Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is an entry that is welcomed with open arms into the franchise.
Darrogamer06 wrote this review on .
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is the latest in the established series and is quite different to what you would come to expect from a 3D or 2D Castlevania game. Many believe this to be more of a reboot to the series than anything else and for what it's worth, it is exactly that. If you've played the N64 or PS2/Xbox 3D games then you will not be expecting the exact same thing once you start playing Lords of Shadow. One of the main things that obviously has to be said and it could be considered a plus or a negative depending on what your views are is that it plays quite similar to another series in the genre, that being the excellent God of War. If there is one thing that this game doesn't have going for it, it is that it is pretty much unoriginal in its core gameplay mechanics but to me, that's just a minor niggle in an otherwise great game.
Lords of Shadow sees you play the role of Gabriel Belmont, a member of the Brotherhood of Light, a holy order of Knights whose aim is to defend the innocent and get rid of the evil that is throughout the land such as demons and the like. Gabriel is out on a quest to get back his lost love Marie who was murdered by one of these creatures. His quest is to find an item that can somehow bring the dead back to life but doesn't know where to start. He is told by Pan who bears a resemblance to the mythological beast of the same name that the item he is looking for is known as the God mask but in order to retrieve this; he must go to the area where the Necromantic wars occurred between the vampires and lycans etc and defeat the Lords of Shadow, who each hold a piece of the mask. This adventure takes him through all sorts of locations, meeting new allies, fighting deadly monsters with each culminating in an intense showdown with a lord of shadow.
With a possibly rich story in an interesting universe, you would believe that it would be one of the highlights of the game. Unfortunately it is not. It is not because the story is bad in any way but because of the fact they don't do a lot more with it. During the opening chapters of the game, you feel like this is going to be a enjoyable story-driven experience but that becomes non-existent during the middle part of the game as cutscenes only pop up every now and again and it just seems to be there as filler half the time but luckily, it picks up again towards the end with interesting surprises. Each level has a narrating passage that is spoken greatly by Patrick Stewart that tells you what is occurring. It is a nice touch to update you on what is happening but might have been improved upon if it the narrating was with cutscenes and not just static text. Gabriel could have possibly been a great character it the time was devoted to him but you become a bit less attached during the middling chapters as nothing really grandeur happens. Depsite these flaws, you will enjoy what is included in the overall package.
When you get into Lords of Shadow, you will notice the gameplay is split into three different sections: combat, traversal and puzzle. The combat is where the real meat of the game is and even though it took a good chunk from other action-adventure games, it has a few little subtleties of its own that differ from the other games out there. Gabriel is equipped with his combat cross that is used in combat but also to grip onto certain points that are highlighted throughout the traversal parts of the game. In combat, it is used mainly like a whip to deal some damage to the creatures that you encounter. Gabriel has a weak attack and a strong attack, which can be used together to form different combos and new advanced moves, which can be purchased with currency points you obtain by defeating enemies, bosses and solving puzzles. Gabriel also has an array of subweapons like holy water and knives. Each of these can be obtained by defeating enemies and destroying objects in the field. Upgrades can be achieved for these subweapons but Gabriel has to find Arks that have them but in order to get most of them, you will have to do a level again as chances are Gabriel will not have the required skill needed to reach the ark at the time so if its completion you're going for, you will have to go back and replay levels that include these brotherhood arks. Gabriel will also obtain upgrades for his combat cross that will help him get past certain obstacles that are in the way.
Traversal pretty much plays the same way as it does in God of War in that Gabriel will come across ledges and the like to traverse through and also to climb up to higher areas thanks to his trusted combat cross. During your traversal/exploration parts, you can explore and find soul gems for health (green), light magic (blue) and shadow magic (red). Once you obtain 5 of a certain colour, your meter is increased. If you missed any, a level can be replayed on the world map to find the ones that were missed first time around. Gabriel will also come across scrolls, which are from his fellow fallen brotherhood knights detailing their situation. If you are the reading kind, you can check them out in the menu but are not entirely necessary to move the story along.
