‘Lords of the Fallen’ only falls flat

By Colin McInerney

“Lords of the Fallen” takes the refined action-RPG style of its inspirations, the “Dark Souls” and “Demons’ Souls” games, and attempts to build on it, but completely misses the mark on all the good points of the series.

The “Souls” series has been called many things by critics and fans alike: difficult, intriguing, genre-defining, and occasionally, the pinnacle of game design. It earned these titles by being incredibly niche in an otherwise over-saturated market of lukewarm video games with little to no challenge. Specifically, the “Souls” series chose to do away with traditional narrative, have a heavy emphasis on gameplay and an open world, and removed any semblance of breadcrumb trails or objective markers. The series does not assume the player is a moron, invites the player to explore its mechanics and allows him or her to fail spectacularly and try again. It is truly baffling how a game could so thoroughly miss the point of the franchise it attempts to emulate, but look no further than “Lords of the Fallen” for just that.

“Lords of the Fallen” almost tries to fail. The game starts by giving players a few choices about starting armor and magic styles then plops them down as Harkyn, an uninspired white, bald and bearded protagonist. Nothing screams manly like fantasy tropes of manly men. Donning its “Diablo”-esque art style—ridiculously large shoulder pauldrons and otherwise excessively points armor—like a badge of pride, “Lords of the Fallen” attempts to take the player into a story so serious that it might as well be a joke with how trite it is.

“Dark Souls” in particular had a tendency to almost hide its story. Plays could speak to, kill or completely ignore a wide variety NPCs—non-player characters—throughout the world. Bits of lore were hidden to the point of only referencing certain characters and locations in item descriptions. “Lords of the Fallen” is more direct with its story and suffers for it. Gameplay is halted to open up a dialog scene with NPCs, resulting in conversation trees so small and useless it’s a wonder the developer even bothered to put them in.

The real problem with the game, though, is that it is a “Dark Souls” clone in only the most superficial ways. The meaty, heavy gameplay that drives the rabid fan base of the “Souls” series is absent. The control scheme is the same, but “Dark Souls” has enemies that have very obvious weak points, and a well-timed strike during their openings is rewarded with a kill. Enemies in “Lords of the Fallen” are either unpredictable, damage sponges or have giant tower shields.

Tower shields are such an egregious problem in this game that they deserve their own paragraph. The point of a tower shield is to be almost impenetrable to a frontward foe, but should be heavy enough that your sides are weaker and open. This is not the case in “Lords of the Fallen.” The first two bosses and a variety of enemies wield these monolithic shields that cover an absurdly large area and they turn so ungodly fast that it becomes extraordinarily difficult to get behind them for a crucial backstab. The result is an artificially difficult encounter—it is not hard because the player is being challenged but because the task is unfair.

The developers went out on a limb with this game. They tried to make a clone of the fantastically designed “Dark Souls” and failed spectacularly. True, they tried to go outside of the comfort zone of traditional big-budget game titles, moving away from first-person shooters and generalized “action-adventure” games in favor of a meat-and-potatoes RPG. Unfortunately for “Souls” fans, a masterpiece is a masterpiece, and “Lords of the Fallen” is nothing of the sort. “Souls” fans should stick to replaying the old games, and newcomers should bite the bullet and pick up a significantly cheaper and more interesting “Demon’s Souls” or “Dark Souls.”