Released today for the PlayStation 5, XBox Series X/S, and PC, Lords Of The Fallen is a reboot/sequel to the 2014 video game of the same name. Developed by HexWorks and published by CI Games, the game is described as a dark fantasy action-RPG that takes place in a game world that’s supposedly five times bigger than the original game.
I spoked to Alexandre Chaudret (Art Director, HexWorks) and Cezar Virtosu (Creative Director, HexWorks) about their game, and got to ask them as to why they decided to reboot the franchise, and what steps they’ve taken in order to ensure that Lords Of The Fallen will be able to carve out a unique identity for itself – especially in the increasingly crowded SoulsBorne genre. Enjoy!
Lords Of The Fallen is a reboot of sorts. The first game came out in 2014, and the second game comes out in 2023, so it’s been nine years. In this context, why are we having a reboot rather than a sequel?
Cezar Virtosu: Right… So very quickly, after the release of the first game, CI Games worked on a continuation. There were some attempts, but for various reasons, they all fell through. Six years down the line, CI Games founded HexWorks, a AAA studio with AAA developers to build Lords Of The Fallen.
You obviously comprise them…
Cezar Virtosu: Yes, it’s us. So we effectively got wrangled in under the promise of “let’s create a Souls-like game”. More Lords Of The Fallen, but better, modernized, and streamlined. So we all come from different industries. We’re all united by our passion for this genre, because as developers, we don’t usually get to have a say on what games we work on. So when an opportunity like this arose, to work on a game that’s similar to From Software’s games, for us that was an absolutely irresistible opportunity. So we jumped in.
So what happened is that we announced the sequel. And then we started addressing all of the feedback from the previous game. The first game reviewed very well and had 9 million unique users that tried the game. So there was a foundation. Now, as we addressed feedback, and we added our own dreams on top, it became very clear that we were making a very different game. Because we started from scratch, from the beginning, because too much time had passed, and that technology had rotted. And we wanted to be on Unreal and at the very forefront of technological advancements. But the biggest thing that I’ll mention is, we asked players in a survey, “Are you going to purchase this, this, this, this, and this on launch?” And the feedback came back and people were like, “Do I have to play the first game? I’m not very inclined to jump into a sequel so many years down the line.” And on the other end of the spectrum, we had people who liked the first game and who were very much into it. They knew that with the second game, they would be playing a completely different game.
Another massive change, aside from all the changes with online and everything else, was that people wanted to create their own avatar. The first game had you playing as Harkyn, where you followed his trials and tribulations, and had your quests and everything. Whereas now, people wanted to create their own character. So when we took the story away from Harkyn, it changed everything. We could no longer have fixed protagonists. It was now completely different. And the story was set 1000 years into the future, as in those previous events happened during the biblical times. So we had a completely new product on our hands. And since we completely absorbed the first game, including all of its facets, all of its mythos, and we expanded it tenfold… Nearly a decade later, it could only be a Lords Of The Fallen reboot.
One of the problem with these SoulsBorne games, and you’ll have to forgive me if I refer to Lords Of The Fallen as a SoulsBorne game… But one of the problems with these games, and this is more of a question for you, Mr Chaudret, and I don’t mean this in a disrespectful way… But the problem with a lot of these SoulsBorne games is that they’re usually very dark. That’s probably one of their biggest selling points, but at the same time, it also makes it incredibly difficult for a product to establish itself, and have its own sense of uniqueness in what is ultimately becoming an incredibly crowded genre. From a AAA perspective, one can obviously mitigate this via extensive marketing in order to stand out. But from your perspective Mr Chaudret, what difficulties did you have to overcome in order to ensure that the end result was very much able to establish its own unique look and feel?
Alexandre Chaudret: So I think that there’s two parts to this question. I’ll tell you the first, more general point, and it is my own point of view. I’m more or less in favour of plurality. So if I like something, I’m happy that there are more of it. But this doesn’t go against what you’ve just asked, of “How do you stand out?” And we knew that it was a very qualified genre. We also knew that we had to respect the background of the first Lords Of The Fallen game, and that it already had a dark universe. So when you start on something like this, even if you have references, even if there is a lot of stuff around it, the only way you can do it is to re-centre the work around yourself. Because at the end, as a creator, and we are all creators in this field, the only way you can be true to yourself is to use what you already know, and what you like best.
