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Lords of the Fallen – Blunder in the Tundra

Before I begin I'd like to thank u/DiscoDingoDoggo for their recent write-up of the game, inspiring me to give it another chance. I'm pleased to say it was worth it.


I'd first played Lords of the Fallen shortly after its release, seeking a means of entry into the Soulsborne series due to their namesake's punishing gameplay looking a bit too difficult for me. Unfortunately, I made the beginner's mistake of starting each of these games as a Rogue. My preferred style of not taking any damage versus taking less damage was not favourable, especially when I didn't quite understand where to dodge, a very important lesson that I didn't learn until, err, Dark Souls. So much for this being a good starting point.

Returning to Lords of the Fallen I've made a new character per the advice of one waffles177 on GameFAQs with their very brief guide on "The True Easy Mode". In Lords of the Fallen classes are determined by two things, a choice of magic and the starting armour. Three types of magic on cooldowns are barbaric, sneaky and defensive, the lattermost being what I used for its on-cooldown heal-over-time spell, which is invaluable given potions can only be restored at glowy rock checkpoints. I'd also chosen the Cleric starting armour by accident (the other two choices being rogue and Warrior), much to my initial disdain, but found a new love for 'sword 'n' board', as this game heavily favours blocking blows to stagger its many shielded enemies, opening a means of attacking. While this will greatly drain stamina early on, it works exactly the same way as dodge-rolling: you're still taking no damage when successful, except for rare elemental damage.


This strategy of wearing heavy armour and a shield was not without its downsides, which I want to make clear given the subheaders in this article that I'll accept some of the blame of making too easy for myself. I had found myself using the basic steel sword for about 20 levels because it had the speed I preferred even if it lacked in damage. At levels 35 onward I found enemies couldn't begin to reduce my stamina via blocking, save for the occassional Tyrant encounter. At levels 50 onward, heavy armour did all the work. I needn't up my Vitality (health) stat, and four bosses before the finally I threw caution to the wind, took my two-handed scythe and just spammed the right trigger, sometimes running away to use my overpowered fully levelled Shelter healing spell. After the third boss, whose name I can't remember without looking it up (a running theme in this game), the game became trivial.

Not that I'm complaining because I don't value challenge much. For those who do, handicapping oneself by not using the Shelter spell is a decent enough start.

I can't put all the blame on the guide I used though, as the three armour tiers lose a lot of balance before the halfway point of the game. Medium armour ends up having more defence and poise (one's balance upon being struck) than heavy armour because of the loot leapfrogging, and the generosity of the Endurance attribute's weight limit increases allow you to dodge roll in the heaviest, spikiest armour with ease. While I'm guilty of cheesing the beginning of the game deciding on heavy armour, a shield and a healing spell, I think it's fair to blame the rest of the game for its ease going forward, especially with what little enemy – and thus tactical – variety occurs later on.

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Once you go through 'that portal', you'll have seen nearly every enemy in the game (which took me about ~5 hours on my current playthrough) and few of them get greater health or damage as the game goes on. Meanwhile I pity the bosses because I'm not stuck in an arena with them; they're stuck in an arena with me, a Lord Typhus of the Death Guard cosplayer.

Speaking of which, DiscoDingoDoggo's write-up makes mention of Warhammer 40K (turns out DDD too went for the Death Guard look. Bugger). At first I got very Warhammer Fantasy vibes, as if a lone Norscan was leaving their tundra home to take on ruins in the Chaos Wastes, full of servants of his Gods to earn their dark gifts. And then I got my grimy pointy armour and thought this would definitely suit the grim darkness of the 41st Millenium. The inspiration is clearly there with a Great Unclean One appearing later in the game, minding his own business as Souls bosses do, and the main theme of the game being about order versus chaos, man versus itself, et cetera, though this is not learnt until the third act.


I've come a fair way without the inevitable comparison to other Soulslikes, a word I'm not sure was in the lexicon at the time of this game's release. It was a "Dark Souls rip-off", and still to this day I see people call it that as if other games don't try similar things, and sometimes fail as Lords of the Fallen does. Take for example its story, which is a mixture of modern Western RPG storytelling with NPCs giving dialogue and audio logs filling in the blanks, but also having some vaguery in its item descriptions (much to itd detriment due to the lack of practical information) that don't help the player, and two occassions where audio logs forcefully tell of two bosses (technically three when counting The Lost Brothers, the only curiously named boss), both near the very end. Not that knowing one of them has a lightning mace is not an exciting or necessary discovery, however clever the devs think the "shocked" pun was. Still, I'll put spoiler markings over that in case the little mystery the game offers is important to anyone. Many things such as the snake-like scales coiling through the catacombs' walls, or the origins of much of the Rhogar (is that how you spell it? Roghar? Rogal Dorn?) and other beasties that infest the dethroned god Adyr's world get no explanation. A lot of things just feel rushed, the third act especially feeling hurried along in terms of gear progression, the amount of fights and the generous shortcuts and pathways leading back to checkpoints.

