Since it's announcement, Lords of the Fallen has been compared to From Software's action role-playing franchise Dark Souls, albeit almost entirely in a negative manner. It was less of an outrage and more of a dismissal; Lords would never live up to the bar set by its inspiration. Many called it a shameless ripoff, with the developers attempting to ride on the coattails of success of the Souls series. I was the only person I knew who was actually excited for it. I wanted to give it a chance, I didn't believe that the developers would make a game purely based off of such nefarious ideals. After spending quite a good amount of time with it, I feel that while Lords of the Fallen attempts to ape Dark Souls in almost every possible way, the game never feels cynical, but rather respectful of the games that inspired it.
The game begins with our protagonist Harkyn, a bald, bearded, and brash bad-ass, as well as a monk named Kaslo, entering a monastery. Harkyn, (whose face is covered in tattoos that represent his past sins) has been let out of prison in order to help fight off the invading Rhogar (demons, pretty much) army, as he is well known for his prowess in combat. As he journeys throughout the massive structure, fighting off many a Rhogar, he meets a handful of other characters which he chats up in odd and unnecessary Skyrim style conversations.
I found it really hard to care about the plot. Cut-scenes and conversations happen rather infrequently, so by the time I would reach my objectives I would usually forget what was going on (despite the single-sentence reminder that hangs around in the corner of the screen). Besides that, voice acting and presentation in these scenes do very little to make the plot interesting in the slightest. The characters sound bored, they look bored, and they move about with frequently re-used and inhuman animations, which caused me to laugh at some of the more serious scenes in the game.
Interestingly enough, despite the poor presentation when it comes to character models and animations, I would not say that this is a bad looking game. The environments are able to look beautiful at times, thanks to some fantastic lighting. My first time stepping outside of the dark corridors (which make up the bulk of the what you see in this game), I stopped to look at the snow covered mountains in the distance; it was quite a view. No this is not a very technically advanced game, but it does manage to pull off some great vistas at times. I particularly loved the art style, chunky armour sets and dank decrepit interiors fill up most of your visual experience, as well as enemies that look a little similar to the Daedra from Oblivion.
So far, so middling. None of the previous aspects of Lords of the Fallen do too much to impress, and much of it certainly feels derivative of many other games. Derivative definitely extends to the game-play as well, though that is not to say it is not handled well. The opposite it true, I believe. Lords of the Fallen plays like Dark Souls, although it has a noticeably heavier feel to it. In combat, you can use chains of light attacks, or single hit strong attacks with your melee weapons. You can also dodge attacks, and block strikes if you have a shield. All of these manoeuvres take a toll on a stamina bar that, if emptied, leaves the character unable to perform said actions. There are also magic abilities that you can use as well as ranged attacks using a magic gauntlet, both of which drain a constantly recharging mana bar.
Of course, this all sounds very familiar, but how does the game play? Even if the other aspects of the game are not particularly great, good game-play can save even the most ugliest and poorly written of games in my opinion. Thankfully, Lords of the Fallen handles quite well in combat. The game is not particularly punishing, but it does require some quick thinking and reflex on the players part. Strikes have a lot of weight to them, and the whole game feels very heavy, but not clunky. The controls are responsive, although attack animations play out slowly, so you need to think before you strike. The magic system is more of a complementary mechanic, mostly used for buffs. I did not find magic to be useful, save for a few instances. The primary method of ranged attacks involves the use of the gauntlet, an odd looking weapon that you can equip on your arm to shoot magic projectiles at enemies. This can be useful in certain situations, and can be customized using runes that you can also slot into weapons and armour. There is a significant lack of enemy variety however, as you will be fighting the same kinds of enemies throughout the game that simply get stronger as you progress, so your tactics don't have to change all that much as you progress.
Lords of the Fallen's game world is not particularly huge, although it is packed with secrets to find. Weapons, armour and many other items are held within chests that can be found on the main path and by exploring the many side paths throughout the game. There are also side-quests, but the game does not keep track of them for you and for many of them, the rewards do not come until much later in the game. The game is also not terribly long (for an RPG), with my first playthrough only taking around 25 hours finding most of the secrets.
Character progression is yet again, handled similarly to Dark Souls. Killing enemies grants you experience which you can use to level up either your base stats or your spells. However, this is where what might be the games single unique idea comes into play. Every time you kill an enemy, your experience multiplier increases, meaning the amount of experience you get per kill increases as long as you stay alive and don't rest at checkpoints (meaning that you can't restock your potions as well). This is a fantastic risk versus reward system that helps elevate the intensity of each encounter, making each kill more satisfying.
This system works wonders with the boss fights in the game. On their own, the bosses in Lords of the Fallen are one of the stronger parts of the game. They don't have fancy names or backstories, rather they have threatening titles like "The Champion" or "The Annihilator." They all have fairly predictable patterns that you pick up on quickly and work around to beat them. While none of them prove to be too challenging, the fights are intense, especially when you go into one with a large multiplier and very little health. Winning a fight under these conditions can be an incredibly rewarding experience, and not just for in-game reasons.
As for the achievements, Lords of the Fallen isn't all that hard to complete. The game sits at a surprisingly high TA ratio, although I assume that's because you have to complete three full playthroughs to get every ending. The achievement list is a good balance between exploring to find collectibles, progressing the story, as well as other miscellaneous things to do. A guide will prove useful for the amount of things you need to collect, as well as the numerous missable achievements as well ( I recommend the fantastic walkthrough here on this site).
Before writing, I told myself that I should try to not constantly compare this game to Dark Souls in this review. Clearly, I have failed. It feels almost impossible not to do so. To bluntly sum up what I have here, Lords of the Fallen is an inferior Dark Souls but it is by no means a bad game. Many of the game's aspects are mediocre at best, but the core game-play is very solid. It's challenging but not punishing, derivative but not shameless. Lords of the Fallen is a commendable effort from what I feel is a developer that has a deep respect for From Software's beloved action role-playing franchise, and I don't think it should be looked down upon for being that.
(7.5/10, so I'm rounding that to 4 stars)