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At first glance, Lords of the Fallen might seem like a straightforward fantasy single-player title with a bald, bearded main character that looks straight out of a Nordic myth. He wields the power of a mighty hammer, explores mysterious dungeons, and defeats demonic monsters with both physical and magical prowess. Defeating enemies earns perks in skill trees which depend upon the class you choose cleric, rogue, and warrior for the character at the beginning of the game. It seems like an action game where you can mash the attack button, thrashing your two-handed bladed through swarms of enemies with lengthy combos.
But as soon as you enter combat, it becomes clear that pounding on the face buttons will end in death, or at least more death than the game already demands. While German developer Deck 13 along with Polish studio CI Games emphasize that Lords of the Fallen doesn't aim to be as punishing as Dark Souls, death will form the backbone of learning from your mistakes. One-on-one combat centers around weaving in and out of the enemy's range, paying careful attention to what attacks your enemies perform and how best to dodge and exploit openings.
Unlike many of the standard fantasy action titles that have released in the recent past, Lords of the Fallen does not reward players for simply smashing a single attack. As a matter of fact, it punishes such simple tactics. Every enemy that you cross will need to be treated as a deadly foe, because you are more fragile than they are. Watching the developer play through the demo, it was clear that the goal wasn't to set out to punish the player for not knowing what to do, but rather to constantly remind them that precise attacks, patience, and recognizing patterns are the key to victory.
Once an enemy engaged in combat, keeping your distance and watching for openings become the standard form for each bout. Being able to successfully supplement many quick attacks with timely power slashes is an important part of ensuring fights don't take longer and become more dangerous than they should. Ultimately, it looked like combat was more about your ability to work through the opponent's weaknesses until they falter rather than slashing away mercilessly.
If you've played other action RPGs like the Elder Scrolls and Kingdoms of Amalur, you've probably had a guilty moment or two of button-mashing your way to victory. As Executive Producer Tomasz Gop showed us in his Lords of the Fallen demo, such a tactic will get you killed by just about any enemy.
Similar to timing attacks and cautious movements in Dark Souls' combat, Lords of the Fallen encourages carefully thought-out reactions to enemy combatants. To succeed in Lords of the Fallen, players must study their enemies and counter with timely, appropriate attacks. Watch your enemy lunge at you, then dodge to the side to catch her off guard; test which of your enemy's attacks your shield can block, then come back with a three-hit combo. The overall melee combat dynamic is fairly fluid: every enemy has at least three attack types and, depending on your position and maneuver, you will develop different ways to use your attacks in each battle.
Lords of the Fallen's protagonist is Harkyn, a warrior out to destroy humanity's fallen god and his generals, the 'Lords of the Fallen' mentioned in the title. Gop explains that the design was an amalgam of hundreds of pictures, but despite that, someone always says that Harkyn looks like one actor or another. Someone else sitting in on the presentation offers up Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston as another option. I feel bad for the poor character designer. ï‚†
There were only a few encounters in the demo, which took place in a sprawling cathedral and castle. Gop tells us that he wants each encounter to feel "like a Tekken or Street Fighter battle." If Deck13 has done its job right, each fight should be measured, forcing players to plan out their attack and defense strategies. The first fight is actually against one of the Lords, an armored fellow with a large sword and shield, and a skin problem involving lava.
The main character can be played as one of three classes: cleric, warrior or rogue. Each has their own skill tree, giving the player the option to play with ranged spell attacks, heavier damage or stealth-based powers. In the version we saw, Harkin used a few of the rogue class' spells that focus on spawning clones. He can project ghostly versions of himself to either distract his foes or use them as deadly projectiles that sprint toward them to inflict damage.
Lords of the Fallen is not a hack-and-slash action-RPG, according to executive producer Tomasz Gop, and attempts to button-mash your way through a fight will most likely meet with failure. Combat appears to be a methodical give and take of blows, blocks and dodges. In one boss fight we watched, Gop was cautious with his attacks, waiting for a Rhogar called the First Warden to strike with his curved greatsword, then attacking quickly while his foe was locked into his swing animation. Gop played defensively throughout, strategically keeping his distance from the First Warden and dodge-rolling out of harm's way when the demon attacked.
During a hands-off preview behind closed doors, PlayStation LifeStyle was able to get a first look at the latest build of the game in its pre-alpha state. Looking at the title, it is easy to tell that CI Games are not only very serious about this title, but are ready going to come out swinging next year. The level of detail and the quality of texturing offered from CI Games proprietary engine is fantastic, with the overall look of the game being an interesting mix between Gothic and Viking styles. Visually, Lords of the Fallen looks a bit like Castlevania: Lords of Shadow with the combat styling of Dark Souls.
Comparing Lords of the Fallen to other games is a good start to comprehend the tone of the game, but the level of depth that was shown and that is planned, could exceed those products at every turn. The combat system looks to be a very complicated mixture of understanding enemy routines and your ability with the weapon in hand. Much like Dark Souls, each opponent is a viable threat that could dispatch a careless traveler, but to its own benefit, none of the fights shown looked to be agonizing if you paid enough attention.
Fans of Dark Souls will appreciate a fairly complex action-rpg combat system, where equipment and weight make a huge difference. We'll see the return of the classic health, mana, and stamina bars. There are several classes in the game, including your standard sword-and-board tank warrior, a quick and nimble rogue-like character, and a magic user. Each class levels up and has access to their own skill trees with unique abilities. However, you can mix and match the classes and gear, so you could have a magic-user who wears rogue gear, for instance. Certain enemies will encourage a character to change their gear for an upcoming fight. Some Warrior-oriented magic that we saw are the ability to create distracting clones of the character, and send a projection hurtling towards the enemy, knocking them down (EXPECTO PATRONUM!).
The level design is familiar, as well with those medieval towers, often with a choice of paths. This non-linear design lends itself to sneaking up on enemies and stabbing them in the back, or choosing a path laden with traps over a direct route with powerful enemies. At the end of each level (and often peppered within) are powerful bosses, and the concept of (learn by dying) seems to be a healthy part of the process. Bosses come in all shapes and sizes, small and large, each with their own move set. The major boss we saw was a giant armored demon with a fiery sword that evoked memories of Sauron from The Lord of the Rings. He has several notches in his health bar that represent phases of battle. When you take his health down far enough, he may shed armor, power up, or otherwise change his fighting style. Our boss began as an armored tank with a shield, and ended the fight as an almost-nude whirling.