The world CI Games has created for Lords of the Fallen is detailed, imaginative, and filled with things that are going to kill you repeatedly. The game is designed around the idea that you are going to die a lot, prompting obvious comparisons to the Souls games, Bandai Namco’s other punishing action role-playing franchise. Despite a few similarities though, Lords of the Fallen is its own game, brimming with original ideas.
The Poland-based developer describes its new IP as an action game with RPG elements, and it’s based around risk and reward. You can cut down the number of deaths you face by playing it conservative, but you’ll miss out on a lot of power-ups, extra experience, and more. No matter how you play it though, you’ll still need to embrace the strategic benefits earned by dying and learning from your mistakes.
The past is present. Several millennia before the start of the game, the people of Lords of the Fallen’s world rose up to overthrow their malevolent god. This victory ushered in a new era, in which the people created their own sense of morality. This also gave birth to the belief that evil could be completely expunged from the human nature. When demons and dark magic suddenly begin to appear in the world thousands of years later, the people are unprepared, and so they seek out an evil they understand to fight one that they don’t. This is where the tattooed man Harkyn comes in.
In the world of Lords of the Fallen, the people mark criminals by tattooing the sins they’ve committed across their face for all to see; Harkyn’s face is covered with writing, marking his dark past. This gives him an advantage in the current climate though. While the people see the rise of the demons as pure evil, Harkyn sees more to it. There is a reason for it, and he agrees to help discover what that reason is.
Sin and Sinner. Lords of the Fallen is a linear game for the most part, but it does offer branching choices that lead to multiple endings. CI Games was quiet on exactly during our demo time as to how these choices present themselves, but there will be moments where your earlier actions may come back to haunt you.
The devs claim Lords of the Fallen will take about 30 hours on average to complete, including some backtracking and exploration. Once an area’s boss has been defeated, that area is clear, but there are hidden paths and secrets that can only be found by returning to locations you have already visited.
Every threat is deadly. Lords of the Fallen offers third-person action that combines weapon-based melee attacks with magic. When you begin a new game, you are asked to select one of three character types: Cleric, Rogue, or Warrior. This choice locks you into a specific magic path, with pre-determined spells for each character. You are free to equip any armor and weapon you choose though, and you can upgrade your character’s skills and abilities however you like.
Throughout the game you’ll face demons and creatures known as infected. The infected introduced in our demo are mutated humans, and they can kill you with just a few well-placed strikes – these are the standard enemies you’ll encounter everywhere. They are also blind, giving you an advantage, albeit a minor one. Lords of the Fallen is not the type of game where you can wade into a group of enemies and hack and slash your way through. Every encounter requires you to approach your foe (or foes) with caution, blocking or dodging each strike. It’s expected that you will die, so much so that CI Games introduced a clever risk-reward system around your mortality.
Die, rinse, repeat. When you die, you will leave behind a glowing orb filled with all the unspent experience you were carrying up to that part. You will then respawn near where you fell, but so will all the enemies in that area. The orb “leaks” experience, and the longer it takes you to retrieve it, the less you regain. If you die en route, you drop a new orb with whatever you collected in that brief life, and lose the original.
There is a way to play it safe though: at each save point you can bank any experience points you don’t want to spend. These points can then be accessed at any other save point, but the gamblers out there may want to skip this. The longer you stay alive without banking experience, the more multipliers you earn to increase your haul.
Learn from your defeats. Several areas feature environmental traps you can use to your advantage, but this too requires you to weigh the risk versus the reward. In the demo we saw, a giant demon charged Harkyn. The first time through, the devs driving the game slowly and methodically wore down the beast, dodging its attacks until it fell. During this fight they pointed out several wooden planks on the ground that didn’t seem to have any use.
For the second attempt, the devs lured the creature onto the wood when they faced off against it again. The planks collapsed, dropping the creature into a pit filled with spikes. CI Games noted that there will often be “easy ways out” like this, but there is a catch: In letting the enemy drop, it took its loot with it. Whether or not it’s worth the sacrifice is a choice you have to make for yourself.
The easy way or the hard way. While there is only one difficulty setting in Lords of the Fallen, there are optional ways to make the game even more challenging. While facing a hulking boss demon, the devs made special note of the enemy’s three-tiered health bar. With each new tier depleted, the boss gained a new attack, including the ability to become “enraged.” When this happened, the boss gained attack and defense and simply charged.
A cautious player could take their time and wait for their moment, but the daring can run up and attack the boss to disrupt its ability to become enraged. The risk is being hit so hard you may instantly die, but if you manage to defeat the boss without letting it enrage itself, you receive a special reward – in this case a rare weapon. CI Games promised several challenges like this. It will often seem suicidal to complete many of these challenges, but the rewards are designed to make the risk worth it.
A new world. Lords of the Fallen is designed for PC and next-gen consoles, and that is reflected in the game’s attention to detail. CI Games went so far as to invent an entire, functional language using runes. These runes are used to craft new weapons and armor. It borders on overkill to create an entire language for what amounts to a mechanic that other games have offered for years, but it’s a nice touch that speaks to the living world Lords of the Fallen takes place in.
The demo amounted to a quick glance at the philosophy of the game, but CI Games has created an entire world, complete with its own legends, morality, and history. We should see more on that leading up to the game’s fall release.
Lords of the Fallen is going to kill you, but that’s not a bad thing. The game is partially built around how well you handle your deaths, and what you learn from them. It also tempts you with a risk-reward system that allows you to determine in part just how difficult you want to make it. There’s a freedom in that, even when it leads to death. Lots and lots of death.
(Media © CI Games S.A.)