Lords of the Fallen: what happens when the Germans make their own Dark Souls
At every E3 there are always a couple of games that get all of the buzz. As people meet with old friends at the show there's always a conversation about what games need to be seen, and what games are pleasant surprises.
This year, I heard about a game called Lords of the Fallen multiple times before I decided I needed to find the small meeting room where it was being shown by developers Deck 13 and City Interactive.
There's good reason why this game is building a substantial amount of hype at the show this year. It's beautiful. It's inspired in part by Dark Souls, and it's being exhibited by executive producer Tomasz Gop, who previously worked on both of the first two games in the Witcher series. Though Gop is on board at City Interactive, most of the development work is reportedly being done in Germany at Deck 13.
Bosses of God
Lords of the Fallen is a decent name for a video game, but it might be more accurate to call it Bosses of God, because that's really what's going on. The game's lore tells the tale of how humanity rose up against their God and managed to depose and imprison it within the Earth (the God is “the Fallen,”) but now of course, his servants (“Lords”) are appearing again.
The titular Lords are very similar to something you might expect to find at the end of a Dark Souls dungeon. They are big, powerful, and not to be trifled with. The first boss we were shown was the giant lava knight that you see above, and it's a gorgeous thing to see in motion.
Combat is slow and methodical, like Dark Souls, and winning the fight is less about trying to expose some hidden weakness than it is about figuring out the best way to engage this intimidating enemy. This particular foe fought with big, swooping strikes, so it was best for the demo player to dive in at the right time to get a few strikes off quickly before retreating.
The boss fight was fairly entertaining just to watch. As its attacks slammed its bright orange sword into the ground, clouds of sparks would fly out from beneath it. The giant lava-encrusted knight kept shaking off large chunks of broken armor after they'd been bashed by the player's strikes to reveal more of the creature within. As it shed more and more armor its style even changed from a lumbering knight to a more agile swordsman who twirled around, swinging the massive sword in circles around himself.
Is it groundbreaking? No, but the developer acknowledges that and says that the game is more about combining the best elements of the best games than it is about inventing something wildly new.
The game also lacks character classes; In the demo I was shown a few archetypes, but was told that they're not set in stone. They're determined by your attributes and weapon. Again, not too dissimilar from Dark Souls, as you'll be able to largely mold your own character class.
Big, beautiful, German
One of the most interesting parts of seeing Lords of the Fallen is the opportunity to see what a developer from a different part of the world can do with the Dark Souls formula.
“Germans still like all the epic material where a guy has a club in his hand and runs through forests,” said Creative Director Jan Klose of Deck 13. “Maybe Polish people as well. I think for the region, stories are really big and storytelling is really big in this part of the world. And Dark fantasy is a cool way of telling stories, because they get more to the heart than some lighthearted, shiny-mailed knight running around without a care.” You can hear the disdain in his voice when he talks about traditional fantasy fare.
Every region of the world is different, and has different tastes and inclinations. He gave adventure games as an example. They're still a viable business in Germany, but less so in North America. “It's a cultural thing that people want to have these stories, and in Lords of the Fallen we don't want to tell the player a story, we want them to explore it.”
That's another very European style of game making. More than once this week at E3 I've heard from a developer that when you make a game for Americans, you generally need to tell them what to do every step of the way, or they get frustrated and annoyed. Tomasz Gop said that Eastern European players want you to leave the game obscure and explorable.
“They appreciate when you do that,” he said. “There's a strong demand from people to find out things on their own. So that's why we want to do this type of game, and we hope that we can be successful with it.”
I'm very much looking forward to seeing how the Dark Souls formula changes when it goes from being developed in Japan to being created in Germany. Apart from being a beautiful game in a style that I love, this will be a chance to see what the German style of game design brings to the table.
Lords of the Fallen is currently in development for “next-generation platforms,” although Gop said that they are not considering a Wii U version. It's set for release sometime in 2014.