dark Souls, I was killed perhaps a dozen times. I fought a total of six different enemies, successfully killing three. Suffice it to say this game did not want to be friends.

Maybe it was the class I chose upon the demo’s introduction. My warrior, one of the game’s three classes, was a lumbering, heavy-hitting monstrosity, whose slow attacks required near perfect timing and a strong understanding of the opponents I was facing. I had the caffeine shakes and at best a loose grasp of the controls. I guess I could have picked the quicker, lighter rogue character. Or the cleric, a jack-of-all-trades with the merciful ability to heal himself.

Perhaps I didn’t choose the right weapon or armor. There was a large assortment of dark fantasy weaponry at my disposal, from swords to maces to scythes, and a seemingly endless array of potential armor sets, shields, even a magical gauntlet, which can be infused with various runes to create over a dozen different spell combinations. The animations for everything looked fantastic, with every attack and movement having been motion captured, I’m told. This is a visually impressive game, period.

The area I had the most trouble with in the short demo, though, was located around the campaign’s midpoint, where you would be expected to have a firm grasp of the control scheme and an understanding of what to expect from your opponents. The first enemy I met I managed to dispatch, after a brutally close battle, with a resounding club to his skull. Then he stood back up, and I was informed that he would be invincible until I removed his heart from a nearby urn. Maybe I would have known that had I been playing up until that point.

There are a lot of potential explanations for my unsuccessful playthrough, but none of them stop me from walking away from Lords Of The Fallen feeling unsure. There is an overwhelmingly difficult tightrope a game such as this has to walk, between “difficult” and “frustrating,” and my experience fell firmly on the latter. Every strategy I used, every spell and weapon I tried, felt less successful than the one before it. The combat did not feel challenging, it felt unfair.

I am not saying that Lords of the Fallen looks like a bad game. When Demons Souls first came out it too had a learning curve. This game looks dark and beautiful, with a world that feels full of optional paths and hidden secrets. When the combat hits its stride you feel like you’re in a real fight to the death, more like a fighting game than an Action RPG. The story sounds to be a grimdark fantasy with some potential, revolving around a released prisoner named Harkyn, who carries tattooed symbols of his sins across his face, fighting against the re-emerging spawn of a god thought to be long ago murdered by man. All of these things together have the potential for a great game.

A great game that does look and feel a whole lot like Dark Souls. The game’s producer Blazej Zywiczynski did tell me that they are trying to differentiate themselves from their competitor. Lords Of The Fallen will not contain any multiplayer aspects, for example, and unlike Dark Souls will be a little more conventional in its presentation, with voiced cutscenes, and a traditional narrative structure.

A lot of what was discussed however were pages taken straight from The Book of Souls, which is how I imagine From Software names their design documents. Ideas like checkpoints where you spend experience to upgrade your attributes, a huge amount of character customizability, and a New Game + mode. If you want a game like Dark Souls on your shiny relatively-new consoles, than it is possible that Lords Of The Fallen will rekindle the feeling you crave.

But there was no moment of triumph for me at the top this demo’s hill. Just a lot of tripping and falling on my face, or onto someone else’s sword, or into a bolt of undodgeable magic. Lords Of The Fallen has a lot of possibility, and should be of interest to those who want another iteration of Dark Souls. But when I walked away from the demo I was just happy not to have to die one more time.