Lords of the Fallen Preview

Let the god remain buried.

When I say Lords of the Fallen looks like Dark Souls, I mean it descriptively, not derisively. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery after all, and besides, the combat design of Dark Souls should be evangelized, spreading its influence like roots across the game industry. Of course, imitation is but a skip and a hop from outright plagiarism, and the developers for German studio Deck13 Interactive have had to field questions concerning this comparison multiple times, in part because Namco Bandai included it in its recent showcase. But rest assured that there are enough differences between Lords of the Fallen and Dark Souls to thwart any accusations of thievery.

The vast majority of what City Interactive showed in its hands-off demonstration was a repeat of what was shown at PAX last year behind closed doors, but that doesn't lessen how extraordinary looks at this early stage in its development cycle, especially for a new action-adventure IP. At first glance, the graphics look somewhere between Darksiders and Dark Souls, with movement that's swift but extremely deliberate and well-textured environments that has more saturation and feels more medieval in nature.

Lords of the Fallen is not a button-masher, as one tiny slip-up can mean the difference between hitting the back of an armored grunt for a critical hit or eating the snow-covered stone pavement. Most combat sequences will be one-on-one duels where you must carefully judge the speed, the range, the recovery time, and the effectiveness of each attack so that you can strike at the right time without repercussion. Enemies tend to be hulking beasts, particularly one boss shown early in the demo who towers over the main character and wields an ebony shield and a fiery cragged sword. Even after you chip away at its health, forcing its armor to fall to the ground, the boss will become more agile and begin swinging its sword in a killing dance where the only intelligent strategy is to stand back and gain as much distance as possible.

This applies for whatever class you choose your character to be, whether it's the rogue, cleric, or warrior, though the only real difference between them is a few starting stats and what magic spells they can cast. Spells, by the way, are meant to act mainly as battle support instead of direct elemental damage, opening up foes by stunning them or leaving them vulnerable. More importantly, armor is class-independent, so if you're in need of bulky heavy armor or loose leather armor, you can swap between equipment sets freely. So crafting a variety of different armor types would ensure that you have the best setup possible before entering a fight.

But don't let that fool you into thinking that the character will be a neutral-faced tabula rasa. Unlike Dark Souls, the hero has a name, Harkyn, and has a checkered past that is burned onto his body in the form of tattoos. As downtrodden as he might be, though, he's one of only a few men with the skill to investigate rumors of an ancient god the people trapped many centuries ago in the land itself and vanquish the god's newly awakened soldiers. What lines of dialogue you choose throughout his journey of redemption will impact the ending you receive, so it's important to pay attention to both the combat and the plot.

Lords of the Fallen will release in Fall 2014 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC.