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Why Dark Souls fans should embrace Lords of the Fallen, not condemn it

It’s easy to get upset when you perceive something as ‘ripping off’ a thing that you love. Offended or angry, even. People get really attached to the stuff they like. They integrate it into their identity, and form a degree of their self-perception around it. Thus, if it feels like something is copying that stuff, then it also feels like that something is encroaching upon one’s personal being. Even threatening to take something away by diluting the specialness of the original thing.

All of which psycho-rambling leads me on to Lords of the Fallen, the upcoming action-RPG from CI Games and Square-Enix. As you might already be aware, Lords is very much, very openly inspired by--amongst other games--Dark Souls. As a long-time Souls fan myself, I initially felt a slight knee-jerk. I’d put over 100 hours into the first game, so naturally I was a little protective of it. But then I played Lords of the Fallen, and stopped worrying.

You see LotF, based on my two hands-on demos so far--the most recent of which was at last week’s Gamescom--looks to be a great game. Not just one that simply succeeds in channelling what Dark Souls does well, but one which uses that point of inspiration as a springboard to being a great game in its own right. In fact it’s shaping up to be one of the most exciting action-RPGs of 2014.

When you first get your hands on it, you’ll notice only the similarities. The hefty, powerful, but desperately vulnerable lead character. The deliberate, tactical combat, focused upon different speeds and weights of melee tools, and garnished with magic. The unassuming, but utterly brutal clusters of enemy mooks, any one of whom can finish you off in seconds if you’re not careful. Even the control scheme and button-mapping are the same. It would be easy to be cynical. But you shouldn’t be.

Because really, none of that stuff prevents Lords from being its own game. Because while Dark Souls (and to a lesser degree its own precursor, Demon’s Souls) popularised the gameplay style, it doesn’t own any of it. That’s the great thing about games (or any medium forged amid the repeated iteration of ideas, which is basically all of them). Every idea inspires a whole bunch more. And then those ideas beget more of their own, until the initial seed has spawned a vibrant forest of eclectic life.

Put it this way. I still remember a time when early, post-Doom FPS were referred to--by default, by press and player alike--as clones of iD’s Mars-based monster-masher. We don’t do that any more. Nor do we complain when shooters use the same control scheme as Call of Duty, or when Destiny transplants the shooting mechanics of Halo into a different scenario. And that’s what’s going on with Lords of the Fallen. It’s just that the first games to iterate on any distinctive idea always seem more brazen.

But there are, of course, many good reasons for Souls fans to get involved beyond the simple fact that it’s okay for Lords to exist. While the core philosophical hook of both games utilises the same points of cerebral, high-risk combat and iterative learning through looped gameplay--and so far Lords does seem to understand the finer points of that model, rather than simply copy the broad strokes--the differences Lords bolts around them give it serious value.

As I’ve mentioned before, the combat, while demanding and precise, has a different feel and flow to that of its inspiration, more fluid and immediate, and with an almost arcade-like sense of satisfying impact. Where Souls’ comboing is more about exploiting hit-stuns to score extra attacks, Lords’ more freely-flowing beatdowns have a more open, accessible, versatile feel, while remaining no-less of a stern discipline.

Similarly, gear and magic are more instinctive to manage, and feel a little bolder in their use. In the case of the latter, there seems to be a more aggressive bent to spell designs, as much akin to that of an action-adventure game or a fighter as that of an RPG. Time-slowing, magical clone distractions… Where Souls’ magic leans towards multiple, intricately different variants of similar effects, Lords favours blunter, more uniquely conceptual, overtly individual attacks and buffs. No less satisfying, but designed with different intent, for immediacy and accessible clarity.  

Quick, agile enemy kicking your arse? Bathe the room in the blue light of sluggish time, and wail on him. Tough, slow enemy causing you trouble? Drop a magic clone, hide around the corner, and then smash him in while he’s locked into a slow-charging, ultimately fruitless attack against the wrong target. Philosophically, it’s the sort of approach to tertiary powers that you’d find in a Bayonetta, or a stealth-action game, only focused through a lens of more deliberate RPG battling.

