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    Lords of the Fallen: The punishing hack

    We’ve seen more than a few critics compare this to Dark Souls, so let’s compare their openings: Dark Souls begins with your skinny no-name rotting in a dungeon wearing nothing but a mouldy loincloth, barely strong enough to kill fellow undead. Lords of the Fallen, by contrast, plonks healthy hero Harkyn in a hulking suit of armour and pits him against several Tim Curry demons from Legend. Five seconds in and it feels like you’ve already reached the endgame, with flaming swords, explosive gauntlets, and shoulder pads you could hang laundry on.

    The result is a game that’s less patient, less refined than Dark Souls. When you already look like a magical World’s Strongest Man, there’s little excitement in popping open a loot chest, though building towards more ludicrous weapons, outfits and enemies would have made progress more satisfying. Still, these elements look consistently, garishly phenomenal, whether you're battling tree beasts in a snowy arena, sending sparks flying from oversized swords or conjuring particle effect-laden magic attacks.

    Combat is the game’s strength, with players able to select three different stances and layer up melee, magic and projectile attacks. Cunning enemies force you to adapt, too. Take your time and it’s richly rewarding, but time is not a luxury against the frequent bosses. Early ones can be defeated first time, but later foes grind you to a halt with dirty tricks. It’s here Lords of the Fallen turns from satisfying to stressful.

    Between these fights, levels tend to confuse. Cramped, winding corridors baffle, and it’s not always clear what a switch or lever actually does. Worse, mission prompts are incredibly vague. ‘Destroy the Lords’ Gate to Keystone’ doesn't really help, does it? Areas take an age to get through because enemies take too long to beat, and certain aspects almost feel tuned to artificially stretch the game’s length as much as possible.

    Still, Lords of the Fallen has some qualities. Its combat is considered and it throws around stunning looks. It’ll prove too derivative for Dark Souls’ fans, missing that game’s, well, soul, but it gets the rest mostly right.

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