A Beautiful Homage that Needs Polish
Last week we had our first impressions of Deck 13’s Lords of the Fallen, an obvious homage the punishingly difficult action RPG Dark Souls. In our final review we explore the ups and downs of the game now that we’ve had time to finish it, and while it never really reaches Dark Souls heights, fans of the genre will likely find a lot to love. Read on for the full review.
As we discussed in last week’s Review in Progress, Lords of the Fallen is an obvious homage to the Dark/Demon Souls series from From Software. Obviously, the notion of difficult but deep action RPGs are still a novelty though, and Lords of the Fallen clearly hopes to fill the void for fans of the Dark Souls games until From Software’s Bloodborne arrives on the PS4 next year. And minus some frustrating bugs and a linear world, it might do just that.
Combat is the crux of Lords, just like it is in the Souls series. Unlike traditional Action RPGs where you can just spam potions and hack your way through enemies undaunted, Lords of the Fallen’s action requires patience, forethought, and timing. Every weapon has different timing, your stats change how good you are with certain items, and every enemy has their own strengths and weaknesses. So when you might favor the staff and shield combo (as I do), sometimes it may be best to whip out your two-handed hammer and go at the mob in the slower but more painful smashy fashion.
I know a few folks who tried playing Dark Souls, and just couldn’t get into it because the combat forces you to take your time and learn the fights. Lords of the Fallen is just like this, only less frustrating as mobs do tend to go down easier. Bosses all have a “trick” to them as well, and while they might be frustrating as can be at first, once you learn their patterns or the puzzle involve the only time you’ll die is when you make a mistake controlling Harkyn or are plagued by the game’s bugs.
In an effort from the devs to make Lords a more appealing game to the masses while still retaining a sense of difficulty, they have put in a more forgiving checkpoint and XP loss mechanic. You’ll earn XP from pretty much everything you do in LotF, and if you stop at a waystone you can “bank” this XP or spend it, so that if you die again shortly after you haven’t lost any progress. And when you die, you can still retrieve said XP by corpse-running your way back to where you fell before the timer runs out. Sometimes this is even made easier because not all mobs respawn upon death either.
You can customize Harkyn’s stats and skills quite well with the XP system, by improving his magic regen, power, strength, HP, and stamina. It really all depends on the type of fighter you are, and what weapons and armor you like to use. There’s no easy way to respec (you must find a hidden chamber to do so), so you might want to be sure you know where you want to put points before you do. The good thing is that you can bank XP into either Magic Spells or Stats without spending the points right away.
But bugs are probably the most frustrating part of Lords. It’s a really good game that just needed some more time polishing things up to be one of this season’s best. But when I have to delay a review because I can’t finish the game due to save bugs and crashing issues on bosses, you know there’s a problem. There is a patch going out soon that fixes a notorious “stuck in a hole” bug, plus addresses some other stability woes, but I can’t let the launch version slide in the polish score I’m afraid. Just take it with a grain of salt that if you’ve been on the fence about buying Lords of the Fallen, you may be better off for waiting. With the patch that went live on Wednesday, the game’s overall stability should be much improved.
Visually, Lords of the Fallen is stunning. I’m not a fan of the way the Souls series looks, and much prefer the dark fantasy vibe of Lords of the Fallen any day. Harkyn’s ornate and elaborate armors, weapons, and the grotesque Rhogar enemies you face are all a thing of nasty beauty. The music and sound is top notch too, and when played with good stereo, you may even get some help in the way of positional sound effects. The only downside is the lackluster voice acting of Harkyn himself. He’s got a memorable look, with the tattoos all over his face and his scraggly beard… but he’s got the personality of literally any hardboiled hero, and it’s a shame we don’t learn too much about him outside of the fact that he’s your usual “antihero”.
Lords of the Fallen is a very capable, if not fully realized and polished RPG. Its story and adventure are linear, but your path towards completion is Zelda-like in that you’ll revisit old areas and uncover new secrets. So a small world is made compelling by having it layered and fraught with danger. Deck13’s game is the sleeper hit for me of this year. I did not expect to like it as much as I did, and it certainly is a “Dark Souls Clone” much in the same way there are now “Diablo Clones” in the wild. Yet Lords of the Fallen proves there is plenty of room for more difficult, deep, and engaging RPGs in the world and does enough different to stand out from the pack. I sincerely hope we get a sequel, as I feel like Deck13 is only just beginning to build this world and carve a niche in the genre.
Gameplay – 9: Lords of the Fallen’s got style and combat down pat, there are few games that make heavy weapons feel heavy and impactful like this, while also allowing light weapons and staves to feel so fast and gratifying. This score could have been a ten if the campaign wasn’t so linear.
Visuals and Sound – 9: There’s a sense of true despair in Lords of the Fallen’s world. It’s gorgeously rendered in every detail from the NPCs, to the Rhogar, to Harkyn himself. The way the world is presented, it speaks volumes of history that make you curious to know more. If the voice acting were less vapid, this would have easily been a 10.
Longevity – 6: The campaign will take you around 10-15 hours, depending on your skill and how many of the few sidequests you truly seek to complete. Beyond that there’s a New Game Plus and Plus-Plus after that, but it’s still the same game.
Polish – 6: In terms of combat and the way the world is designed to have you trace back and uncover new things in old areas is genius. It’s just a shame that both the PC and the PS4 versions have so many bugs that often get in the way of your fights and cause more frustration than the game’s actual difficulty.
Value – 7: For $50 on the PC and $60 on the consoles, Lords of the Fallen is a great, but frustrating experience with its bugs. It’s also not the longest of RPGs out there, so take that into account as well.
REVIEW DISCLAIMER: We reviewed Lords of the Fallen on both the PC and the PS4, with copies provided by Namco Bandai’s Public Relations team. We finished the game on the PS4, due to crashing issues on the PC edition. In total, it took us about 15 hours for the playthrough.