“Do you like challenging games?”
So begins my first step into the demonic realm of the Fallen God – chief antagonist in Thomasz Gop and CI Games’ forthcoming fantasy RPG, Lords of the Fallen on PS4.
In answer to that – still bearing the scars of endless Dark Souls re-starts – yes, I do like a challenge. Thomasz’s jovial reply isn’t exactly encouraging. “That’s good! But you’re still gonna die… a lot.”
He’s certainly not wrong. As executive producer in the small creative team at Poland’s CI Games, Thomasz’s friendly demeanor hides the dark heart of the man responsible for the most brutal, punishing, yet immensely satisfying fantasy RPG to make its way to PlayStation 4 so far.
I sat down with Thomasz at Gamescom 2014 to get hands-on with Lords of the Fallen’s “second dimension,” an alternate realm that the game’s protagonist – and prolific sinner – Harkin will journey back and forth from throughout his blood-soaked quest.
“It’s an important point in the game,” Thomasz says as I face the first of the sword-wielding brutes blocking my path. “Learning more about both realms guides the player towards making a massive decision that affects how the story plays out – so getting the perspective from both worlds helps guide the game and the character in a certain way.”
Thomasz explains that players will be free to shift between worlds as they see fit; where I am now however, is Harkin’s second visit. “The first time you enter a world, you’ll need to do a lot of exploration, learning your surroundings and what kind of enemies you’ll face. But I’ve thrown you in a bit later on, so you can experience a boss fight.”
Players are guided on a predefined journey, but there are a wealth of hidden areas and secret paths to discover. “Defeated enemies might drop a key or you might open up a secret area,” Thomasz explains, “and that could give you an opportunity to level up or discover something that will help you when you reach the boss. It’s entirely up to the player.”
Having blocked, parried and hacked through some of the lesser – but still fearsomely testing – enemies that got in the way, reaching the arena of this level’s boss, the Guardian Lord, underlines just how tricky Lords of the Fallen can be as the huge dual-sword wielding knight defeats me in seconds.
“There’s a steep learning curve for new players,” Thomasz explains, “but we don’t want anyone to feel that they’re being punished constantly. If you learn how the enemies attack and adapt to that, you should be OK eventually. And we’ve added save points before each boss fight, so if you die really quickly you’re not sent all the way back to the start of the level.”
It’s not long before patterns start emerging; as well as the usual block, dodge, parry, attack strategies, finding ways to use the environment proves to be a good tactic. After several re-starts, Thomasz offers a hint: “Try messing with the lanterns around the side. He won’t like that and he’ll try to re-light them if you put them out.”
Clever use of the player’s surroundings is an important element in setting Lords of the Fallen apart from other dark RPGs. “It’s something we’ve tried to implement wherever we can,” says Thomasz. “We want something more than a straightforward fight, we want people to put some thought into each battle and not just grind away with their primary weapon.”
A few carefully chosen spells helps, too: “You’re not going to be able to mindlessly cast spells every few seconds; they deal heavy damage, but have a long recharge time, so you need to think about when you use them,” says Thomasz.
Eventual victory comes with the satisfaction of having genuinely earned it, but not at the cost of being mercilessly punished to the point of frustration. The overall feeling is of a world that it would be easy to lose yourself in for countless hours.