Castlevania is one of the most treasured franchises in the business, yet each attempt at a 3D version has been widely considered as failure. Newcomer Mercury Steam felt they could change that, and they’ve brought us Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. Is this a reboot worthy addition to the series, or should Castlevania remain in 2D forever?
“OMG It’s 3D! This isn’t Castlevania!”
Purists, be gone! Everyone is afraid of change, and we know you don’t want to embrace new ideas, but sometimes you just have to deal with it. The gameplay in Lords of Shadow is drastically different from anything we’ve ever seen before in this series. Is that a bad thing? It comes down to your personal opinion, but give it a fair chance and don’t go into it hating the new style. Lords of Shadow has borrowed heavy elements from other popular titles such as God of War, Uncharted, and Shadow of the Colossus. There’s also just a tiny hint of Metal Gear mixed in, thanks to Kojima Productions who had a hand in the games’ development.
Just how do these other titles’ gameplay work in Castlevania? Let me explain. Being 3D, obviously some changes have to be made to the formula. Lords of Shadow requires lots of platforming gameplay to progress through the game, as well as quick-paced combat to take out hordes of enemies at times. The platform elements are similar to Uncharted, and you’ll quite often be scaling the massive wall of a castle, or grappling from point to point in treacherous caverns and forests. It’s been executed nearly perfectly though, and if you’re good at that type of gameplay, you’ll have no trouble figuring out where to go. The God of War influence is obviously in the combat segments, which we’ll talk about in just a moment. As for the mention of the much-loved Shadow of the Colossus, let’s just say if you’re a fan, you should enjoy the boss battles in Lords of Shadow.
The game features some puzzles as well, but these become more apparent in the later stages of the adventure. They range from lining up items using dials to manoeuvring through a deadly music box. Some of the puzzles can be rather frustrating, yet the answer is often simple. You’ll need to remember your magic powers, and you’ll need to pay attention to small details, but sometimes it’s just luck to figure one out. For those who really hate figuring out puzzles, you can unlock a solution whenever you care to, but you’ll lose out on any experience that can be earned by solving it yourself.
Where’s my classic whip?!
Don’t worry, Gabriel carries his trustworthy Combat Cross wherever he goes. This acts as your whip, grappling hook, stake, and more… It’s really quite versatile! The combat plays very much like God of War, and while it doesn’t feel as smooth, it feels more powerful. Early in the game, you’ve only got a handful of moves to use, but don’t get too upset. You’ll quickly earn the use of light and shadow magic powers which open a whole new direction for the combat to move. Also, the game features a basic experience system where you earn experience points from killing enemies and solving puzzles, and you can use these points to unlock new combat techniques. Don’t expect to get everything on a single run through the game unless you spent some serious time slowly grinding points in one of the few areas possible for that task.
You can use quick-timed events (QTEs) to perform one hit kills on smaller enemies, during which time you cannot be harmed by other enemies. Larger enemies will require a solid beating before the QTEs can be performed though. These are the ones that also require lots of rolling, blocking, and just general skill to defeat. Your magic powers will be helpful in battle as damaging enemies while light magic is active will replenish your life bar, or if you use shadow magic you’ll do extra damage. Truth be told, once you’ve unlocked the majority of the moves available, Gabriel can perform some truly awesome combos.
What’s the story?
First and foremost, the protagonist known as Gabriel is a newcomer to the Castlevania series, but he does indeed carry the name of Belmont. He’s a member of the Brotherhood of Light, and his beloved wife, Marie, was slaughtered by the forces of darkness. With the help of her trapped spirit, and a man known as Zobek, Gabriel begins a quest to defeat the Lords of Shadow, allowing the trapped spirits to roam free, and rid the world of darkness.
The story itself is told through narration by Zobek, whom is voiced by the wonderful and popular Patrick Stewart. It’s told in a passive aggressive form, and extra details can be read in Brotherhood scrolls which can be found on bodies throughout the game. The ending becomes slightly predictable when you near close, but near the final battle you’ll encounter some unexpected twists that really shake things up. You’ll learn some things about yourself, and other characters you’ve met along the way…but what will happen due to this newfound knowledge?
The art direction in Lords of Shadow is easily the most impressive feature in the game. Most of the environments are absolutely gorgeous. The texture work is simply unbelievable at times, mixed with particularly wonderful lighting effects, it creates some incredible atmospheres. You’ll traverse through dense forests, ancient castles, dead bogs, and even through alternate dimensions, all of which are nothing short of the best when it comes to graphics.
Patrick Stewart, Bedtime Stories, and Lullabies…
Castlevania has always been known for its soundtrack, so how well does Lords of Shadow hold up? During the game, I often noticed how great the music was, and how well it fit each atmosphere. Some pieces were truly great, but somewhere in the past ten years, something has changed with game soundtracks. While it sounds great, it’s not very memorable. I can’t remember a single piece of music I heard in the game, yet I remember jingles from games when I was a child. I can’t explain it, but despite being forgettable, the soundtrack for the game is great.
Voice acting is very well done, with the majority of work being performed by Patrick Stewart who plays the voice of the mysterious swordsman, Zobek, and also narrates the story prior to each segment you play. Gabriel and other characters are voiced quite well in comparison, and nothing appears to have been ‘over-acted’ .
On top of the forty plus segments scattered over twelve chapters, the game has a little more in store for you. Every segment you beat will unlock a ‘trial’ requiring you to hit a certain goal, whether it’s time, skill, or kill related. The trials don’t really serve a purpose aside from earning an achievement, but it’s fun to see if you can complete the extra goals. There’s also a ton of artwork you can purchase using experience points, a vampire wargame that plays similar to chess, and some….wait! METAL GEAR?! We’re not going to tell you what’s left, and you’ll have to beat the game to find out.
That’s a wrap!
Despite some major changes to the gameplay, you can still feel the roots of the series once you’ve spent some time with the game. While the game does have some frustrating moments, it’s a very well-rounded experience, and Mercury Steam has given us a truly amazing experience. A run through on the normal difficulty should last about fifteen to eighteen hours, and for you achievement hunters, there’s a solid amount of extra work for you. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow was an epic experience for me, and I couldn’t be happier with the way it turned out.
This review was based off 19 hours of playtime with the Xbox 360 version provided by the publisher.
Fun combat, great platforming, and some very epic battles make it a really great experience.
One of the best looking games all-around on any system. Lighting and general design are stunning. Could use slight improvements with anti-aliasing.
A fantastic yet oddly forgettable soundtrack, and Patrick Stewart... we loved it!