The toughest enemy in your game should not be the camera.
Lords of the Fallen is an upcoming action-role playing game from City Interactive and Deck13 Interactive, and wears its two primary inspirations on its heavy spiked gauntlets. The art design – especially when it comes to characters – would look right at home in a Darksiders sequel, and the combat is gunning for the tactical edge and difficulty curve of the Dark Souls franchise. It’s the latter that I got my hands with both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 version of the game during E3 this week for a quick hands-on impression.
The god of Harkyn’s world does not forgive the sins of its followers. Not too much of a surprise, considering they defeated and imprisoned it. But the god’s loyal armies rage on against mankind, giving recently freed prisoner (and well-practiced sinner) Harkyn a whole mess of big armored demons glowing bright red and needing a beatdown. In my brief time with the game, I was able to experiment with several weapon types and battle tactics, none of which felt truly effective against any enemy NPC stronger than a grunt.
One of the most lauded aspects of Lords of the Fallen is its difficulty. Each encounter has the potential for a variety of approaches, but this ambition is currently hindered by crowded level layouts and a loose camera. Without the ability to lock onto an enemy (if there is any such feature, it wasn’t mapped to anything during either of our demos), any mid-battle camera adjustments risk careening your perspective into all manner of unhelpful corners. A few of the more open rooms fared better (boss encounters most of all), but there were far too many corridors and stairways to contend with in between.
Armored enemies feel overpowered, with reaction times and movement speeds that defy their shields and armor. Your stamina bar appears to be no match against even a guarded onslaught, the weakest enemy able to lock you into at least one combo that depletes it in its entirety. No matter which tactic you use, the effect feels like whittling a stone from a mountainside. A shame, considering that the three weapon types available in the demo (daggers, sword and shield, staff) do provide substantially different movesets. Magic attacks are limited but extremely powerful, becoming a bit of a coward’s crutch as you duck and weave around an enemy in between projectile bursts and bar re-fillings.
What I saw of the game world seemed to lack an identity beyond the association with Darksiders. Especially while stuck inside the hallways of the demo’s mountain castle, most of the design felt derived from a generic Nordic fantasy landscape painting. Enemy types ranged from generic to genuinely menacing, but none really distinguished themselves. Bosses are far more impressive both in terms of scale and detail, and are a legitimate reward to slogging through the grunt forces. It looks good on a technical level, atmospheric lighting and armor textures are especially impressive on the Xbox One, but there is little to draw the eye in beyond that.
A lock-on system and a little balancing to enemy reaction times and stamina recharge rates are all that’s needed to bring Lords of the Fallen to a stable status. But the art direction seems to rely on the graphical fidelity of the newest console generation to cover up unexciting locations and background objects. The varying weapon types and combat styles hold a lot of potential, but feel uncomfortable and slow against the camera. There is an opportunity to recover here, I was told the demo only scratched the surface of the game’s combat mechanics. As it currently stands though, this definitely feels like a damned world.
Lords of the Fallen will launch on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One sometime later this year.