A slightly above-average pastiche of tedium.
Before placing any kind of judgement on Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, it is important to realize the intention of its creation, which is an attempt to take the Castlevania franchise in a new direction, or even as an attempt at an alternate franchise to the classic 2D gameplay that the series is so highly regarded for in past iterations. However, even though there were 3D Castlevania games in the past, Lords of Shadow feels like a missed opportunity as it tries to break that 2D mold once more.
The gameplay is clearly God of War-like, but to be fair to Lords of Shadow, using that terminology is improper, so instead I'll say that the gameplay is competent as a character-action game, yet severely lacking any inspiration. The controls are tight and accurate, regardless of it's workmanlike nature, but it does not maintain any sense of entertainment over the long course of the game. Where the Castlevania games derived from Symphony of the Night were using loot systems and RPG elements as a mechanic on top of the leveling system for added variety, this game opts for a simpler option, as it attempts a basic currency system to purchase and upgrade more moves for your whip and your classic secondary weapons found in other Castlevania games. While a more simplified system isn't a bad thing, the whip combat is overly repetitive over the extremely long course of the game from a lack of depth surrounding the combat mechanics. The 'light and dark' magic systems aren't terrible by any means, but they don't necessarily change the moves that you actually perform, generally meaning once you find your bread-and-butter whip combo of choice, you're going to be performing that same combo over and over again repeatedly; only activating the magic type based on the situation you require (to heal, or for extra damage). However, that's not to say the combat is unfair or just full of button-mashing, as there is a timed-counter system in place which requires some skill to perform, but is rewarding rather than punishing. But after only a few hours of combat, at no point does it become interesting or gratifying enough to perform anything more than a combo that a player can comfortably repeat ad nauseam.
It's noticeable that they thought quick-time events and the Shadow of the Colossus inspired boss fights would break up the paces of the rather lackluster combat. The Colossus-inspired boss fights were graphically impressive, but a little too dated and derivative for my liking. I suppose you could say that "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery", but that still doesn't mean it's going to equate to being an interesting experience. While the battles in Shadow of the Colossus felt almost puzzle-like in nature, these fights in Lords of Shadow were extremely linear in design, and offered little more than the following of an obvious path that is laid out across a gargantuan of a monster.
If there's one thing that I came away positively from Lords of Shadow, it was the presentation. Hideo Kojima's involvement to oversee the project definitely delivered a specific vision for the game graphically, and it largely shows in the way action scenes were conceived, along with his peculiar style of cinematography. I think he maybe draws too much inspiration from Guillermo Del Toro works of fiction, but I wouldn't take that as a negative by any means. The style fits the universe like a well-fitted glove, and some really fantastic looking monsters and scenery were created as a result. It was highly refreshing to see how those creations looked as re-imagined versions from their original 2D sprites of old. Unfortunately though, the game is marred with framerate issues as it struggles to maintain 30 frames per second; most notably in sections where a lot of fast-moving action takes place. If they were able to tighten some screws surrounding the framerate issues, I would have good reason to believe this could have been one of the most visually appealing games of today's console generation.
Thankfully, the voice acting by Robert Carlyle, Patrick Stewart, Natascha McElhone, and Jason Issacs is spot-on. They deliver their lines nicely, with notable mention to Patrick Stewart who never fails to impress. Throw in an epic orchestral score, and you've built a fine recipe for success. The orchestral score was especially appreciable, as a break from the roaring of the Yngwie Malmsteen inspired mixes from the Castlevania games of the post-Symphony of the Night era. In reference to our main character Gabriel Belmont however, Robert Carlyle is fine as the lead character of Lords of Shadow - but I think he was a little underwhelming due to the lack of a better script for his character.
It's not to say the plot of Lords of Shadow was a terrible experience, but it is an experience that becomes lost in translation due to uneven pacing, if only ruined by the overly long length of the game. Admittedly though, by the time I took the game to its completion over the course of 20+ hours for a single playthrough, I was pleasantly happy with the way the plot concludes itself. It was a bit of a suffrage to endure, but it does pay off quite nicely in the end.
It's really unfortunate that Castlevania: Lords of Shadow missed so many beats in the technical gameplay, when it is a standard area where Castlevania games bear a legacy of greatness. There was an incredible amount of potential here to reboot a franchise that was in dire need of change, and it definitely had all the right pieces to make a huge splash with a new direction, but it unfortunately wasn't able to capitalize on that potential beyond a slightly above-average pastiche of tedium.