Magic is brought to the table in two different ways. The first way is light magic and when this is activated, whenever Gabriel successfully damages an enemy, his health is regenerated. This is very useful during some of the more challenging parts and you will see yourself using it quite a lot during the later stages of the games. The second way is shadow magic and once activated, the damaged dealt to enemies is increased and can help Gabriel take down some of the more tougher enemies like the trolls or the animated knight a lot faster. Each of these also comes with their own set of moves that can be purchased but don't feel they are necessary until perhaps the higher difficulties. In order for you to replenish your magic, you must find statues then absorb orbs of energy from them. Another interesting way is to successfully attack enemies while evading and not getting hit. This fills up a special focus meter at the bottom of the screen and once full, orbs can come out in droves while Gabriel unleashes his attacks.
When it comes to puzzles, Lords of Shadow has its fair share of them. The good thing is that none of these puzzles would be considered as complex and are simple enough to do and figure out. A certain puzzle in the game sees Gabriel in a music box and having to find different coloured cylinders to play in the right order to get access to the next part. It is an enjoyable puzzle and the rest throughout the game are good but won't test your brain. However, if you find yourself stumped at a puzzle, you can unlock its solution and pretty much skip doing it but it comes at the cost of receiving no currency from doing it this way. I feel this is a smart thing to do and might be done in future games in the genre but it depends on what the general consensus is for it.
Boss battles are in the mix and when the gameplay is this fun, it's happy to know that there are a variety of them throughout the 12 chapters. There are two different types of boss within. One is that you find yourself fighting a massive titan and having to climb on it holding on for dear life and hit its weak spots ala Shadow of the Colossus. The second is the standard arena battle, which can find Gabriel fighting a mechanical spider, a butcher or one of the Lords of Shadow. A cutscene precedes each Lords of Shadow battle that moves the plot along. Boss battles are always exciting to do in Lords of Shadow and while they will not test your strength dramatically, they are one of the main highlights of the game.
If you are coming in looking for a challenge then you are going to get it because in some instances, Lords of Shadow can be a pretty hard game. The player will have to use Gabriel and his skills to their full potential in order to not see the game over screen too many times as the enemy can indeed pack a punch in some situations. One of the things that will probably annoy a lot of people is the fact that health is not replenished every time you start a new level so if you were an inch from death during a tough boss battle and won, then you will have that little amount of health in the next level. Castlevania is by no means a short game either and you can easily see yourself spending 15-20 hours in this game and twice as long if you plan to go through it again completing the trials that you can do once a level is complete and find all the gems. Trials can range from beating a boss within the time limit or finish a level without recovering health and you will encounter your hard ones but also your easy ones.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow definitely has one thing going for it and that is in the visual department. The game is stunning to look at from the intriguing monster design to the majestic vistas you see yourself exploring throughout the game whether it is ruins of an old city or through the snowy courtyards of a large castle with the shards of ice and snow displayed on the screen itself being a nice graphical touch. It is not all perfect now since the frame rate does take a bit of a dip at times in that the action can stop for a millisecond before it gets cracking again but it doesn't ruin the overall experience in the game. The model of Gabriel is finely detailed and animates well when he is in his stride in combat. Bosses like the titans are also a visual highlight. It is a great game to look at despite the frame rate problems.
The Castlevania is renowned for its stellar music and while this entry in the series doesn't quite reach the majestic heights of old in terms of the soundtrack, what is there is memorable but you won't see yourself humming it with glee along with the likes of Bloody Tears or Vampire Killer. The voice-acting is a treat with Robert Carlyle doing a fine job as the main hero in the game. Supporting voices from the likes of Patrick Stewart, Jason Issacs and Natasha McElrone amongst others do their jobs respectively.
When all is said and done, is Lords of Shadow better than the forerunners of this action-adventure genre namely God of War? Unfortunately not but it does come pretty close. Is it better than the various clones out there? Definitely yes. Mercury Steam and the teams at Kojima Productions and Konami have done a fine job on creating not only an excellent 3D Castlevania game, but a great action-adventure game. While most of the aspects in this adventure aren't original, those are cons that can easily be ignored as long as the experience itself is enjoyable and in my eyes, it was very enjoyable. Despite a few frame rate issues, lack of story and a difficulty curve for some, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is an entry that is welcomed with open arms into the franchise.