Lords of the Fallen is looking like Dark Souls crossed with The Witcher. And that's fine.
When you first pick up the controller and start playing Lords of the Fallen, it becomes readily apparent that From Software's opus has been an enormous influence on this game. The controller setup is almost identical, the challenging philosophy behind the action is clearly evident, as is the commitment to visually interesting spaces, vistas, and enemies. Oh, and let us not forget the enormous, hard-as-nails bosses.
But what's clear is that Tomasz Gop , Deck13 and CI Games have little interest in making Lords of the Fallen a measuring rod and an exercise in frustration. Combat is very much predicated on the weight of your weapon and the heft of your armour, but there's a greater distinction here in terms of playstyles than might be found in LotF's inspirational genre predecessor. Lords is never going to handle like a Platinum game might, but there's a pleasing fluidity to the action when you're wielding lighter weapons such as daggers, and a satisfying brutality to larger two-handed weapons. Timing is of course absolutely key when chucking around war hammers and the like, whereas using your agility to dance out of harm's way and then back in to deliver strikes and flurries is paramount when taking a lighter approach.
Equipping a set of claws that makes central character Harkyn look like a medieval Wolverine allows for a sort of jump thrust that I'm pretty sure is pulled straight out of Brad Pitt's arsenal in Troy.
There seems to be a little more wiggle room in terms of setting up your character and doing things your own way, and that extends to the classes. You can choose between cleric, rogue or warrior at the start, but as far as I could tell, that only really affects your magical capabilities. There are bits and pieces of armour or weaponry labelled in a manner that might suggest class-specification, but these are simply suggestions. If you want your cleric romping about with an enormous axe and heavy armour, you absolutely can. And I do so love an RPG where I can mix and match.
Patience was a virtue in Dark Souls, and the same can be said of Lords of the Fallen. It's not advisable to go charging off into catacombs with a gleeful disregard for your own safety. Harkyn can handle himself, and taking on two or three low-level Infected at once is not too tricky as long as you block and parry and learn to riposte, or chuck out one of the smart-bomb-esque magical attacks to clear your way. Of course, occasionally, enemies might surprise you by jumping out of corridors and skewering you like a kebab. Leaving a small courtyard and heading back into the catacombs in the demo I played brought me face to face with a hulking brute of an adversary, who couldn't be seen from outside the darkened passage, but promptly came charging at me as soon as I left the sunlight behind. Thankfully, a swift retreat led me safely back to the courtyard, where I lured the monster over a few unstable planks and its fat butt caused it to crash through the wood and plummet into the well below.
That took two attempts, mind. In my panic to run away the first time around I careened helplessly into the chasm myself, much to the amusement of the PR chap behind me.
The point is that the world is this game is a little kinder to the player than might have been the case in Dark Souls, you're able to use certain aspects of it to your advantage and make it work for, rather than against, you. The same can be said of this game's checkpoints, which replenish health and magic and potions, and now occur with double the regularity of those in Dark Souls. That in itself makes for a more accessible experience. Purists will probably loathe the idea, but there's something to be said for not having to wade through three-quarters of an hour's worth of content over and over, and it looks like Deck13 are doing a decent job of making the stretches between saves challenging and rewarding, promoting experimentation rather than rage quitting.
There are other ways in which Lords of the Fallen has clearly tried to fashion its own identity and separate itself out from under Dark Souls' shadow -- the world itself, the visual design and more vibrant colour palette, the lore, and the game's greater preoccupation with its central story all point towards the influence of Gop's previous labours with the Witcher series. The premise is that after a long struggle with an evil god several millennia ago, the malevolent deity was finally vanquished and humanity set about purging civilisation of sin. That essentially meant exiling and outcasting criminals from society, never to be forgiven, to lock them up and throw away the keys. But when evil knocks once more, and the evil god returns, to do-gooders have no-one to stand in the way of this monstrous Second Coming, and must look to one such as Harkyn for salvation.
Fight fire with fire and all that jazz.
Deck13 have spoken about how the story twists and turns about a singular narrative. There aren't enormous branching options, but there will be some variation it would seem, some ways in which the player can stamp their own personalities onto Harkyn to a certain extent. "There's one straight storyline, but you can take different turns," Jan Klose, creative director at developer Deck13, told Polygon.
I mentioned the aesthetics briefly above, but it's worth reiterating that Lords of the Fallen is certainly a visually striking game, even if the PC version framerate suffered a little during the preview presentation. More than that, though, the enemy design is rather beguiling and can sometimes lead to some rather unpredictable attacks, keeping players on their toes. At the end of the demo, I had a chance to go up against the Champion Lord, a leviathan not unlike Marvel's Rhino, with a propensity for charging headfirst into its enemies, but also armed with two vicious-looking forearm blades that would occasionally burst into flames and serve up one-hit kills. Defeating him involved a matter of well-timed evasion rolls, and striking back at just the right time to finish one's attack animation before the Champion Lord began its own attack sequence again. I failed. A lot.
Lords of the Fallen is an interesting proposition, but the comparisons with Dark Souls are more to do with the lack of other games in this bastard-hard, dungeon-crawling, action-RPG genre. No-one else has dared step up to the plate. But this is how evolution in a genre happens, and Lords of the Fallen is looking like it might have what it takes to become a decent game in its own right rather than forever dwelling in Dark Souls' large shadow, though it's impossible to tell on the strength of this short demo.