Lords of the Fallen – From Handholding to Hardcore

Lords of the Fallen – From Handholding to Hardcore
Originally Published on the Blast Away the Game Review Facebook Page on 5/9/2014
Written by Allen M.K. Jenkins

Despite the scant information and a short alpha build gameplay trailer available for consumption, everybody seems to think they know whatLords of the Fallen is all about. From a very early point, many drew comparisons of LotF to Dark Souls, with its Dark Fantasy setting, and the seemingly difficult combat against giant, intimidating monsters.

While LotF does indeed share something with Dark Souls, I wouldn’t have drawn the comparison immediately. When I first heard about the game, I was almost immediately reminded of Infinity Blade—although this could simply be a result of the very familiar fantasy setting, and grim, faceless monster knights. Upon closer inspection, however, there are clues in the small amount of marketing that we have received thus far that give LotF a much different feel than Dark Souls.

The individual promotional images focus on recognizable character portraits with quotes, ostensibly from the characters themselves. The image of the main character (who Mike Williams of US Gamer pointed out looks like Jeff Bridges, and will now forever to me be Jeff Bridges) states “There is a map of the bad things I have done. It’s right here.” From the outset, this differentiates Lords of the Fallen from Dark Souls in that a main character exists at all, with a personality, and most likely a past of bad deeds (Maybe he’s trying to get his rug back. Who knows).

Even more interesting is that the trailer names a specific place (Prayer Valley) and sets up a piece of geography for the viewer to latch on to. This is no procession of increasingly more difficult enemies until the end (I’ll admit, I’ve never beaten Dark Souls or its spiritual predecessor,Demon’s Souls), but a game with a story to tell, and a character to move the story forward. To me, this is promising in many different ways.

Much has been said about handholding in video games—with the advent of waypoints, tutorials, and the worst, button map loading screens, many have lamented the loss of hardcore gaming from days of yore, where open world meant true exploration, as in Zelda and Super Metroid, and games didn’t prompt you press X to open a door every time you come in contact with a door-like object.

With this in mind, Dark Souls isn’t exactly a negative game to be compared to, with its extremely challenging difficulty level, and lack of any kind of tutorial whatsoever. Sure, the characters look like they were rendered on a potato, and the story is all but non-existent, but the game is, to use the technical term, balls hard. That said, I think there is a balance to be struck.

Dark Souls is famed for its difficulty—but why is it really so difficult? When people reminisce about more difficult games of the past, they think of how much the game challenged them. But looking back, what really makes those games challenging? Were games like Megaman 2 really all that difficult? Sure they were, but those games taught you to play by using the game itself. The controls are fluid and tight, and you never feel like the game is cheating you out of a win.

Games like Dark Souls are often so difficult because of things like clunky controls and enemies that can kill an inexperienced player in one to two hits, not enough time to learn the enemy’s patterns and react. Does one die in Dark Souls because they are not crafty enough, or because they are committed to slow, awkward, uncancellable movements every time they press a button? Not to say the game is bad—it feels excellent to overcome the handicap games like these put on the player. But the truth is, the enemies simply have a larger playbook than the player does.

Some games take this too far in the other direction, like the recent string of Arkham games from Rocksteady. The controls in battle feelexcellent, but are essentially a combination of pressing two buttons to attack and counter, with no need for directional input. What I personally want out of a game is a good balance—combat or play that feels satisfying and reactive, but doesn’t sacrifice challenge in the process.

Because LotF has a story and characters, the focus may indeed be put on making the game feel good to play. This was all but confirmed inLotF executive producer Tomasz Gop’s interview with Digital Spy, in which he said the combat would take cues from fighting games like Tekken or Street Fighter, in that the actions would be “fluid, faster, and reactive,” and that the story wouldn’t be imposed on the player, even though Gop describes the game as satisfying orthodox RPG expectations. 

The developers have been largely quiet or unclear on the true nature of the game. It is clear, however, that LotF is definitely one to keep an eye on in the upcoming year, especially as we draw closer to E3.

Lords of the Fallen is slated for release at the end of 2014 on Xbox One, Playstation 4, and PC.

To contact Allen M.K. Jenkins check him out on Twitter.

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