Fans have been waiting what seems like forever for a true, classic 3D Castlevania game. While I may be in the minority when I say Curse of Darkness and Lament of Innocence already succeeded in this aspect, one thing remains certain: this generation needs a current generation Castlevania.
Despite toting the moniker, I would very loosely describe Lords of Shadow as a “Castlevania game”. While some old school fans may cry out for a stake for the heart of developer MecurySteam, LOS is a solid entry in its own right: read on to find out why.
Like most Castlevania games, Lords of Shadow opens simply enough: Gabriel Belmont has just lost his wife due to a recent unexplained plague of undead creatures, and he is seeking answers. Along the way he meets a fellow member of his brotherhood and quests for the power of the Lords of Shadow – a group of potent daemons. Really, that’s about it. While the ending will take your breath away, this is an action game, through and through, and the simplistic story reflects that.
If there were a more fleshed-out story however, it would be extremely difficult to concentrate on it, given how incredible the visuals are. Simply put, Lords of Shadow is one of the best looking games this generation. There are times where the camera zooms out into fully playable sections, and scenes look straight out of a classic painting.
Just like any other game, the levels need to be unique, and Lords of Shadow certainly succeeds in this aspect. Each realm looks significantly different than the last and has its own set of enemies to defeat. You’ll also gain a hefty amount of skills over your travels, which you’ll use to re-visit past areas and enter previously inaccessible sections. Unfortunately, getting to them isn’t always easy.
LOS’s biggest problem is easily the broken platforming sections. Games like God of War and Devil May Cry’s platforming elements have a more “on rails” feel – because while they do have some key platforming sections, they don’t act like they’re more than an action game and muddle them up. Uncharted 2 gave you a myriad of options when platforming and is more like Tomb Raider in the respect that you feel like you can go anywhere you want as long as there’s something to latch onto. Castlevania is more like the new Prince of Persia in that the developers want you to specifically do one thing, and one thing only, and if you mess up even in the slightest, you’ll be restarting at, sometimes, very long checkpoints.
For instance, when Gabriel gets his grappling hook upgrade, grapple areas show up with a bright blue star on the screen – I can’t tell you how many times I was “supposed” to grapple up an area, only to find out the cue star never actually showed up until I was in exactly the right spot. One time it took me three or four tries (backtracking the whole while) to find that precise arbitrary spot they wanted me to use. It’s the sloppiest part of Castlevania, but luckily the combat and presentation make up for it.
The combo system is deep, challenging, and rewarding, but I can see many gamers coming out frustrated. The principle method of gaining magic is by filling up your combo meter. After about 30-ish or so successful attacks, you’ll gain the ability to drain magic out of every enemy in the game with each successive hit: unfortunately, being hit even once (even by the smallest swipe) will completely wipe out your meter, starting you at square one. The result is a dangerous game that involves lots of dodging and careful planning: something many gamers will find too taxing. However, outside of the game’s mini-bosses and boss fights, the combo meter isn’t particularly needed to progress.
Lords of Shadow’s magic system is a mix of a few mechanics from popular titles. It’s basically a combination of Devil May Cry’s “Devil Trigger”, and Dante’s Inferno’s “light and dark” system. After absorbing magic energy either through combo chaining or fallen opponents, Gabriel is able to employ either the health-leeching magic aura, or the extra damage dealing dark aura. Both work pretty seamlessly at the touch of a button, and help create a more tactical feel in combat situations: you’ll be constantly asking yourself “should I heal, or go all out?” In addition to these statistical auras, you’ll also earn a heap of special attacks to use while in your magical state.
While Castlevania does have an excellent presentation, both with its orchestral soundtrack and stunning graphics, the vocal performances leave much to be desired. Patrick Stewart has enough lines to fill a small novel considering he narrates each and every stage intro, but he delivers them like he can’t wait to get out of the recording studio. The same can be said of most of the actors in the game, especially Gabriel’s voice actor (Robert Carlyle), who apparently loses the ability to speak during quite a few extended periods, which only succeeds in removing you from his plight.
While it would have been nice to get more than one minor reference towards the Castlevania series, Lords of Shadow manages to forge its own identity. At the end of the day, Lords of Shadow has its fair share of problems, but any seasoned action veteran will enjoy it.
Lords of Shadow looks incredible, but some of the character designs are a bit bland, and often times the game's frame rate will come to a screeching halt.
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While the combo and magic systems are deep, there are a heap of problems with the game's puzzles, and platforming elements.
The main battle theme will grate on you after hearing it a few hundred times, but the rest of the soundtrack is excellent, and the sound effects are solid. Unfortunately, while the voice cast is talented on paper, they don't really give it their all here.
Lords of Shadow is unbelievably long for an action game - while most titles would only last you around 5-7 hours, Castlevania's story is at least 20+ hours, with extras on top of that, and a super hard mode.
Castlevania Lords of Shadow doesn't do too much out of the ordinary, but it's a solid action game nonetheless.