And then there’s the world-building. If the previous differences haven’t provided enough new texture, then this certainly will. Dark Souls' Lordran and Drangleic are bleak, spartan, obtuse places, filled with unspoken lore, but providing only barren confusion to those not willing to read between the lines between the lines between the lines. Lore-hunting is of course one of the great joys of DS, but it’s certainly not for everyone. Lords of the Fallen promises a more traditional approach, its speaking lead-character part of a currently-functioning, fleshed-out story with explicit details and justifications.

Where Dark Souls' narrative meat largely exists hidden in the shadows of its world’s past, Lords is a world right now. And that richness is reflected in its production design. With its gorgeous, grandiose, full-coloured look falling just the right side of overblown, Lords is again a game that you’ll abstractly recognise but won’t have actually seen before. Its bold, solid visuals at times evoke the likes of Darksiders, World of Warcraft, Peter Jackson’s craggy, spiraling Middle-earth, and a whole host of classic comics and book covers. And being our first taste of new-gen exclusive RPG-action, it can be rather a stunner with it. Brutal, bold, brainy and beautiful, Lords certainly doesn’t feel like the pretender that it might. Rather, it feels robust, fresh, and enticing, despite the familiarity of its core values.

And that’s a great thing for Souls fans. Because, as I’ve said for a long time, the problem with the way that sequels and iterations dominate our medium is that we often mistake repetition of an experience regaining the original joy of that experience. That is to say, we try to emulate the feeling that certain games gave us the first time round by playing do-overs of those same games. And that doesn’t always work.

There’s a reason that the really special games rarely stand up to straight, more-of-the-same sequels. There’s a reason that Portal 2 works on an entirely different structural and narrative scale to its predecessor. There’s a reason that Call of Duty fatigue exists, and there’s a reason that Rapture lost some of its sense of terrifying wonder in BioShock 2. We don’t really want repeats of what we’ve had before. We want games with the same values that give us the same kind of emotional and intellectual responses.

With Dark Souls 2 having resolutely scratched many residual itches--while also disappointing some fans with its familiarity, despite its objective greatness--and From Software now evolving its concept in a radically new direction with ‘official’ spiritual successor Bloodborne, the stage is wide open for a game like Lords of the Fallen. It’s immediately, reassuringly recognisable in the way that it picks up Souls’ ideas, but it also promises to wrap a new experience around those bones. So give it a chance. I certainly intend to. Rise of the Triad and Duke Nukem 3D certainly managed to hit the spot for Doom fans while carving their own path, so there’s no reason Lords couldn’t do the same.

Topics

gamescom 2014

24 comments

  • Stoorm - August 25, 2014 11:40 a.m.

    Honestly I want to this game will be difficult because it's nice when we must think a little in the game and not everything is easy. I hear a lot of good things about this game. I envy everyone who can play on Lords of the Fallen demo. It must be a great experience.
  • Kontor - August 25, 2014 9:09 a.m.

    The fact that one game is inspired by another don't mean that it will be bad. I think everyone who saw some gameplays can say, this game looks good. It's more fast paced than DS, and can bee a great game on its own rights
  • Stoorm - August 24, 2014 3:01 p.m.

    Everywhere when I read about Lords of the Fallen all compare it to Dark Souls games. Honestly we do not play n this game so we don't know how much LotF is similar to DS. I hope this game will be good because I have big expectation to this game. Very nice article with great information.
  • Diablo2013 - August 22, 2014 12:37 a.m.

    Nice article. Lotf look great. In recent materials you can see as tried to refine Harkyn. Moves smoothly and with him all his armor and clothing. The light and colors also look great. Well, now just wait for October.
  • Jasp - August 21, 2014 9:04 a.m.

    Definitely looking forward to this. I enjoyed dark souls but could have done without the PvP. I think its great that others are trying to do a similar game, but with their own take on it.
  • mafyooz - August 20, 2014 12:53 a.m.

