The Lords of the Fallen 2 game Defiant is making for CI Games will be a fresh start and won't use any existing design work done by former project leader Tomasz Gop and team, who were tinkering in pre-production for a couple of years. The sequel will still, however, be an action role-playing game in the vein of Dark Souls.
"It's really a reset, it's a fresh start," Defiant Studios managing director David Grijns told me. "It's a new engine - Unreal 4 - and a new team. A team which does not have a long and illustrious background in action RPG development, but we actually see it as a strength."
The team's background is the open-world sandbox mayhem of Just Cause. Grijns and Defiant co-founder Roland Lesterlin, who's creative director, also co-founded Avalanche New York in 2011. There they shipped Just Cause 3 and began work on Just Cause 4, before leaving in 2016 to start something new.
"It's like, 'From Software rules the roost in this particular area of the badlands so abandon all hope ye who enter here.'" -David Grijns.
Their original intention with Defiant was to make cooperative multiplayer games. They worked with Rockstar Games on LA Noire, Digital Extremes on Warframe, and built a location-based VR game for Starbreeze which hasn't been announced. They also have an original IP "quietly bubbling away", which may well fit the co-op multiplayer bill, I don't know. But late last year Lords of the Fallen 2 crossed their path and the chance to work on a gothic RPG was too alluring to pass up.
What won Defiant the pitch was apparently the studio's hunger to take on From Software's dominance of the 'Souls-like' RPG subgenre. "It's an area of the games industry which is now considered untouchable in some degree," said Grijns. "It's like, 'From Software rules the roost in this particular area of the badlands so abandon all hope ye who enter here.' And those are exactly the sorts of projects we love.
"We have a very senior team and what senior people want is to be challenged. The higher the challenge technically and creatively, the more interested we get. When you've built a 400-square-mile game like Just Cause 3 with a lot of new tech, and taking a lot of tech risks, every mountain after that doesn't seem so insurmountable. For us, having reached that peak, and looking out over the landscape, it's like, 'Alright what's the next big challenge for us?'"
Defiant's idea for Lords of the Fallen 2 draws on the Souls games, obviously, as well as games like Nioh. "From taking inspiration from a lot of these games, we were able to come up with a new concept that tried to push a few of those categories a little further along," Lesterlin said.
"We are hopefully doing some things which will surprise fans of the first one [Lords of the Fallen 1], and we have an opportunity to expand the fanbase. There were a lot of people who were reticent to enter the subgenre of the very difficult..."
"Death simulator," said Grijns.
"Death simulator - exactly," added Lesterlin. "We want to take that fantasy for the player and try to show those fans something a little bit new - a new approach in it. Competition is good. I love the stuff From does but I'm excited about trying to bring something new."
It's too early to talk exact concepts, partly because they're still being decided - "we are still exploring concepts and trying to move between paper design and prototypes", said Lesterlin - but what is very important is ensuring the game is slick and tight.
"We really want to be really good in specific areas, that's a mantra in our team, the polish and quality we want to bring," Lesterlin said. "We're going to deeply focus on the player experience and feel, through combat and a number of other areas. That, to me, is where quality comes from - that polish and time you take to really make sure something feels excellent and the world is exciting to explore.
"That's where we came from when we started chatting with CI. That's where the alignment was. They really wanted to get a highly polished experience and take a lot of the really great ideas explored in Lords of the Fallen 1, and within the subgenre in general, and try to push those further."
CI games is apparently investing "pretty heavily" in Lords of the Fallen 2 but it won't be made by a huge team. How large exactly is hard to gauge and the pair wouldn't tell me numbers, but Defiant sits at around the 11-50 employees mark on LinkedIn.
"For this project we're not going to be a huge team," said Grijns. "We're probably going to ramp the team to a size which, for a project of this size, is going to be a small team, let's put it that way. Without throwing out any numbers, we enjoy the challenge of building smaller teams for bigger projects. It is always a lot more fun in game development to do things with a very small, tightly-knit team, rather than taking the brute force approach.
"Even the team we had at Avalanche was about 90 full-time staff, and that is a small team for that game. If that's a guide to how big our team is going to be on this project, hopefully that gives you some inkling." I'm not sure it does!
As for the release date, that's also under wraps, although presumably it's still a couple of years away. Whether that means Lords of the Fallen 2 will be an early release for a new generation of consoles - as Lords of the Fallen 1 was - I don't know (and they wouldn't say) but perhaps the stars will align again.
Lords of the Fallen 1 came out in 2014, and made a handsome play at being a Souls-like experience before Souls or indeed Bloodborne had made a PS4 and Xbox One-era debut. Dan Whitehead reviewed Lords of the Fallen 1 for Eurogamer and found it perhaps too derivative. "I just wish it wasn't so happy to sit in another game's shadow," he wrote, "and made more of the few fresh mechanisms that might distinguish it and move the genre forwards.
"Instead, it hews so closely to a proven template that it's basically a pretty good action-adventure by default. Yet as the game clock ticked towards 20 hours and beyond, I could never quite shake the feeling that I'd still rather be failing in Dark Souls than succeeding in Lords of the Fallen."