Lord of souls
Harkyn, a criminal with the sins of his past branded into his face, is given an opportunity to redeem himself and prevent a war between humans, gods, and the ferocious demons, Rhogar. So begins Lords Of The Fallen, an ambitious fantasy epic that offers the next-gen consoles their first taste of hardcore action-adventuring.
Given its themes and presentation, the comparisons to Dark Souls are unavoidable and not entirely unwarranted. The basic controls will feel familiar to anyone experienced with From Software's gothic modern classics, with heavy and light attacks mapped to the right shoulder triggers, blocks to the left, while items are consumed and spells deployed using the face buttons. It's a little sharper and more sensible than Souls though; tapping the face buttons cycles through inventory and magic, and only long-pressing uses or activates them. It's far less frustrating to not accidentally waste potions or the like because of a slipped finger.
Depending on the class build you go for, Harkyn's movement and battle style changes drastically. The developers have thankfully subverted RPG tradition to an extent, with the Cleric class serving as the all-rounder, while the Rogue benefits from speed and agility and the Warrior exemplifies brute power. The Rogues higher levels of energy (essentially stamina) allow for better dodging and more attacks when a window of opportunity presents itself. Although some allowance is made for stealth attacks, they're largely irrelevant a well-timed combo will deal more damage every time.
Character growth is also similar to Souls. Experience gained is lost if you die, but can be regained if you return to your place of defeat and reclaim it. Here though, you're on a timer to get it back, with the amount remaining diminishing. Save crystals are a little more regular a sight than campfires, and allow you to bank experience to enhance attributes or spells. Harkyn's progression feels better presented, with clear explanations of the benefits of each upgrade or piece of armour, and a more noticeable sense of improvement with each level gained.
It's difficult too, but pleasantly so. It'll present a challenge to hardened players, but isn't so frightfully punishing of imperfections. Each step you take on the journey in Lords Of The Fallen feels like a lesson learned; new enemies sized up and sliced down, bosses challenged and eventually defeated. Trial and error plays a part, but when you die and you will it rarely feels as though it was undeserved.
Lords Of The Fallen is also a staggeringly beautiful game, both in its general looks the scenery, world design, character and enemy detail are all superb and in its animation. Enemy movements are unique, each type displaying some subtle difference in body language or behaviour even before they notice you, while their attacks are almost balletic. Their patterns are structured and discernible, allowing you to react to their individual approaches, but varied enough that every encounter isn't always the same.
Those who prefer some narrative to their games will also likely favour this over Souls. Harkyn's journey from tortured ex-prisoner to something greater isn't exactly Shakespeare, but it does offer a deeper level of engagement with the events than the almost totally environmental storytelling of its genre-mate. The flip side is this makes the game slightly more linear, although Harkyn's occasional interactions with NPCs yield branching conversations, in turn producing different outcomes that affect later segments of the game.
Unfortunately, all the positives are undercut by a pair of very frustrating bugs. One causes Harkyn to frequently stop moving. Thankfully, it never seems to happen in combat, only when moving around the world, but it's immensely frustrating all the same. Getting around is dramatically slowed down when your player character treats pebbles like walls. The second sees spoken audio vanish on occasion, requiring a reload to restore it. These are both hopefully easily solved with updates in the near future but at present, they're detriments to an otherwise hugely enjoyable action romp.
It's essentially a more accessible twist on Dark Souls formula, and while that idea may be anathema to some, it makes for a more rounded and enjoyable experience. If those bugs get patched, add an extra star.