Lite Souls: Lords of the Fallen, Ancient Labryinth DLC Review

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I have an unkind theory about how the characters in this game were conceived. I think someone walked up to a game development executive and explained “Dark Souls” by saying it was a hit game with sky high difficulty where all the characters are hollow (without bothering to explain what this meant in the Dark Souls universe). “Well, that’s easy,” the executive probably responded, “we can write hollow characters in our sleep!” Thus, Kaslo, Antanas and Yetka were born. Of these three, only Antanas is even slightly interesting, due to his mad desire to purge humanity of even the capacity for evil. But the mechanics of this, and the way it is explained, are so clunky that no one could possibly begin to care.

Yetka, meanwhile, clearly suffers from an obscure psychological disorder that prevents her from showing more than two emotions, those being shellshock and cheek. And as to Kaslo, the best way to describe him would be as your drunk uncle doing his best Gandalf impression (complete with community theater level British accent) while trying to make EVERY. LINE. SOUND. PORTENTOUS. This could’ve been played for laughs, but Kaslo takes himself so seriously (and the game does, too) that he instead comes off as an extremely irritating exposition fairy.

There is only one character who is genuinely likable on his own, and that’s the Smith, if only due to the fact that he has the best line in the game. When accessing the DLC, Harkyn wonders (reasonably) why he’d want to go someplace that he has no apparent reason to go, to which the Smith replies, “A man who opens every chest he finds needs a reason?” Oh sure, it covers a plot hole the size of one of Harkyn’s pauldrons, but it’s such a self-aware dig at common player practice at RPGs that I was charmed. And anyway, I had just enough hope that the DLC’s setting would depart from the game’s repetitive “snow-covered castle” environment that going to it would’ve been a foregone conclusion.

In a way, my hopes were rewarded, as there was certainly no snow and the architecture of the DLC’s titular labryinth setting was slightly different from that found in the rest of the game. However, the color palette was so similar to everything else in the game that I had to think for a few minutes before realizing this.

So just to recap, you’re forced to play an embarrassingly flat, unpleasant protagonist moving through a world that blurs together with cardboard cutouts for characters. But that’s not all that’s wrong with the game. Its other massive flaw comes in its enemy design, and it’s one that trickles all the way up to its bosses. One area where Lords of the Fallen clearly aspires to imitate “Dark Souls” is in making its enemies more difficult than the average RPG cannon fodder. However, unlike “Dark Souls,” which achieved this by giving its enemies diverse and unpredictable attack patterns, and had them fight in genuinely intelligent formations, LotF cuts all those corners by simply making its enemies frustrating.

There’s nothing wrong, for instance, with enemies that hide behind shields, but when those shields are so big that bypassing them takes an act of God, and the enemies can whirl to meet even well-timed, tactical attacks simply because they’re not how the game expects you to hit the enemy, you feel like you’re playing a game of hit detection that’s inspired by grade school Cowboys and Indians (“I hit you!” “Nuh uh!” “Yuh huh!”). Furthermore, the game seems to be unaware that you and an enemy can hit each other at the same time, and almost always will let enemies interrupt your swings with their own attacks, even if you’re seventy-five percent of the way through yours. This doesn’t feel like a challenge; it feels like the AI cheating.

And then there are the bosses, and even if you find the enemies easy, there’s no getting around the fact that some bosses who were clearly intended to be hard are actually nothing but annoying. Some might not get the difference, so let me explain what I call Holt’s general theorem of boss design, which is this: A challenging boss feels like it’s testing your mastery of the game up to that point in a fair, if unforgiving way. An annoying boss feels like it’s simply wasting your time or cheating. Lords of the Fallen does have at least one challenging boss — the Guardian — which tests your ability to master complicated time attacks while dodging what for LotF is a fairly unpredictable enemy. It’s a fun boss fight, even if it could be described as a poor man’s version of the Fume Knight from “Dark Souls 2: Crown of the Old Iron King.” Similarly, the boss of the “Ancient Labyrinth” DLC, which might best be described as the Librarian from Hell, provides a refreshing puzzle concept, even if it’s far from the mind-boggling challenge of “Dark Souls'” Bed of Chaos.

By contrast, the game’s third boss, the Worshiper, seems to have been designed to take everything players hated about the Capra Demon in “Dark Souls” and make it worse. It is quite unlikely that you will die to the boss in this fight. Rather, you are more likely to die from the hair tearingly annoying enemies it repeatedly spawns, which do nothing but pad the fight against what is otherwise a boss with an easy attack pattern. Worse yet, this boss (as well as several others) gets a large chunk of its difficulty not from being legitimately hard, but because the game’s lock-on mechanics are so clunky and unreliable that it’s practically a miracle to be able to cycle between enemies. I’m surprised my thumbstick didn’t break from being jammed so hard while I played this fight, and by the time I finally beat it, I was swearing at the top of my lungs and desperate to rage-quit. And I solo’ed nearly every boss, including Ornstein and Smough, on the first “Dark Souls” game just to prove I could, so I’m not exactly the rage quitting type. That’s a huge problem.

I’d like to comment on the other bosses, but because this fight gave me so much trouble playing against the Worshiper with the stats I had that I just decided to level grind until I could smash the other bosses like bugs, and with the exception of the aforementioned guardian, believe me, it worked. I’m pretty sure that at the level I am now, New Game+ will feel like Conan the Barbarian entering the Special Olympics fencing event. And no, I’m not just bragging, because the previous sentences are not the sort you’d hear from any “Dark Souls” player, and nor should you. But whereas “Dark Souls” keeps its enemies challenging or at least non-insulting through the end, LotF’s enemies become candy the instant you’ve got the right mix of spells and weapons. In fact, I’m pretty sure I did two bosses out of order because enemies that were supposed to be challenging ceased to be after a few brief hours of level grinding.

Verdict

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“Lords of the Fallen” and its “Ancient Labryinth” DLC is an ambitious game with endearingly camp tendencies, a philosophically interesting set of concepts about Godhood, and often enjoyable combat marred by weak character design, a setting that blurs together, and frustrating enemy and boss design. It’s not “Dark Souls” and it shouldn’t have ever tried to be, since the comparison makes it look like a toddler trying on daddy’s boots. Nevertheless, once the price comes down, it might be sufficient to provide players with a good day or so of gameplay, and may herald better things to come if the franchise can get out from “Dark Souls'” shadow, and provide something a little less rushed in the future. It’s not a bad game, but it’s a game that should have been better, and for that reason, it cannot hope to attain more than middling praise.

A copy of this game was provided to GameSided for the purpose of this review. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.