E3 2013: Lords of the Fallen Impressions

Originally Posted on  June 16, 2013: Link.

Walking into the private meeting room to see City Interactive and Deck 13’s upcoming hardcore fantasy RPG Lords of the Fallen, I will be the first to admit that I was not expecting a whole lot. Here is a company that has cut its teeth on releasing a lot of budget-friendly titles like ‘Code of Honor’, ‘Terrorist Takedown’, and ‘Venetica’. I had heard a lot about the developer and had played some of their games in the past, so when I had heard the news that they were set to putting a lot of effort into their next venture, you can bet that I had kept my expectations in check walking into that small space on the third floor of the convention center. The good news is, I walked out a true believer in what these guys are trying to accomplish.

There is some strong pedigree at play here. Lords of the Fallen was being presented by Executive Producer Tomasz Gop, who was the Senior Producer of The Witcher 2. He had left CD Projekt RED shortly after the game was released on the PC. He joined City Interactive shortly after and has been working on this project for the past couple of years. As a big fan of The Witcher 2, I gave the German studio Deck 13 (who makes up the bulk of the dev team) the benefit of the doubt for their first gameplay demonstration of the title.

The story is pure Nordic fantasy. Over 8,000 years ago, a war was fought between mankind and their god and his army. The human race were able to defeat their god and the omnipotent being plummeted down to the earth. With his final attempt to break free from his fate, he shoved his hand back through the ground and created what now looks like a mountain range as shown in the image above.

Of course, ages go by and what was once a very important moment in human history was taken for granted as some abstruse event lost on the minds of the modern age. Suddenly, a demon army known as the Rhogar appear and drive mankind back to the brink of extinction. As the main character Harkyn, your job is to learn exactly what brought about the entire situation and discover how it can be stopped.

Play styles will change based on the gear your wear and the weapons the character carries. Although there are directions that players can go in with regards to someone built like a Warrior or a Rogue or Cleric, the character is malleable enough where no one is bound to particular classes and can tailor everything towards the way they want to play (Battle Mage for me), allowing for a unique experience. Skill trees, stat modifications, and crafting also play a big part.

It’s easy to compare Lords of the Fallen to hardcore RPGs like Dark Souls where every encounter is meaningful and the world is drenched in its grim atmosphere. The way they framed the game though is that they want to make it as mysterious and as obscure as they possibly can. There is no hand-holding, no long stretches of exposition or any of that, but rather the pleasure of the experience is learning about the world around you and uncovering its perplexity. It is through this exploration and different sets of choices whether through action or dialog that Gop also mentioned that there would be multiple endings to uncover.

The battles themselves are easily the most challenging part of the experience. Every confrontation is almost like a boss battle. While running across a bridge, you can see someone standing off in the distance, staring the main character down as if they had nothing murderous intent dripping from their aura. That one battle can take several minutes to complete. The more enemies there are, the longer it can take until you may be in that area for almost an hour taking on a group of those bloodthirsty bastards. There’s also enemy variety – not every battle consists of someone wearing a large suit of armor, but could be gigantic creatures or other nasties.

Perhaps the most fascinating part of Lords of the Fallen is just how amazing it looks. When I first witnessed it, I thought for sure it was running off of Unreal Engine 4 based on the great physically-simulated particle effects, beautiful weather system, the smooth animation, and other gorgeous features. Instead, I was surprised to find out from the Creative Director of the game, Jan Klose, that it was a in fact a proprietary engine that was using some middleware such as the brilliant Enlighten that really does some wonderful things with the lightning effects. This also allows them a lot of flexibility to create exactly the game that they want to make. They can completely change the animation system to make a particular part more fluid or more intricately detailed.

The way Gop explained it was that he wanted it to be a game that players have experienced before, taking the best elements of older classic titles like Blade of Darkness or Moonstone. and bringing something fun and exciting to the table. He also kept referring to the fights as something straight out of Tekken. It’s a battle of skill and determination to take the other person down, and once you start a combo, it’s not easy to stop yourself which can work against you. There’s also a lot of strategy to be had, a strong focus on reading the rhythm of the opponent and understanding their tells and patterns, because if you don’t, a single hit can kill you.

Another focal point was to keep the adventure as nonlinear as possible- players can take multiple paths that may help them avoid encounters or find hidden items, equipment, or other secrets. Exploration plays a very big factor, and can lead to new methods of progressing through the game.

Lords of the Fallen has easily become one of my most hotly anticipated titles coming out of E3. I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw and am excited to learn and see more. There is still plenty of time before we get to see the game released on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC sometime in 2014, so it will be very interesting to see how it fares against Dark Souls II and The Witcher 3 that same year. It is certainly a great time to be an RPG fan.

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