From the vast open world of The Witcher 3, Bungie’s groundbreaking new shooter Destiny and breakout titles like Evolve and The Order: 1886, E3 2014 was stacked with games that are raising the bar in the highest grossing entertainment industry on the planet. It isn’t hard to see why gamers across the globe are having a harder and harder time deciding where to to spend their rapidly depleting money and time. The gaming industry has reached critical mass and in the following years we will most likely see a significant consolidation of development studios in what has become a vastly oversaturated market. Until that time you’ll have to wade through the precarious mire of games more cautiously than ever if you hope to play only the cream of the bloated and enlarged crop. Let me shed some light on one of the most exciting games being released this year in CI Game’s new title that is flying beneath the radar.
Lords of the Fallen is a dark fantasy action RPG slated to drop on PS4, Xbox 1 and PC later this year. What makes this game so special? It has everything you could ever want in an a story driven fantasy RPG. The stunning visuals, deep narrative in the anti-hero Harkyn, limitless customization of gear and equipment and brutal and punishing combat that requires patience and precision, will all offer the player a full and rich experience that yet again raises the bar in this genre. Lords of the Fallen is a game I have kept an eye on ever since the debut trailer earlier this year, with the only question mark in my mind being the gameplay. After getting a hands on demonstration personally with Executive Producer Tomasz Gop and Creative Director Jan Klose, I can safely put those fears to rest. Being a veteran Souls player left me utterly unprepared for the ass whooping the game doled out over and over and over again. After 45 minutes of pure brutality and frustration I put the controller aside and sat down with them and to ask questions about the game.
- Lords of the Fallen is a dark and punishing action adventure RPG, but it is also a narrative driven experience. Can you tell us a bit more about Harkyn and his place in the world?
Tomasz: “The most important thing about Harkyn is that we would love for people to try not to think about him as the hero, in terms of I want to be this guy. The most important thing about this character is that he can do what is in front of him, what society and people put in front of him, fight the army of demons. Not because of the sins that he has done, the sins that he has done means that he has done some really weird and crazy stuff in his life. The most important thing is that, I don’t want to use the word trained, but he has the skills that are required to fight and overcome things that normal people would not be able to do. That’s why, for example, there is no character customization, because this is a game about him. What’s also important is this game is not about Harkyn finding friends, and a life happily ever after. It’s more about him being able to complete the task that is in front of him, and that is why it fits well with a game that is so much gameplay driven. Harkyn was just the perfect fit.”
- The story is non-linear and the game will facilitate multiple approaches with multiple endings, will the way the player approaches the environment be non-linear as well?
Tomasz: “It’s probably even more non-linear.”
Jan: “Yes. You progress through the game and open up the world bit by bit, so the longer you play the more non linear you can do your playthrough. If you just follow the main quest then you might have a rather linear feeling, but you will still only really get far in the game if you do side quests, if you go off the beaten path and explore. You will not only explore by finding some items, but you will find out more about the story. You will find NPCs that you can talk with and trade with and get more side quests. You will find lots of audio notes about the game world that will contain hints about treasure that is hidden throughout the game world. The longer you play the more non linear your experience will be if you want to have it. If not, if you just want to follow one main quest, you will be more limited, but yes it’s still possible.”
- Will the game be segmented into different areas or levels, or will it be one large interconnected world?
Jan: “It’s not a seemless open world, but it’s more like Zelda where you open up the world bit by bit, but then it’s like getting bigger so you can go back to the beginning if you want. So the longer you play the more of the world will be available.”
Lords of the Fallen as a very distinct art style. What were some of the inspirations for location, character and creature design?
