What is present is solid and a step in the right direction, but it feels too derivative.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is the latest entry in the long running series, but this one is considered a reboot of the franchise so many things are not quite the same. This means that it is not quite the same plot as you come to expect from the other games in the series. The story is told much like a book with 12 chapters, but each chapter varies in the amount of stages. Before each stage, Zobek narrates part of the story while the game is loading. It helps move the story forward and never really leaves you clueless as to what is going on. The story, however, is not without its problems. The story's pace builds up until you hit the climax at two-thirds of the way through and then it races to the conclusion. I felt this could have been spread out as the last few chapters are very short and the last few stages really felt added on.They felt lackluster and the game ends on a very disappointing end encounter, especially compared to what you had fought previously. It is also one I felt came out of nowhere and to be honest, outside of a few references, it is not what you would expect from a Castlevania game. I do not consider this that much of a problem, as it is a reboot, but it needed more than name references. One final point on the story is that I feel that if the game ended on the second major encounter, it would have felt more satisfying as I felt the ascension to that point was much stronger, but what we are left with is brief stages and an ultimately flat conclusion.
The gameplay in Lords of Shadow while good is not without complications. The tools you have to fight the forces of evil are your combat cross, which is essentially a whip and many other sub-weapons that you pick up along the way such as holy water. There are many upgrades to find for both your combat cross and your sub-weapons that will make getting through your journey a little easier. In addition to those, you will also find health and magic upgrades, much like other games of its type. However, what it will come down to is how you handle your main weapon. You are given the option to perform direct combos and area combos. These are self-explanatory as one will be oriented more toward one-on-one encounters while area ones are directed toward keeping many enemies away from you and hitting multiple foes at once. These attacks can be mixed for very damaging combos. Some of these attacks are not available right away and must be bought with experience points you gain throughout a level. You can upgrade your attacks and skills while in a level which really comes in handy if you are seeking to get a specific combo that you want right away. In addition to your regular attacks, you also have some defensive options found in blocking, dodging, and the synchronized block. If you correctly time your block with an enemy's attack, you will be given an opportunity to counter-attack. However, do not become overly dependent on this as some attacks cannot be blocked.
In addition to your combat skills and sub-weapons, you also have two different types of magic, light and shadow. Light magic when activated will help you regain your health every time you hit your foes while shadow magic will boost your damage output. Only one can be activated at a time and you regain magic by killing enemies and collecting the orbs they drop by pushing in the corresponding stick depending on which gauge you want to fill. Pressing in the left stick will give you light magic while pressing in the right stick will give you shadow magic. Alternatively, you can get orbs from every hit by filling your focus gauge once you acquire it. You fill this gauge by successfully hitting enemies while avoiding getting hit yourself. While the game does have a few areas that will refill your health and magic, using light magic and getting orbs will be your primary way of refilling your gauges.
Combat is thrilling at first and when it comes to boss fights, some are really massive in scale. Unfortunately, when you are in a normal encounter with a group of enemies, most of your attacks seem to have no effect on them. You can barrage them with your combat cross and many will act like you are not even hitting them. This gets frustrating and really makes a lot of the combos that you can acquire rather ineffective because you will more than likely get knocked out of it before you even finish it. Most encounters can be dumbed down to attacking a few times and rolling before finishing a full combo. You also have the option to use the synchronized block. Once you get used to it, it can be heavily abused. While there are unblockable attacks, you can see them coming from a mile away so you can essentially keep a constant offensive on an enemy. I felt this made some encounters and even some bosses way too easy. This is fine at times, but when I am fighting a lord of shadow, I expect more of a fight. The sub-weapons vary in usefulness, but I never found myself using them that much, in fact, I forgot I even had them at times. My other problem is that combat in this game is too derivative. While I feel this is a good direction for the series to head, it needs to come into its own more. As it stands right now, this feels too much like a been there, done that feeling and it just feels tedious after awhile. I found that magic did not have too many uses either, especially the spells that you can acquire. When it comes right down to it, I really only found myself using the light magic to get health back and not much else. I hardly ever used the shadow magic and hardly noticed any difference in the power of my attacks. This is somewhere where I would have liked to see the enemies looking like they are getting hit instead of brushing off all my attacks. One final aspect about the combat that I took issue with is the amount of quicktime events. Every time you perform a throw on an enemy, there is a quicktime event. When you are fighting bosses, almost all of them will have a quicktime event. Even outside of combat, they are present. It got to the point where I felt overloaded with them. All in all, the combat needs work, but for a reboot, this is a good direction to head. It just needs to be less derivative and begin to develop into its own.