So does it have common grounds with other stuff that is in the Souls genre? Yes. I love Berserk. I love Claymore. I love Game of Thrones. All of those things are common with our idea of fantasy and dark fantasy. But what I like about dark fantasy is what it does. How it drives emotions, and therefore immersion. Where you come up as the poor guy in the mud, and end up in epic battles against half Gods. Where you meet characters who are tormented in their souls, and who talk about things that go beyond just blades and dragons. And all of these things are the things that I like. And based on what I like and what I’ve already experienced… when I was young, when I’m in my career, what I’ve read, the movies and everything… I just keep true to myself, and we give this direction to everybody in the team. And bit by bit, we get something that’s more and more unique.
Of course, I’m not going to tell you that it’s not a dark fantasy game. But our dark fantasy game has, for example, the Umbral world that is an opening to cosmic horror. Something that’s much more Lovecraftian with some Giger influences. For example, a key inspiration for the Umbral aesthetics is a French artist named Olivier de Sagazan, who uses clay and creates performances where you put clay on his face, paintings and sticks and those grotesque horrible creatures. And with this, we felt that it worked so well for our story that we took it. And it actually gave the Umbral world one of our most unique selling points.
So to sum up your question… Yes, we are dark fantasy, and we’re not refuting it. And we know that we have heavy concurrence in this. But by being true to ourselves, we’ve put a lot of passion into the game, and I’m sure that players will be able to see our uniqueness on 13th October. And happily or not, players will call us Lords Of The Fallen, and state that the game isn’t a copy of anything else.
Brandishing the brand new #LordsOfTheFallen key art, raise your gauntlets to this month’s PLAY magazine cover.
The dark crusade has truly begun… pic.twitter.com/PtVuD6op6H
— LORDS OF THE FALLEN (@lotfgame) August 22, 2023
Mr Cezar… How many people are working on the game if you don’t mind me asking?
Cezar Virtosu: Yes, I can tell you this… When we started building, we built a boat as we sailed it. There are currently 70-75 staff, “HexWorkers” as we call them. We all work remotely, and there is no studio. We leverage talent from all across the world. This gives us tremendous flexibility, but different time zones can be a bit challenging. At the top, and at the very apex of our production, we were in the ballpark of 350 vendors, because we outsource a lot of the art to vendors. But it’s mainly art and localization and things like that. The heart, the very core of the studio right now, they’re these 70 people.
70 People… Okay, so you’re the Creative Director. You’re in charge of 70 people who are hands-on and regarded as being the core of the product. Lords Of The Fallen is a AAA production. As the Creative Director, you have your own unique vision in terms of what the game needs to be. But at the same time, you also have to take into account the views and opinions of the 70 people that are working under you, in terms of what they want the game to be. At the same time, you also need to take into consideration the needs and requirements of CI Games. To what extent do you feel, knowing that you’re in charge of a AAA product, that you are able to maintain some semblance of your creative vision, and not have it be compromised by the fact that you are essentially having to design by committee?
Cezar Virtosu: We are incredibly fortunate in not be a corporation yet. Because you don’t have the numbers. Corporations come with directors. I’ve worked for Ubisoft as well as some very big companies in the past. They have directors and brand directors for every aspect of the game. Therefore, there are many gatekeepers in order to get something passed through. Many committees. We don’t have that structure. We are fairly horizontal. We are few, therefore the opinions of a lot of people matter. But in order to mitigate conflicting feedback, we create strike teams for every aspect of the game, and the strike teams have the final say. It’s up to them. We directors are at the top, with the executive producer and the manager of the studio, we effectively have the final say. But in order for us to create an environment, we put hard limitations. In Romania, we say that limitations shows you your freedom, and complete freedom is chaos. So we incorporate some conditions of satisfaction. We do a lot of prep work. And I do mean, a lot of prep work. Months of prep work. We measure four times and cut once, because we can’t afford iterations that create dissonance in any aspect of the game. So we create conditions of satisfaction.
Last question… any last words?
Cezar Virtosu: Last Words… that sounds very ominous, but very on brand. Last words in this context is that Lords Of The Fallen is a game that’s done by very passionate people who come from the trenches. Our team is 100% in step with the community. That’s why we address feedback concerns overnight. Whenever people say something, we act on it, assuming that it doesn’t contradict our own conditions of satisfaction. And we’ve handcrafted this game. We have many unique assets, so it all feels very lived in. It’s very mired in the medieval era, and I hope that people will get a crack at what we’ve prepared for them.
Thank you so much.