Lords of the Fallen – Hands on Preview

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The last time we saw Lords of the Fallen was back in April. At that time, we got to see a big demonstration of a level by executive producer, Tomaz Gop, and had a few words with him. This time, he gave us the game for an hour and personally guided us through our play through! Which was nice, seeing the developer enjoying you playing and noticing how you play. So I apologise if I inadvertently nerfed anything. Given my last impressions, there were a few things that were worrying me, but with time spent playing the game these fears have definitely been addressed. Although the news broke just after I played that the Xbox One version will run at a lower resolution than the PS4 version, there is time to find some extra memory to ramp it up which I’m sure Microsoft will insist on.

The joys of having a game that shares similarities with other RPG titles like Dark Souls and The Witcher (the latter especially given Gop’s previous involvent with the series) does help you pick up and play the game, even though he admits the controls can be very tricky without the use of a tutorial. Whilst you get the basic idea very quickly there are a lot of nuances to the controls and your approach to the game that are best picked up in action. However the choice you make before you even start playing also dictates the style of game you play along with the controls you’ll be using.

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It’s not terribly over the top, you’ll have three classes to choose from. But the options after that and how you unlock things and progress later on in the game are all dictated by this choice. In this way the accumulation of spells, disciplines, armour class choices and the like owe a lot more to table top RPG gaming like Dungeons & Dragons. The way you can bank your experience is very useful. You aren’t set against just having enough XP for a level up. You can pick and choose how much you want to use towards each upgrade and slowly build it up without having to blow it all on one point upgrade at a time. It’s quite a nice system so that you can feel your progression and feel that you’re using your XP in the best way for you. The art style both, in game and in menus, is given a full on fantasy role playing vibe. Much like Magic the Gathering in the way a card system is used to help the character profile screens. You can still be over encumbered and things your character can’t use are still available, like boss drops. It all adds to how you handle the role playing element which doesn’t punish your smashing bad guys element of the game too much to be completely infuriating. Instead it compliments it well and visa versa. Which as a fan of fantasy but a hater of complex inventory/XP systems I very much approve of.

I started as a guy with medium armour which meant I was dead within a few shots but could move with enough agility to avoid most of the damage and time my attacks. There’s a lot of dodging but also the option for stealth which, especially when you get a few blind enemies around you, allows you to pick and choose your battles. The levels are very dynamic as well. It isn’t just enemy after enemy after enemy followed by boss. There’s lots of hidden places you can explore and extras you can get if you keep your eyes open. Hidden passages and the like can be found along with scrolls that open up a audio note style story nuggets, like Bioshock. Which is nice and it doesn’t move you out of the game. One thing with the controls though, especially given that they can be tricky to start, is how unobtrusive everything is to the in game screen. Everything is a nice size to allow you to see the world and spot all those nooks and crannies. If you change your weapon or magic for example, you’ll have a small notification of what it has changed to.

The thing is with this game is that you can play it how you want to. I’m not a stealthy guy. I’m a very smash and move kind of guy or I’ll pick people off from afar. Unless I know a lot about the world, I won’t care too much about the sheer volume of consumables and objects that can encumber you. In fact the size of Skyrim and everything you can get is one of the things I occasionally dislike about that game. But Lords of the Fallen has this very fluid, very easy to pick up feel about it which, once you acclimatise yourself to it, rewards you greatly. Its screens and options for objects, items and upgradable parts aren’t too overwhelming enough to detract you from playing the game.

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Additions to your weapons this way feel smooth and you really adapt them to how you play with them. When I switched to my second character with his dual daggers, but lighter more death inviting armour, it was a style I was not accustomed to and I found it harder. But with my starter character, I would have progressed him and made him better for my style of play. Lords allows you to do that very easily. The magic options are also very cool if you go down that route. There was a gauntlet which gave me a poison grenade launcher and a magic missile. It’s fun and adds more tactical elements to how you attract and damage enemies. My favourite magic has to be one that mimics your every move for a short time, including attacks, effectively doubling your attack for that time. It’s all very cool.

There are several little things that make me like this game a bit more than the onslaught that Dark Souls brings. Firstly, the lockable camera allows you to keep your focus in battle on a specific target and is easily switched. That’s a great help for the amount of times you duck and roll and keeps you in the fight rather than bouncing off the environment and getting one-hit-smashed to oblivion. You’ll find special challenges throughout the map that are dimensional portals. When you die the ghost of you remains, like Dark Souls. Except, this can be an advantage as your ghost gives you a health buff while you’re in the vicinity of it. I used it, once I died to a boss, as a health regeneration point and kept it there so I could fight the boss around this buff. You won’t get the XP straight away but it’s a nice tactical approach that can aid you. Strike combos make you feel like you’re achieving some awesome damage, much like a Dynasty Warriors game would. The influences from other games are very noticeable but that isn’t to the detriment of Lords, in fact it accentuates its positives.

Those positives are that the game is very easy to play, the control mapping isn’t all over the place and uses held buttons rather than complex D-Pad selections. In fact you can select and deselect your favourite consumable options to make the D-pad essentially your healing potion button. The art is visually stunning and each area feels as atmospheric as Dark Souls and the enemies are just as nasty looking as those in Doom and other horror/fantasy games. The demonic mini-boss I faced reminded me of the devil from Dungeon Keeper which has always looked incredibly cool. The game is tricky and challenging but not in the constant death way of Dark Souls. You don’t get that sense of frustration that sometimes Souls gives you. The game gives you the right amount of options to be able to carve your own Harkyn and your own style of play. The bosses do different things during their battles and it makes fighting them more challenging than just noticing their attack and vunerability cycle. The extras are nice to find and don’t completely obscure you playing the game and keep you in the world more so than the Elder Scrolls games do.

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Back in April I was excited for Lords of the Fallen but a little bit worried it’d be too much like other games or slightly tepid or more focused on the visuals to create a game worth playing. Now I’ve played it, my opinion has completely changed. It’s a game I can’t wait to play, I can’t wait to see speed runs for and I can’t wait to talk about. The next generation hardware was always going to give us good benchmarks for future games. There’s lots of fantasy RPG’s coming out with Shadows of Mordor and Dragon Age. But I think Lords will keep a very good and dedicated audience happy and set a bench mark for other RPG’s to aspire to in the coming years.

Lords of the Fallen is due for release on 31st October for PC, Xbox One and PS4.

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