Bandai Namco was cagey enough to publish From Software’s Dark Souls series when Sony dropped the ball on the original Demon’s Souls, mistakenly believing that a Western audience wouldn’t like the brutally challenging game in sufficient numbers. Three games and numerous awards later, From Software has been vindicated, and Bloodborne is a PS4 exclusive. However, unlike FPS games, these challenging dungeon crawlers don’t come out every few months to slake the thirst of addicts. This is where the Polish and German development partners CI Games and Deck 13 Interactive come in. While it may have been the Japanese that blazed a trail in “super hard action RPG dungeon crawling games that incite stress-related heart conditions in players,” the genre is by no means strictly Asian. Lords of the Fallen is a Western take on this type of game, and Bandai Namco finally let journalists have a chance to play the game at E3.
Fear. Die. Learn. Repeat.
Lords of the Fallen, like its inspirations, is a game about learning through death, and giving no quarter and no mercy to the player during that process. It’s a third person action RPG where enemies are tough, combat demands knowledge and skill, and death is frequent. Unlike the Souls games, Lords of the Fallen allows players to change skillsets simply by changing weapons, adding a bit of tactical variety rather than requiring each player to pick a character class at the outset and use abilities for the rest of the game restricted to that class. In this case, players have access to a Rogue, Cleric and Warrior class, with each one having its own weapon and magic abilities.
The playable demo at this year’s E3 was the same demo previously hands off at earlier Bandai-Namco events. It involved the main character negotiating a small section of castle, fighting a few “standard issue” monsters and finally facing off against a boss. The critical difference with the playable demo was that this time, users didn’t have full access to all three of the hero’s class/skillsets, which added a considerable extra layer of challenge. As to be expected from any game that follows the Souls tradition, enemies hit hard, combat is more about deliberate, measured combos rather than spamming an attack button, and death means that all the enemies killed will respawn, while any consumables you may have used—such those to replenish mana, the fuel for magic spells—will remain used and missing from your inventory. There are only two ways to play such a game; with precise knowledge of the enemy and in-depth tactics that exploit their weaknesses, or slowly and cautiously, picking shots when you can and playing it safe.
In many respects, Lords of the Fallen feels like the games that inspired it, although it’s hard to gauge how fair/unfair the odds are when you’re dropped into the middle of a dungeon without full familiarity of the game systems. It’s the same story with the boss at the end of the level, who goes through phases that require patience and learning patterns. Like most RPGs, Lords of the Fallen is difficult to get an accurate sense of from a half hour—or even a full hour—of play, just because the amount of depth and practice required to competently play needs more time than that. The ability to switch attacks/spells by changing weapons does lend more versatility to the combat, but again, it’s hard to say just how combat will develop overall without a better sense of character progression.
One thing is certain, however, and that’s the look of Lords of the Fallen. As a current gen title is running only on the PC, PS4 and Xbox One, it’s already surpassed its predecessors in the graphics department. It also plays a great deal more smoothly than Bloodborne, which, admittedly is in a much earlier state of development with a poor frame rate. Textures are sharp, polygon counts high, and lighting is generously used for dramatic effect in Lords of the Fallen. We’ll have to wait ‘till fall to see how it plays compared to the Souls series, but at least it’s giving PS4/Xbox One owners something to tide them over until the Souls games finally make their way to the latest hardware.