It may not be a true Castlevania, but is damn fun nonetheless.
One thing that can certainly be said about Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is that it’s definitely not your cookie cutter Castlevania game. In fact, it’snothing like Castlevania, at all. But that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily bad. Lords of Shadow is actually surprising pretty good; far better than I imagined. Surely, it has it’s fair share of bizarre design decisions, derivative gameplay elements, and some technical anomalies, but the majority its issues are easy to look past because its grandiose adventure that is a ton of fun to play.
But when I say it's nothing like previous Castlevania games, I'm sort of exaggerating. Lords of Shadow does feature some similarities to previous Castlevania titles like Super Castlevania IV on the SNES. The campaign is set-up in a linear, staged-based progression rather than a one giant flowing adventure, like God of War. But once you get deeper into the campaign you’ll notice the game still possesses a hint of the more recent games like Symphony of the Night or Dawn of Sorrow. The stages are replayable with everything you’ve gained from the adventure, and sometimes will net you some items you’ve previously missed.
Its story, however, has nothing to do with the Castlevania mythos you’ve come accustom to. Its actually been hinted that it’s an entirely new story altogether. In Lords of Shadow you play as Gabriel Belmont. Gabriel is a tall, scruffy, handsome member of the Brotherhood of Light and is sent to locate the “Lords of Shadow” who are slowly engulfing the world. Gabriel’s wife, the beautiful Marie, was the latest victim of the epidemic and stuck in limbo between life and death.
The main story arch is pretty entertaining throughout. It has a lot of awesome varying environments plus some intense cutscenes. The campaign as a whole, for the most part, is an enjoyable 20 hours split between twelve chapters, varying in length. Some—like the second chapter in particular—are 9 levels long, while some others are only two levels, including a stage specifically for a boss fight. I never really understood why some chapters consist of 5 small levels rather than two long ones. It never seemed consistent, and never really made any sense.
It’s almost undeniable that Lords of Shadow borrows a myriad of elements from other franchises including the combat from God of War, the traversing of Uncharted, the puzzle-solving of the Legend of Zelda, and boss fights from Shadow of the Colossus. But the way that MercurySteam has built these elements together into one whole gameplay structure was done very well.
Lord of Shadow’s combat is what you’d come to expect from an action-adventure in the same vain as God of War or Devil May Cry. Attacking is done with the very obvious soft and heavy attacks, mixing them together with a jump for different combos. Lords of Shadow features a “clearing” attack which attacks all of the enemies around Gabriel but doesn’t have the same range as a normal attack. You also have the ability to use some equipment like daggers to mix things up a bit.
One thing you’ll notice is that Gabriel’s attacks are ridiculously long-ranged. Even his soft attacks reach nearly 10 meters ahead of him, making some of the battles a little easier than you’d expect. Still, you’ll definitely need to master some of the defensive abilities too, like the dodge and block. Some enemies can inflict massive amounts of pain so its best to master all of your abilities.
Lords of Shadow features a lot of boss fights too, so you’ll definitely need to master your more powerful attacks in order to succeed. The block-then-attack move seemed to work very well against bosses but I found that the dodge was far more useful against normal enemies. But in terms of actually fighting bosses, they can be pretty damn fun. The Titan battles are the best parts of the game because they harken back to Shadow of the Colossus with their gigantic size and climbable exterior.
The combat eventually varies when you gain the abilities to use Light and Shadow magic, too. The Light Magic attacks heal your health while the Shadow Magic attacks do more damage. It’s fun to try and mix these together for more powerful combos and gaining more experience will allow you to unlock better maneuvers to execute. The experience system isn’t as deep as a role-playing game but that’s not what the game is about. Instead, you just gain upgrade points for every enemy you defeat or puzzle you conquer to spend on different attacks.
The rest of Lords of Shadow that doesn’t involve killing enemies or defeating bosses is usually spent traversing through the environment and solving puzzles. The traversal mechanics are very Uncharted-esque where getting around a giant wall is as easy finding the right brick to grab at the right time. The puzzles too feel very similar as you’ll find most of them to be extremely similar to the puzzles found in a Zelda title. Some you may have to sit there and mess around with to finally figure out, while some may actually have you traverse through the environment for specific key items. Some of the puzzles are pretty clever but I couldn’t get passed the fact that most feel like roadblocks to make the game longer. It’s not to say that all of the puzzles are tacked on for the sake of making the game lengthier, but some of them definitely have a thrown-in feel.
The audiovisual presentation of Lords of Shadow is one of the game’s best strengths as the game looks, and sounds, absolutely epic in most situations. The visuals have an amazing scale where large landmarks can be seen in the distance, plus the special effects like the snow particles in some of the later stages looks amazing. I couldn’t help running into some performance issues, though. While the game will always look great, the game does stutter in frame rate constantly. It rarely runs at 60 frames per second and drops below 30 frames on occasion.
When it comes to the audio Lords of Shadow is pretty good, too. The voice acting is superb with a star-studded voice cast featuring Robert Carlyle as Gabriel, Sir Patrick Stewart as Gabriel’s mentor Zobek, and Natascha McElhone as Marie. In addition, the soundtrack is incredibly epic, even if it may not be Castlevania-enough for some. It features intense, heart-pounding orchestrations for the more intense parts while also having soothing melodies when the time is right. The sound effects sound great as well packing a good punch.
This is just a small issue but I was getting a little annoyed with the Xbox 360 version of the game consisting of two discs rather than just one. On the PS3, this isn’t a problem because it uses BluRay discs, but having to switch to the first disc every time I want to go back to the first half of the game is very irritating. Installing them does make them load faster, for sure, but that’s all it does—you’ll have to switch discs at some point.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is a great, imitative title that might come as a surprise to some, even if it doesn’t feel like a Castlevania game. It features a plethora of elements that you’ve definitely seen in other games before, but MercurySteam has woven them together into a gameplay structure that simply works. It may not be to most original title of the year, and you may have to pass by some quirks that could get a little irritating. But the overall product is definitely enjoyable and is worth checking out if possible.