Do you like the soul-shattering difficulty of games like Dark Souls? Are you a fan of battling enemies so brutal and grotesque that they look like Cronenberg’s creations have nightmares of them? You’re in luck, because CI Games has crafted Lords of the Fallen, an action role-playing game with all of the grittiness of a Christopher Nolan-helmed Batman movie and all the challenge of trying not to cry during that Sarah McLachlan dog commercial. If you don’t mind dying an awful lot and grinding for awesome gear, then you’ll find a lot to like in Lords of the Fallen.

This game is dark. Very dark. There are demons and gods and big hammers of steel being used to deliver heavy-handed justice to the aforementioned. In order to play Lords of the Fallen, you’ll have to get used to gloomy, rough-looking visuals akin to the ones you’d find in Dark Souls. Everything has a tinge of hopelessness and dread, which is fitting since death could be waiting around every corner. You take on the role of Harkyn, a criminal who’s been set free on a mission of redemption. The only way for him to gain forgiveness is by helping defend the realm from demons called the Rhogar, who have been unleashed on the world by fallen gods and have come through from another plane of reality. His adventures will take him between both worlds, growing stronger as he defeats more and more demonic creatures. But in order to defeat the gods, he’ll have to wade through their armies of minions, which is no easy task.

CI Games

Now, I hate to have to keep comparing Lords of the Fallen to Dark Souls, but the influences are so apparent that it’s hard not to do so. The aesthetics are similar, the combat is reminiscent of how they throw down in Lordran and even the way the game feels is similar to Dark Souls. Admittedly, Lords of the Fallen feels a little easier and can stand on its own merits, but the edge it has over Dark Souls is Harkyn and his quest for redemption as a backdrop. At the outset, you can specialize Harkyn in one of three classes: warrior, cleric or rogue. Each class comes with its own set of spells, boosted stats and armor category. Warrior is definitely easy-mode, since you won’t have to worry about blocking thanks to your ridiculous HP bar and the fact that your armor makes you a wall. You could even throw caution to the wind and just haphazardly swing at enemies, cutting all but the hardiest and trickiest of demons in twain without much strategic planning. Cleric is a little more difficult and doesn’t sport a seemingly endless HP bar, but comes with helpful spells that heal Harkyn and debuffs enemies. You’ll probably want to rock a shield for this class, as it helps mitigate the damage you take. Rogue is for those who enjoy subterfuge and stealth. This class sports the lightest, weakest armor, but makes it so that Harkyn doesn’t trudge around as if he was wearing lead boots. Being unencumbered by lots of steel allows Harkyn to quickly backstab demons and let loose with a flurry of one-handed weapon attacks.

CI Games

The weapons and the gear are what will actually keep you going through the whole adventure, since the story isn’t all too interesting, though Harkyn’s interactions with the non-player characters can be sort of entertaining, if only for the frantic way the characters move and gesticulate, coupled with the poorly-synced voice dubs. But yes, your quest for better, more epic gear will prompt you to slay demons endlessly, because Lords of the Fallen allows you to store your experience points, and the more experience you carry with you, the better the drops. You can choose to spend these experience points at save points in order to gain skill points and attribute points to unlock new spells or to make Harkyn stronger, but then the drop rate will reset. If you die in battle, you’ll lose your experience until you can get back to the spot in which you fell and reclaim them. This balancing act makes for more strategic combat, since you could farm lower-level demons ad nauseam to build up experience, but then have to choose whether or not to spend them to be strong enough to defeat a boss character or risk going into the fight weaker, only to get better drops. The balancing act is great for keeping you engaged in every fight rather than just hacking and slashing your way through the story.

CI Games

You’ll also have to strategize how to conduct yourself in combat, managing your health, energy and magic bars. Attacking, blocking, dodging and running take up energy, so you can’t just wail on everything and expect to come out unscathed (except for maybe if you’re a warrior with a long enough weapon). Each enemy has patterns to look out for, and it’s your ability to discern these patterns that will prove to be your greatest weapon. Does the enemy run around a lot before leaping with a slash? Then stay your ground, strafe to avoid the downward slash and then follow up with a back attack to lock the enemy in backstab animation and then finish it while it’s down. Even normal minions can be tricky, so it’s especially important to recognize this with bosses. Thankfully, as difficult as the boss characters in Lords of the Fallen can be, they adhere to the same rules as the minions, meaning that you’ll have to recognize a pattern and then adopt a strategy that counters it. Unfortunately, this makes it so that some bosses feel like busywork and can have you performing the same moves for minutes on end, depending on your gear and attributes. The game, it’s sad to say, can feel stale because of this, which is a shame because boss battles are supposed to be exciting, not made to feel like a chore. The attempt is appreciated, but Lords of the Fallen could have learned a thing or two from The Legend of Zelda’s boss battles.

CI Games

Fans of Dark Souls will be right at home with Lords of the Fallen’s controls, since they are very similar. You get a dodge, a targeting button, an attack, a block, a button that switches you from a one-handed/shield configuration to a two-handed configuration, a parry, an item button and magic button. It’s pretty much the same button layout, but with slightly different functions. These controls might make it easier for Dark Souls players to pick up and play Lords of the Fallen, or turn them off completely because of how similar it is.

Ultimately, the best thing about Lords of the Fallen is the graphics. While there were some screen-tearing issues that cropped up when I first started playing the game, a quick title update fixed the problem and presented me with a gorgeous game that looks almost photorealistic, save for the Cronenberg-esque demons mucking about. Minute details in the armor makes the grind to find better gear downright addictive, as you’ll want to keep seeing just how badass you can make Harkyn appear. Spell effects flicker and glow with a dark intensity that matches the harsh tone of the story and the land itself. Even a healing spell has Harkyn summoning a burning version of himself and then smashing through it. Brutal.

If you’re a Dark Souls nut and want more of the same with a different veneer, then Lords of the Fallen is for you. But if you’re turned off by games that have you trudging through dark environments and features a lot of grinding, then you’re better off getting your kicks (slashes, stabs, bludgeons, slices and bashes), elsewhere. Otherwise, have fun playing Lordran of the Fallen. Er, I mean Lords of the Fallen.

This review was based on a purchased retail copy of Lords of the Fallen for PlayStation 4.

7.0 out of 10 arcade sushi rating