    As an old school D&D player back in the day I grew to love sadistic dungeon crawls and the challenge they present (Tomb of Horrors anyone?) and the Souls series was the first franchise in a long tome to evoke that, and I'm all for more in a similar vein instead of the constant hand-holding mentality you get from most big-budget games these days. My only concern is that they'll become the "new FPS" and get stale if they start flooding the market
  • Mounce - August 20, 2014 8:16 a.m.

    Eye of the Beholder and Dungeon Master for me on Amiga, rather :P
  • mafyooz - August 20, 2014 10:41 a.m.

    Add Pool Of Radiance to that list and you've described a fair portion of my teen years ;) I also thought Warriors Of The Eternal Sun did a good job of bringing that kind of thing to the Megadrive, still gutted it never got a sequel....
  • Mounce - August 20, 2014 4:45 p.m.

    Never heard of em. Mine went towards 'Future Wars', Shadow of the Beast, Battle Isle, Day of the Viper and Ultima V - I still have the Cloth map that came with that. After that it went Windows 95 era and NES days and beyond.
  • Timstertimster - August 19, 2014 7:10 p.m.

    I wish I understood the DS appeal. I see YT gameplay an all I can think is: eek lousy graphix. I know, I'm so shallow.
  • GOD - August 19, 2014 5:12 p.m.

    But Dave, DSII DLC incoming! Honestly though, I don't recall seeing anyone bashing this game for it's similarities to the Souls games. That other game that just came out looked more like a rip off... already forgot what it was called though. This is definitely something that looks to use the sort of Souls style but to try and make a more focused, plot driven game. My thoughts are that it won't have as much depth compared to the gameplay of a Souls game, but will still be fairly deep compared to your average game. I'm curious what kind of post game content it has though. For instance I've already "beaten" DSII but the PvP and tons of different armor, weapon, infusion, etc. all with their own depth and intricacies makes for tons of added gameplay well after you've done a playthrough. That's not even counting the added things for NG+'s.
  • rav3 - August 19, 2014 3:46 p.m.

    Im really pumped for this game, i just need to wait for reviews before i buy it :D it may be my first xbone or ps4 game
  • winner2 - August 19, 2014 3:25 p.m.

    Why would you be angry when there is this, the souls series, and bloodborne in this genre at the moment? It's not like we're getting a new souls every year, and all of these games look like they have their own unique flavors, even if the core feeling of play is similar. I'm looking forward to this, I just don't see any arguably good reason for getting upset.
  • Kijib - August 19, 2014 3:06 p.m.

    idk man, looks #2casual4me
  • pl4y4h - August 20, 2014 9:47 a.m.

    Lol
  • Drekner - August 19, 2014 2:33 p.m.

    I absolutely adore the souls series, and I have to stay when I first saw Lords, I was slightly annoyed ONLY because I thought they weren't tipping their hat to Souls in the way of the combat system. But then I heard the developer in the video reference them and I was like Good. So I was annoyed for all but about a minute and a half. Been hyped ever since. More of something I love? Fuck yeah. Copies don't bother me as long as they're fun and well made.
  • CombatWombat101 - August 19, 2014 12:38 p.m.

    Dave, you always manage to say the things that I've been trying to articulate. Several of my friends (and a few people who I don't even know) and I have gotten into debates about this where they basically state that a game is bad because it has similarities to another game -- the most notable example I can think of being the Tomb Raider reboot apparently sucking because it has similarities to Uncharted. I try to explain how I think immediately dismissing a game because of similarities to another is a terrible policy, but it goes nowhere. Now at least, I can just link them here.
  • GR_DavidHoughton - August 20, 2014 2:41 a.m.

    Funny you should mention the Tomb Raider/Uncharted thing. That's the best example of the lot for how that kind of argument is ridiculous. Because yes, Tomb Raider iterated on Uncharted, but Uncharted itself was clearly inspired by the original Tomb Raider series. As was Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. But in turn, the original Tomb Raider was a 3D evolution of the original 2D PoP in the first place. No idea comes from nowhere.
  • CombatWombat101 - August 22, 2014 12:18 p.m.

    Validation achieved.
  • g1rldraco7 - August 19, 2014 12:24 p.m.

    I was skeptical at first, but it does look pretty good.

Showing 1-20 of 24 comments

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