Lords of the Fallen is a melee-centric action-RPG that wears its Dark Souls influence on its sleeve, right down to its “Every victory is born from defeat” tagline. A co-development between German indie Deck13 Interactive and Polish developer CI Games (Sniper Ghost Warrior), it’s a fantastical title in which the player is Harkyn, a convicted criminal who is given a shot at redemption – all he has to do is defeat the invading army of a long-forgotten malevolent god.

In order to do so, Harkyn will find and use a variety of weapons and supernatural abilities, discover secret passages and items, and battle huge bosses. In the fifteen or so minutes we play of the game’s alpha build, combat is a challenging but satisfying affair that’s all about managing stamina and magicka levels while dodging away from the blades of enemies. The default weapons are a sword and a rather large flaming shield, and while attacks can be blocked with the latter, some damage will always be taken.

E3: Lords of the Fallen hands-on
E3: Lords of the Fallen hands-on

A well-timed block will stagger an opponent though, and there is always the option to dive roll away from danger. The main enemies we battle are strange bipedal creatures that look as if they’ve been dragged from a deep sea trench and had a sword stuffed into their slimy hands. They’re hardy beasts even on the easiest difficulty setting, and particular care must be taken if more than two are brought into the fray at once. Harkyn does have a speed advantage, but the castle level’s small rooms and narrow corridors make circular kiting pretty much impossible.

We mainly use the sword – which allows for light or heavy swings – but also experiment briefly with a staff, gauntlet, Wolverine-style claws, and a pike. There is a bit of environmental interaction too; while fleeing from a brute we dash across the top of a boarded-up well that his weight sends him crashing down into. A giant spider and a heavily armoured boss who resembles a beefier version of Killer Instinct’s Fulgore also feature.

E3: Lords of the Fallen hands-on
E3: Lords of the Fallen hands-on

Fortunately we have a number of potions at our disposal including one that replenishes health, and the level’s checkpoints – while challenging – don’t feel unfairly spaced. Death is a frequent visitor nonetheless, even when creative director Jan Klose takes over at one point. This is a welcome change, particularly for an E3 demo.

Less encouraging are some camera issues that have us lose sight of the action in corners or tight corridors, but this is an alpha so there is plenty of time for such things to be ironed out. It’s not yet clear how open the world will be – the section we played was completely linear but that was probably to expedite the process. Needless to say, Lords of the Fallen would do well to copy Dark Souls in that regard as well. The combat itself is enjoyable and a step quicker than that in the Souls series, and while the developers will no doubt tire of that comparison, there is certainly worse company to keep.

Of course, with highly-regarded company come high expectations. The Souls games are a triumph of atmosphere, world-building, creature design, and community, and its too early to say if such comparisons are truly warranted. However, it's fair to say that those put off by that series’ opaqueness may find much to like here.

Lords of the Fallen is due out on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Windows PC this coming spring.