Jan: “Well I think there are two important things. The first, we wanted to have a certain feel of realism. A bit dark, a bit gritty and when you take a look at the materials we are using, like how the stone looks and feels, how the cloth that the characters are wearing we tried to be as realistic as possible. At the same time, the game we wanted it to be a bit more larger than life and inspiring and supernatural, so we added a lot of delicate details to this stuff and maybe overdid some things on purpose, to just make it a bit more interesting. This gives it a more strong appearance. So in the end we tried to make it a bit dark and gritty and at the same time make it a bit fantastic and a bit out of this world. This was kind of the mix we went for.”
- Is there anything in particular that inspired the design, anything that you pulled from?
Jan: “Not really. There are a lot of things in there from a lot of different movies, games and tv series. There are also two companies that are working on the graphical style. Both CI Games and Deck 13 so there was really something in between coming out, it wasn’t really a compromise, but more like the essence of what we want to do?”
- If there was one thing you could say you drew from, even if it was a small bit, what would you say it was?
Jan: “We took an intense look at Game of Thrones. It wasn’t something we wanted to copy we wanted to find our own approach, we are always trying to find our own approach. It’s not the same style like they did, but they showed how you can use your ideas to create a whole new world that is creditable. We just wanted to do the same thing, but not with their art style, but with the idea that we can do something like that. It was same approach, but with a different outcome.”
- While the atmosphere is dark and oppressive the game is vibrant and colorful. Were you consciously going for a contrast?
Jan: “Yes I think so. Absolutely. That’s what makes it interesting. If you don’t have contrast you just know what to expect and there is no change in that, so we tried to really have strong poles there where you say this one side of it and this is the other side of it. We tried to have slow small predictable enemies and we have crazy huge boss enemies that do strange things, so we really have the whole bandwidth and also we tried to do that with the story and the characters. There are just many contradicting things there and with like the lighting in the scenes, we wanted it to be dark, we wanted it to be bright, we wanted it to show all the differences. I mean this makes it interesting to explore the game, it was something we really liked about it.”
- Combat looks weighty and calculated like each decided movement matters, yet is fast and aggressive. What was it like striking that balance?
Jan: “We really approached from this angle of realism, that is to say, we want things that look heavy to feel heavy. We want the player to see what will happen with something, you know it’s not just about stats, but if I have a dagger, it behaves like a dagger and not like a heavy hammer. You should feel that and you should be able to utilize that to really use your experience about physics and how the world works. And then of course it is a game, so you need to simplify things etc, so that they just work out when you have the controller and you control the character. Getting too realistic with it is also a problem. You have the real-time of people whirling around, changing direction, would have a way slower feeling. Also you’re able to break your attacks and if you swing your hammer and you decide to run away mid swing you would be able to do that, where if we were to be totally realistic you would have to end your swing, pull the hammer up, turn around and run and it would make the game so heavy it wouldn’t be fun anymore. With light equipment you are lightning fast in the game. You are way faster than you would ever be, and it’s cool to play this way because you have this whole bandwidth, of being very very quick or having heavy armor and very heavy weapons. This gives you variety in the gameplay and is a bit more important than having total realism.”
- How will magic work? Will the player have a finite mana pool to cast spells etc?
Jan: Yeah definitely. That was the blue bar that you saw when you were playing. At the beginning of the game you choose your type of magic and there are three different types. Warrior Magic: It makes you stronger, makes your attacks stronger and gives you more stability. Then you have the Rogue Magic: it makes you disappear into the shadows, attack from behind and be unseen in the game. And you have the Cleric Magic: this is more like healing magic, protection magic and that playing style. You are locked with these so you can collect experience points as you play and you can turn that into spell points to increase the power of a lot of these spells. You are locked into the one magic tree per playthrough. The gear on the other hand you can mix and match as you go. And we do have a gauntlet that you maybe saw in the game, which is a special magic weapon for shooting projectiles and this again also uses up your mana, energy bar and helps you out. You can never use magic as a replacement for combat. You’ll never have so much magical energy that you can just stand around and spam fireballs at enemies. The idea is that you can use it to make combat easier, and you can use experience points to upgrade it, but you’ll never be able to trade if for combat so to speak.”
