More Demon than Souls.
More than four years have passed since From Software's Demon's Souls arrived in the States, and most Western developers have done the equivalent of meandering around in the dark, not daring to step into the white fog and even attempt to approach its modern interpretation of old-school gameplay. Maybe they find the franchise too niche, too uninviting for new players, but you would suspect that its critical acclaim and unrelenting fan base would convince at least a few to follow suit. Thankfully, CI Games, German studio Deck13 known for Venetica, and Namco Bandai are combining their forces to answer the call in Lords of the Fallen.
Having seen the introductory sequence of the game twice before, once at PAX and at an early Namco Bandai showcase this year, I was intrigued by a hands-off demonstration of a mid-game level centered around the catacombs. Now, saying "mid-game" is only accurate if you follow the sequence of areas laid our in increasing difficulty. There's little stopping you from entering the catacombs and facing a greater challenge for bonus XP and higher-level weapons that will decimate the easier sections that were skipped.
Most encounters in Lords of the Fallen are head-to-head match-ups, duels where spacing and circle strafing matter just as much as your equipment setup and overall build. Sometimes you'll want to rock a sword and shield to block incoming attacks, or a bladed claw for inflicting damage quickly, or perhaps a staff for longer melee range.
Handling infected grunts who are your same size won't be a problem, so long as you're careful by paying attention to your surroundings and the enemy's attack patterns (an enemy class will learn new attacks later in the level, denoted by slight change of clothing). In one instance against a mini-boss, the protagonist Harkin could clash with the beast toe-to-toe or taunt it to follow him back over some wooden planks that hide a hole.
The developers also revealed that Harkin doesn't have tattoos for looking badass, though he does. No, this is meant to be a scar, a Scarlet Letter, that immediately tells all who look upon him that he has sinned against the ways of the so-called Codex. As for Harkin, he's got the most tattoos out of everyone, so he's not exactly the kind of person you want to approach for a friendly chat. But as a new evil force threatens their kingdom and no one has been able to return as to its cause, it dawns on them that Harkin may just be the best shot they have. Why not fight evil with evil?
The emphasis on Harkin's story is but one feature that sends the game apart from the Souls series. Combat is much faster, rolling does not take away stamina, magical spells like decoys seem more effective, and the lighting has a starker contrast. That said, you can also bank XP at a save point just as you would souls and a New Game+ is currently on the developer's agenda. We'll just have to see whether Lords of the Fallen will be able to satisfy fans of both action gameplay styles when it releases later in Fall 2014 for PS4, XONE, and PC.