Lord and Saviour?
It may seem unfair but it’s impossible to talk about Lords of the Fallen without discussing another company’s catalogue of brutal medieval RPGs. The Souls series has become a genre, a meme, and a measuring stick for pointless online bravado, so it’s no wonder other games have been seeking a piece of the pie. Heck, Lords of the Fallen is a revamp of uh, Lords of the Fallen a last-gen attempt to do the same. Yet how does this effort measure up to the ancient texts they worship so?
Similarities between the games cannot be overstated, especially when by the developer’s own admission they wanted to make “Dark Souls 4.5”. As such, veterans of those titles will feel Déjà vu with the subtlety of a train collision when they begin Lords. The controls are close to identical, perhaps the one major innovation being a jump button worth a damn? Take that FromSoftware! That said, the game feels great to play, responsive and visceral so why fix what ain’t broke?
The presentation is excellent, a detailed filthy yet majestic medieval fantasy world. One misstep is the emphasis on narrative. Where the Souls games always put you in the role of a cynical opportunist, coming in to clean up a world where the greatest battles have already been fought, Lords takes the traditional gaming route of really emphasising your importance. As opposed to a game where important story details are in the world design and item descriptions you’ll find yourself trapped in some seemingly interminable cutscenes where armoured freaks babble endlessly. Prose rather than poetry.
Fallen in Love?
The most interesting part of the game is the dual worlds mechanic. Using a magic lantern that would make Hal Jordan jealous, you can access Umbral, the world of the dead. This is used for some Zelda-like environmental puzzles, flipping between worlds to access areas that are unavailable in the regular world of Axiom. Less successful is the lantern’s implementation into combat. Some enemies will require a kind of exorcism to defeat, adding additional confusing controls to what is otherwise a beautifully simple control scheme. Imagine if halfway through a Souls duel you had to manage a quick fishing minigame while trying to avoid being murdered. Baffling stuff but these attempts to differentiate itself from its inspirations are admirable if flawed.
Ultimately Lords of the Fallen is well made but too tethered to its influences to make an impression of its own. With the Souls series having such a profound effect on the industry with everything from Shovel Knight to the recent Super Mario Wonder paying mechanical homage it’s little surprise to have copycat titles. Yet with the budget and polish on display here, it’s a true pity the goal wasn’t to outdo FromSoftware but to merely emulate. Here’s hoping that if the series should continue, they should fall upwards.