Lords of the Fallen

Bandai Namco’s Dark Souls Understudy
by Kyle Hilliard on Apr 22, 2014 at 04:02 AM
Platform PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC
Publisher Bandai Namco
Developer Deck13 Interactive/CI Games
Rating Mature

It’s difficult to not immediately recall From Software’s critically acclaimed Dark Souls series after seeing Lords of the Fallen in action. A tagline on the teaser trailer for the game below reads, “Every victory is born from defeat,” as we see an armored knight attack a boss enemy and die over and over again. When talking to the executive producer Tomasz Gop, who also worked on The Witcher series, he cuts me off before I can even finish saying the word inspiration excitedly exclaiming, “Dark Souls!” Despite the comparison, Gop is confident the game will ultimately stand on its own for a number of reasons, but right now he’s happy to embrace the comparison. “On a certain day I said, ‘Hey, what are you going to do? If people are going to compare us to Dark Souls, let’s focus on trying to make that not be a bad thing,’” Gop says. “Since that day, I sleep way more soundly.”

The fallen in the game’s title refers to an evil god and its demons defeated and buried by humanity 1,000 years ago. This victory leads humanity to pursue a belief that evil can be entirely eliminated. As a result, a religion of purity is born that harshly defines sin, banishes those who partake in evil activities, and marks them with tattoos for their transgressions. Lords of the Fallen’s story begins when the demons begin to re-emerge. Humanity looks to Harkin, a human who has been tattooed more than any other. They believe he has the ability to defeat evil again based on his history of sin.

Players can’t change Harkin’s appearance, but they do select his class at the start of the game – rogue, cleric, or warrior – to dictate the path of his spell trees. His gear, weapons, and stats are class-independent, so it’s easy to mold him to the way you want to play over the course of the game, as opposed to making the decision up front.

As Gop walks us through a catacomb level, he jokes that every fantasy action game needs catacombs. Harkin enters holding a large spear and a flaming shield. His flowing robes stand out in particular, taking full advantage of the power of the new-gen consoles. The game looks great overall with Harkin having an impressive level of detail in all of his animation, but Gop says the particle and cloth effects are where the new-gen elements shine.

Walking through the shadowed halls, Harkin takes on enemies one at a time. Harkin kicks one enemy, forcing it to open itself up to attack. After defeating this enemy, he sees another holding up a shield far down a long hallway. He makes chase as the enemy slowly backs out of the hall into an open room. Harkin, focused on the enemy, enters the room, only to be blindsided by a foe on the right who was hiding. Harkin dispatches the two using a variety of rolls, fire spells, spear attacks, and carefully timed blocks.

Before moving on, Harkin finds a locked door with a symbol next it. He backtracks into the previous room to a show a switch on the floor with the same symbol on it. Stepping on it opens the locked door, but Harkin has to sprint to make it to the door before it locks again. Inside he finds some new gear and a large spider. Limited puzzle solving and exploration appear throughout Lords of the Fallen, but Gop is quick to qualify that these are not the main points of the game. “It’s a really nice cherry on a pie, but we want to make sure the pillar of the game is combat and character development,” Gop says.

The demo of the game ends with the boss we see in the game’s teaser. Gop equips Harkin with a pair of claws, making him look like a high-fantasy Wolverine. The boss’ main attack is a charge that Harkin dodges with a roll, firing off a fireball spell and moving in for attacks during the infrequent openings. After defeating the boss, Gop is pleased with himself, remarking he is thankful he’s starting to get better at the game.

Gop is not comfortable calling Lords of the Fallen's world open. He compares it to a Zelda game with large explorable areas each separated from one another with loading screens in between. There are two realms, a human and a demonic realm, and making it to the latter requires progression in the game's story. Making it through Lords of the Fallen is not a one-way trip, however, as the ability to back-track and re-explore with new abilities will always be an option. Gop also defines the game as a strictly single-player experience with no implementation or future plans for multilpayer of any kind.

Lords of the Fallen is meant to be difficult. “It is a game that requires you to do your homework,” Gop says. “Especially for most of the boss fights, you will probably die once or twice, or five times – I don’t know.” It won’t be a breezy action game, but Gop doesn’t want to push against new players. Things like frustrating environmental deaths are promised to be limited, and the game can be paused. The entry curve, compared to Dark Souls, is overall meant to be more accommodating.

Tomasz Gop cut his teeth producing The Witcher series, but has been working on Lords of the Fallen as a co-developed project between CI Games and Deck 13 Interactive for the last two years. It’s the first new-gen game from publisher Bandai Namco and has crossed the alpha checkpoint, meaning development is going smoothly for a 2014 release.

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