Outside of combat, those used to the exploration aspects of the "Metroidvania" style games will be disappointed. There are multiple paths to get through some stages, but in the end, the game is still rather linear. However, there are plenty of platforming sections and many puzzles to solve. The platforming while enjoyable, is hampered by the poor fixed camera. There are times where you are just wishing you could adjust it to see your next jump at a better angle. While other games are similar, they do a better job of it than this game did. The game would be a lot more entertaining if you did not have to fight with the camera. It is really a persistent problem that gets in the way whilst in combat.
The puzzles in this game are challenging and many require some thought to figure out, but I never found any of them to be impossible. The game will provide hints as to what you are supposed to do and it is just enough to get you started. It is rewarding when you finally figure out a puzzle and then you completely understand what the hint was getting at. The game also rewards you in the way of experience points. However, there is an option to use some of your experience points for the game to solve the puzzle for you. As expected, you will not get any points if you do this. This is completely optional, but still, I was not too fond of the option simply because it just feels like too much of an easy way out and you will be skipping out on a part of a game. If you get frustrated with a puzzle and just cannot figure it out, I can understand, but if you do it for every puzzle, why bother? It is worth mentioning that with all the experience you will gain and the fact you can do this on every puzzle, it makes me wonder why they even bothered having puzzles in the game at all.
One final aspect of the gameplay is the trials that you are given after you complete each stage. These range from anywhere from fighting a boss and not getting hit to not healing throughout the stage. Some of these can get quite challenging and I found it is a good way to add some replayablility to the game. However, the only rewards you will get from these are achievement related, so if you do not really care for those, it is unlikely these trials will peak your interest. Despite this, it is a good way to challenge yourself and put your skills to the test.
The graphics in this game are beautiful. It really feels like you are in a broken world with all the shattered remnants of civilization and dark environment. The atmosphere is very diversified in that you will be journeying through frozen landscapes, swamps, hollowed out buildings, and as expected, castles. It brings out the feeling that you are on a quest by traveling to so many different locales. With how beautiful the game looks, it is absolutely a shame that you cannot go out and explore much of it.
My feelings on this game's sound are mixed. I did enjoy the voice acting, especially Patrick Stewart voicing Zobek. However, as with a lot of action games, this game also suffers from allies and enemies constantly repeating the same tired lines in the heat of the action. It frustrates you and it makes you want to mute your television. If they would not repeat their lines every few seconds, it would not be that bad, but the fact that it is so often, it can get a tad annoying. One other thing about the sound that I found to be disappointing was the music. Where is it? Castlevania is known for having great soundtracks, but in Lords of Shadow, there barely is music. It only plays when there is action which I found upsetting. Most of the time, it is just ambiance. If there had been music to listen to while performing the platforming and solving the puzzles, it would have been much more enjoyable. That being said, what does play is very enjoyable and fits well with the action.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is an excellent reboot of the series, but it is not without problems. The story while interesting falls short in the last third of the game. The gameplay is familiar so if you have played games of this type, this will feel right at home for you, but, it is too derivative to really bring anything new to the table. It just feels too much like God of War and other games on the market like Shadow of the Colossus. The game is also plagued by a poor camera and it really would have benefited from an option to adjust it. Graphics look absolutely superb and you can really get absorbed in the atmosphere. The sound is of high quality in both voice acting and soundtrack, but the music hardly plays outside of action and it is rather disappointing if you are a longtime fan. Finally, while what is present is solid, it borrows heavily from so many other games that it does not feel like it has its own identity, but it is a step in the right direction. If you are just looking for a good action game, look no further, just be wary of the camera. If you are a Castlevania fan, you may be disappointed in the story and soundtrack, but it is still an enjoyable game to check out.