Thousands of years ago the future of humanity was threatened by an evil deity called Rhogar. Armies were sent to kill the god and codexes were created to keep evil at bay. Our hero, Harkyn, shares his fate with all the criminals of this world. Sins shall never be forgotten, and the unlawful are tattooed on their faces with runic symbols, to be reminded of past misdeeds. When Rhogar's many demons return, a glimmer of hope is born for Harkyn. There is hope for forgiveness as he and his mentor are released from prison, to battle demons and prevent the evil Rhogar from consuming their world once more.
I have no problem admitting that Lords of the Fallen has given me more of a challenge than I'm used to from other games, and my guess would be that I died about a million times in the fight against the demons, monsters and knights of Rhogar's army. Unlike many other games however, where bad controls or frustrating game design can be blamed, the fault here is entirely mine. I deserved to die. I misread the enemy. I was too eager with my attacks and thus punished myself.
There are three character classes and magic types to choose from at the start, so you can hopefully find a match for your style of play. The intention is not to provide endless options however, and you can only upgrade equipment, spells and attributes. You use experience points to upgrade Harkyn, which you may distribute at set save points. If you are looking for an extra challenge you can ignore these storage points - which will result in additional bonus experience in the unlikely event that you survive. In other words, you decide how high a risk you want to take, and what rewards you will (or won't) collect.
Our antihero, Harkyn, has an acceptable range of weapons to choose from and melee quickly becomes intense. As mentioned the controls work very well, with the sholder buttons handling the attacks. A quick tap means a gentle poke, while a longer press gives you slower, more powerful strikes. Frequent use of shields and evasive manoeuvres are still mandatory, even if Harkyn eventually learns magic that make seemingly impossible situations a little less daunting. Each attack and each block requires energy and good timing, which effectively turn button mashing into a sure recipe for disaster. When you die - and you're going to die - you just have to accept that everything from the latest save point must be done all over again. If you come back to the place where the battle had fatal consequences however, you'll be able to see a ghost, and with a single button press the lost experience points will be yours once again.
When I say that everything must be done all over again when you die, there's luckily one thing that you don't have to relive. You get to skip the interactions with NPCs, and you'll be thankful for it. They are so painful to watch you'll be happy you're exposed to them just the once. The animations and body language of the characters doesn't fit their words or tone of voice whatsoever. Unfortunately it doesn't help to close your eyes either, as dialogue is delivered without any sense of immersion, and for once you'll relish the fact that a good chunk of the plot is told through audio logs.
As far as the visuals go you're in for a varied ride. Disregarding the characters' weird gestures during conversations, the animations work well both inside and outside of the fighting. When Harkyn visits the monastery, glorious light reflected through the mosaic windows make you forget that you're playing a game, and some of the vistas are simply mind-blowing. Regrettably there is also a fair bit of screen tearing and issues with low framerate, putting you straight back into your gaming chair, immersion broken.
The very long load times between levels doesn't help immersion either. Fortunately, they at least offer some useful information in the form of tips and advice to prepare you for the battles ahead. You also get information in the form of guides you can follow if need be. This meant that even I could master the game, even if these high difficulty action-RPGs aren't normally my strong suit.
I'll admit it here towards the end. This game resembles Dark Souls. There are some differences, but the similarities are definitely there. Lords of the Fallen is more arcade-focused, less gloomy and not quite as unforgiving, but this is still not a game you should pick up unless you are willing to embark on something really challenging. If you have the time and inclination to develop tactics against different enemies and virtually immortal bosses, and aren't afraid to die time and time again, Lords of the Fallen is not a bad investment. Just make sure to hide away all fragile objects around you before you are murdered for the nine hundred thousand times in a row...