The souls mechanic, called experience here, is a whole lot more forgiving. When you die you lose whatever experience points you have on your person. That's typical Soulsiness. What's new is that each enemy you kill adds to your experience multiplier, going up by .01% until you get double experience per mob killed, requiring you kill 100 mobs. By activating a checkpoint or banking experience points you lose your modifier, but save your progress and restore your potions. This removes a lot of the signature punishment of a Souls game, especially when checkpoints are always close to bosses with little to no mobs between them (mobs which only respawn after going to a new zone or dying, as checkpoints don't respawn them), as you can store experience away and spend it on your attributes before you or it dies. If your last checkpoint was before a door you went through, you respawn at the door within the area you died, which leads me to my next point.

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I find another argument of this trying to be a Souls game is not so much in its weighty combat, its experience mechanics, its shortcuts or its potions but in how it struggles to be an interconnected world. It gets the isolated, 'larger-than-itself' feeling cock on; a gigantic citadel-prison isolated in snowy mountains far beyond civilisation, even though many audio logs state people have been coming here as if it's on a town's doorstep. However the loading screens between going through doors and stepping through portals make its linearity a lot more obvious. And linear it is, with little choice in direction or bosses, to the point where there might as well not be as much gear and choice of places to go as there is. For all the doors locked or barred from another side, the entire game feels like running around in circles within circles, rather than a sprawling maze in an awe-inspiring world one expects from a Souls setting and Metroidvanias. Even Dark Souls 2, a mess when looking at the 3D map, attempts the illusion thanks to the hidden loading screens.


Not that linearity is a dirty word, or that interconnected hubs are bad. With Lords of the Fallen I know where I am and where to go next, with little confusion or second-guessing due to enemy power level and what boss is required next. Even so, it doesn't need to try to mimic to be a game of head-scratching design. Dialogue choices very rarely go anywhere save for an achievement or opening up a side-quest with a pitiful reward, and I'm left wondering how much better the dialogue would be without Harkyn's questions and the option of begrudging agreement or disinterest. If the game isn't trying to be Soulslike then I fail to understand the reasoning behind the lack of a map which would be incredibly useful when so many areas spiral up or down and many chambers – especially in the catacombs and antechambers – look identical save for the enemies (provided you don't kill them as they dissolve upon death). There's few landmarks one can use for reference, which makes guides particularly unhelpful should you need them.

I'm afraid I've not much more I can say. One thing I should have more to talk about is the bosses, but I fail to recall them because their fights were as uninspired as their names. Some had flashy moves such as Commander with his magic sword and shield blasting waves away, and Beast had a bark worse than his spikes. The only boss I think that deserves a dishonourable mention is Worshiper in the graveyard, who has the ability to nuke the battlefield and requires you take cover or die instantly. There's nothing that I've seen which suggests this is the strategy in-game, not even an audio log or cryptic clue in an item. The cover itself doesn't seem as if it would survive the spookular bomb, especially when attacks (both Harkyn's and the bosses') clip through structures, which I had learnt in the fight with Commander when trying to find space to heal. Though for some reason this doesn't apply to the Annihilator fight, where his braziers launch fireballs and can miss or hit some pillars near the entrance if you take cover behind them.

Their reputation of being difficult almost entirely comes from technicalities such as shield hitboxes and recovery from an attack or block. I'll add to other community comments and say it's a lot harder to kill a boss when the game decides to crash in a fight, which has only happened to me twice today as I finish the campaign and fight the first boss on New Game. Strangely, the game has only crashed a total of three times in the entire length of my latest playthrough, so where these latter two have come from I can't say.

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I found Lords of the Fallen to be a much better game because of some early cheesing which does not require much imagination nor legwork, and the later gear progression. If ever I feel I'm not getting anywhere in Dark Souls, which is fairly common because I suck, Lords of the Fallen will provide some comfort with its ease using the build I did, its wintry aesthetic which is my all-time favourite, and some confusing if familiar design choices.

I'm not sure if I can recommend it because of how little experience I've had with other playstyles, but it had given me the sword and shield gameplay I'd been looking for for some time, with a difficulty I can work with.

Still, I'm pleased I've made peace with it and have found that "easy mode" alternative that I've wanted for so long.


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