Lords of the Fallen: Not enough soul - Games Weekly

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Lords of the Fallen: Not enough soul

There's no escaping Lords Of The Fallen's main influence. This isn't a game that wants to be like Dark Souls, it wants to be Dark Souls, borrowing everything from its grimdark tone, its control scheme, and the weight of its combat to the way heavy armour in hibits your movement and the speed of your dodge roll. It's ‘inspired by’ Dark Souls in so much as it cribs almost all of the basic principles of that series and repurposes them in a fresh new-gen setting.

That in itself isn't necessarily a bad thing, even if it means Lords Of The Fallen struggles to establish an identity of its own. It's not trying to hide its inspirations, instead unabashedly wearing the mon its sleeve. Plenty of games will inevitably pinch ideas from Hidetaka Miyazaki’s modern classic, this just happens to be the first major release to do so. In fact, Lords Of The Fallen frequently demonstrates that its developer was paying close attention to the reasons From Software’s RPG works. There’s a real heft to the weapons you wield, and you’ll need to account for that when you begin your swing. Consider not just the distance between you and your opponent, but your stamina meter. You’ll be constantly thinking about the gear you have equipped, whether it’s giving you enough manoeuvrability, and whether the trade off in defence is worth shedding that heavy helmet for. Before long you'll have more weapons and armour than you know what to do with, encouraging you to experiment with loadouts.


Then there’s the environment: a giant fortress with a labyrinthine network of corridors below ground, which is matched in complexity by its alternate dimension counterpart. You’re given objectives but never told where to go, which can occasionally mean some aimless meandering, but usually you’ll find some decent loot on your travels, and there are several shortcuts to open up that allow you to get around quicker, too. It’s annoying when the item you need is behind a tiny door you walked past five times because you didn't rotate the camera at just the right moment to spot it, but it helps generate a strong sense of place.

It has some smart ideas of its own, too. You can bank the experience you've earned at save points to invest in magic or stat upgrades, though the longer you leave it, the better the rewards you’ll get: your experience will multiply for each enemy you kill before triggering the save point, and you'll get higher quality loot drops, too. It’s a neat risk reward system that essentially acts as a difficulty modifier. If you’re good, you can level up quickly, and if you perish you've still got an opportunity to retrieve your experience by returning to the point at which you died to pick it up again. Though you’ll need to hurry back, as a timer is ticking down all the while…

You're also given a magic gauntlet, which can be used as a projectile weapon, or for close range explosive blasts, and which runs off the same magical energy with which you can cast spells. The selection you get depends on your chosen class: Cleric magic focuses on healing yourself and debilitating enemies, while Warrior magic is naturally more offensive. Rogues get some of the most interesting ones, which compensates a little for their weaknesses elsewhere, including a supernatural assassin that can stab enemies on your behalf and a spectral doppelganger who’ll copy your moves, dealing double damage if you get your timing right.

On too many occasions, however, it falls apart. We’ll forgive the excess of lens flare (seriously, even JJ Abrams would tone it down a bit) because the lighting is beautiful, and it factors neatly into visibility in outdoor areas. Yet it’s clearly having an impact on performance: the frame rate tanks horribly in places, notably during one boss fight where the arrival of his minions briefly turned the game into an exceptionally pretty flipbook animation. Such dips begin to factor into the combat, making heavy weapons even less responsive, and with inputs sporadically failing to register, you’ll never be able to shake that sensation that your most recent death wasn't entirely your fault: a crucial difference. The camera struggles at times, too, particularly when roaming through narrow passageways.

Moreover, the game’s difficulty curve feels erratic. This can be partially attributed to its non linear approach, meaning you can, for example, tackle the third boss before you've even seen the second. And yet elsewhere, the challenge ranges from laughably easy to artificially difficult. The abundance of shielded enemies with small hitboxes make for slow early progress, though once you’ve levelled up your gauntlet enough, you can simply take them out with projectile attacks before they’ve even reached you. Blitzing enemies that previously caused you grief is fun, but certain setups are distinctly unbalanced.

Throw in a feeble story and a handful of minor glitches and you’ve got a game that retains enough of its inspiration to keep you playing, but which asks you to forgive an awful lot of problems to truly enjoy.

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