Square Enix have the distinct pleasure of playing referee in a potential war of words between the legion of devoted Dark Souls fans, and those who will attest that Lords of the Fallen stands as a valid alternative. It’s a justifiable war in this instance though: Dark Souls is without question a tremendous game, yet six hours with Lords of the Fallen was more than enough time to prove to me that it’s worth fighting for.
This is not sincerest flattery, nor indeed is it Deck13 Interactive striking while the iron is hot: what this Frankfurt-based studio have attempted to do appears to be tantamount to what the German youths of today would describe as “Schüsse abgefeuert“. Lords of the Fallen is a definitive statement that there can be a game akin to Dark Souls, that (contrary to popular belief) doesn’t have to be developed by From Software.
Just after midday, in an underground nightclub below Blackfriars station, conversation between observers and promoters at an event to showcase Dark Souls‘ touted main competitor quickly devolved into discussing the merits of playing Dark Souls. It’s evident from this preview that it’s nigh on impossible to steer a conversation about Lords of the Fallen away from repeatedly mentioning its chosen rival. Thankfully, once controllers were in hands and Deck13’s handiwork could be shown to its full extent, the game was free to do the talking for us.
The first portion of Lords of the Fallen certainly feels reminiscent, if a little overly so, yet when the early teething problems subside and you’re free to confidently attempt to progress, things kick into top gear and Lords of the Fallen begins to forge its own admirable identity.
After getting to grips with the control mechanics, picking off a few creatures and gaining access to the first boss, you start to see where Deck13’s confident statement of intent is evidenced. The first fight – against a heavily shielded First Warden – is an intense learning experience, one which will help many people understand that Lords of the Fallen isn’t Dark Souls with stabilisers.
It took over a dozen tries for me to destroy the first boss, a feat which resulted in removing my shoes and shield to vitally increase my agility, and thus my ability to dodge and successfully counter incoming attacks. What become apparent after conquering the First Warden was that the thrill of successful perseverance is as keenly felt here as it is in games like Dark Souls: your heart races just as hard when you’re mid-fight and you’re thinking “this might finally be the one, don’t mess it up”, the feeling of timing your moves right and achieving a hard-fought victory is an immeasurably satisfying experience. With a combo-based combat system that’s challenging but highly gratifying when mastered, and a ‘trial and error’ emphasis on choosing the right weapon types and armour, it becomes clear when progressing that the game is designed to flit between difficult and almost impossible. In the afternoon I spent with the game, over a third of my time was spent fighting and dying at the hands of three bosses. The exploration of the game world provides plenty to adore, but it’s within the major fights – Lords of the Fallen‘s dedicated spectacles – where everything the game does right comes together and stands out.
Defeating the third boss was one of the most rewarding moments I’ve had in a videogame this year. Fitting then, that almost immediately afterwards at the bookend of a six-hour adventure, I was awarded a trophy that declared that the game had finally begun. Whether or not Lords of the Fallen intensifies further and truly establishes itself as a competitor to Dark Souls remains to be seen. As it stands though, Lords of the Fallen feels determined to provide an alternative to Dark Souls, while being an entertaining game in its own right.