- So was it hard finding the balance between too much magic and not enough magic, so that you had to get into physical combat, but that wasn’t all there was?
Jan: “Yeah, absolutely. I don’t know if we really found the right balance, maybe today during the play sessions we did here it looked like it, but it might still be that you can abuse the game too much using magic or that you will feel underpowered. At the beginning we really toned down the magic very strongly, so it that is helped you just a little and you got the attraction and attention of the enemies towards you or something like that. We also increased the effects since they weren’t that helpful, so we made it a bit stronger balancing wise, and we will see because today it looked like people still had a hard time of it.”
- Do you plan on having post launch updates if you decide it’s not balanced?
Jan: “Well we’ll leave the players alone with the game for awhile, but of course if there is something not balanced or we need to fix or we feel we need to change we will do that. We are very committed to building up a community with this game and of course we want them to have fun with it and enjoy it and if they see faults in it, we will be the ones to fix it.”
- How does character progression and leveling work?
Jan: “Basically it’s not like when you get a certain amount of experience you rise up one level, but it’s more like you are constantly gaining experience points and when you reach a save point you can then spend them there. There are some of the mechanics that we are very fond of, and one is if you die and you were carrying experience points with you, you can recollect them later. They stay at that spot where you die and you can recapture them if you are quick enough, they will deplete over time. Also, what you can do is bank them at the save point so when you die if they are in your bank you don’t lose them and at any time you can transfer them into attribute points or spell points to increase your spells. This enables you to be flexible, like you meet a boss and he kills you and you’re back at the save point and you didn’t spend your attribute points yet and you say ok, I think I need to be strong so I put points into Strength and then I go to the boss and fight him again. So you always have the flexibility to play around with it, and when you die it’s not really that bad, because then you can go to the things you have prepared for your next round and use them and shape your character accordingly.”
- Are armor and weapons upgradeable?
Tomasz: “Definitely. Not all of them but there will be weapons, armors, shields that will have slots in which you could imbue or craft in a magical rune. These are the entities that you find, actually they are meant for more than that, they have at least two uses of magical runes that we people know of, but there are sort of two dimensions in which you can craft your weapons. One of them is, the most obvious one, is the rarity of the rune. The other one is they type of it. So there are going to be poison runes, there are going to be fire runes and so on and so on. Not only elements, but there will other runes as well. Most important thing is most of the gear you find in the game will have slots that you will be able to craft into and imbue into to boost their effects and capabilities.”
- How does the crafting system work exactly?
Tomasz: “There is a very special someone.”
Jan: “There is a very special spot you need to find in the game where you can go and will have the ability to craft and to imbue these runes that Tomasz just spoke of into the weapons. You can do this at any time and also you don’t always know what rune you’re collecting, so there’s this spot where you find out what this rune is about and then you find out how to use it.”
Tomasz: “There is an element of things that are being done to the rune that isn’t literally a translation, but more of an unveiling. When you find it, it’s sort of wrapped around. It’s like a chocolate in a wrapping that you don’t know what’s inside. What’s interesting is you know that it is something valuable and only at a certain place doing certain things, you can sort of unlock it, break the seal, but here is the coolest part. You can actually use these ruins, once they are opened, to craft your weapons, but there is another use. You can use them before that and that sort of trade off and that decision that you make, I think is going to be a cool element in the game. There is always going to be a decision that follows up with a rune.”
- Can we expect some big challenging memorable boss fights in the game?
Tomasz: “ONLY, memorable challenging boss fights. Did you get to the Champion? There is no real secret, we believe that they will be challenging and because of that they are going to be memorable as well.”
- Is there a method you used to determine how to make your boss fights? Will there be more than one way to defeat them or do they have a weakness etc?
Jan: “Absolutely. If you saw the people who played here and the people taking on the bosses, there are many different strategies. There are one or two maybe that we especially thought of, where we said this is one trick you can use, but on the other hand so many people came up with their own ideas and strategies, you can defeat any of the bosses with any of the weapons here. They are very different too, there are like the very very quick daggers that deal tiny amounts of damage but you can combo with or you have this large hammer that’s very very slow and does lots of damage if you have the right timing to do so and you have the sword that’s sort of in between. You can use all of them to defeat the boss and you can really use different tactics to defeat it. Basically we tried to have a system in place to use your own tactics that we didn’t think of, so it’s not just a puzzle that we reverse or you reverse and you have it, but it’s really like there’s a setup that we give you and you can go play with it.”
Tomasz: “I can give you an example. The boss fight we have in here, it’s challenging, but I can handle that and I can play through that and with a certain degree of probability defeat the boss. What is cool is, I have my preferable way, let’s say my favorite way of doing that, but there are different ways to do that. I had a chance to do that on a couple of the live stages here at E3, and because it was always live, for the most part I stick to my preferred way. Just an hour ago or so I was on stage and we were doing the demo and apparently I thought about what the hell, let’s try something I’ve never done before. I was scared, not jokingly, I was scared because I used the heaviest armor we have in this demo and I used the hammer and for example all, all of the attacks that I normally dodge, evade or roll away, I just took them on my shield. Of course I trained once or twice before so I knew it was possible, but I actually pulled it off there live on the stage and when I defeated the boss I thought, I bet the people watching will think it was staged.
- So what is your favorite style of playing then?
Tomasz: “For this particular boss? Because it depends on the boss. For this boss I just like to mirror his way of fighting, so I use light gear, move very fast and use short weapons: daggers, fist weapons and there are even short swords in this game; they work the same way with duel wielding.”
Jan: “I like the hammer which takes timing and procession and with a strike you can really chip off quite an amount of health of a boss and you don’t have the shield, you just have the hammer in both hands and make one or two strong attacks and you have to have some really good timing. It’s a very nice method to use I think.”
- When will the game be available?
Tomasz: “The game is coming out in fall this year. We definitely don’t want to be one of these games that slips into 2015. This is a huge opportunity for us to ship the game this year because a lot of games have shipped and this is on of course: PC, Playstation 4 and Xbox One, we are a next gen title.”
- What was the decision on no multiplayer in the game?
Tomasz: “Technically there were two decisions. One was a conscious design decision and the other one is way more down to earth. People vs. time. vs money. Making a game that has mulitplayer and trying to balance it on time with the dev team that we have almost seems unfeasable.”
- Tell me a bit about end game and why people may want to play again?
Tomasz: “One is, for all those story freaks out there, there will be multiple endings to the game. There is going to be a huge and important part to the emotional ending of the game: Humanity vs. Demons and you’re probably going to be on either side of that. You’re the one who is going to be part of all or some of that struggle, not one, not two (endings). The other part is there is a huge ball of emotions, the main part of it. There is an extra part of all the side quests and all that afterwards. So it’s going to be like BAM, main ending and then the rest of the world lived like that…this guy…the NPC that you helped etc.”
Jan: “I think it will be interesting for the player to find out what happens after I did what I did.”
Tomasz: “When you finish a book, supposing you don’t have to run off to work or just go to sleep, when you finish a book and when you turn the last page it’s not like you just stand up and do your thing. There is always this moment where you read the last page and close it and you’re like, this moment of thinking about what you just read and this is going to be it, but the tale that I mentioned is Lords of the Fallen.”
I just wanted to say a big thank you to Jan and Tomasz for showing me the ropes and talking with me. They are two very passionate individuals who love their game and the Lords of the Fallen community. I eagerly await the fall, where I can once again get the living crap beat out of me alongside my friends who will be basking in their own defeat. I look forward to seeing the rise of, what I believe will be, the best RPG of the year.
If you haven’t seen the gameplay footage from E3 here is the link.
Visit the Lords of the Fallen Wiki
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