Posted on October 8, 2010, Ron Whitaker Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Review
Castlevania. The very name invokes images of a man rendered in 8-bit graphics swinging a whip at all sort of monsters you normally only see when answering the door on Halloween. Now, the Belmonts have returned in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, Konami’s reboot of the franchise.
First off, this is not the Castlevania of our youth. MercurySteam has constructed a game that is more action adventure than anything else. There are some puzzles to solve, and plenty of secrets to find, but at its core, Castlevania: Lord of Shadows is a linear adventure through a variety of locations.
Lord of Shadows utilizes a combat style that is not unlike God of War; in fact, it shows a considerable amount of influence from Sony’s iconic title. You’ll find yourself fighting waves of monsters with your combat cross using a variety of combos and special moves. These special moves can be unlocked using the experience points you gain along the way, and are almost a requirement to get through the myriad boss battles which have you fighting everything from shape-shifting Lycans to giant Crow Witches, Titans, and golems. For me, the boss fights were a highlight of the game.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow (XBox360 [Reviewed], PS3)
Release Date: October 05, 2010
A number of interesting additions to the formula give it even more depth. First up are secondary weapons. These include throwing daggers containing bones of saints, dark crystals that can summon a demon to fight for you, and even fairies (yes, fairies) that can be used to distract enemies.
The second addition is magic. You’ll gain access to both light and shadow magic as you travel. Light magic allows you to heal yourself with every blow, and shadow magic increases damage dealt. Both of these types of magic are vital to your success, and combing the two effectively makes the way a lot easier. To replenish your magic, you need to string together combos without taking damage, so button mashing isn’t really a viable option.
Navigating the world is fairly straightforward, and the fixed camera actually works fairly well. Climbing and jumping reminds me a bit of Uncharted, but the addition of the Combat Cross means that you can also swing, rappel, and climb or descend places that you can’t simply clamber up to.
All of this combat takes place in a world that is not what we’re used to from Castlevania games. The locales run the gamut from forests to frozen tundra to swamps and even vampire castles in the mountains. The graphics are gorgeous, and make you want to explore the environments much further than the game will actually allow. Nice lighting effects show off the environment, and little details (like crumbling stones to indicate areas that be broken through) play a role in discovering much of what Lords of Shadow has hidden.
What is hidden are usually gems that you must collect to increase the size of your magic or health bars. In many cases, you need to backtrack to areas that you have already visited to retrieve items that you didn’t have the ability to obtain before. However, this backtracking never feels forced or unwieldy. In fact, you never feel compelled to do it, unless you want to complete the (somewhat arbitrary) bonus objectives that are added after you finish a level for the first time.
Lords of Shadow’s puzzles are both a bright spot and a drag on the game. Some of them are inspired, such as when you must align three interlocking rings to reach a woman before a swinging pendulum blade cleaves her apart. Some of them are repetitive and overused, especially those that have you breaking through doors or finding two keys to proceed. I won’t say that they were put in simply to pad the game’s length, but that’s the net effect that they have.
One of my favorite features in the game is the mount system. Now, don’t get carried away. You won’t have a horse at your beck and call throughout, but what you do have is the ability to “ride” a variety of different creatures. There’s a spectral horse that appears to help you advance through parts of the story, but that’s only the beginning. Creatures like giant spiders, wargs and trolls can all be attacked until stunned, and then mounted. You’ll gain the use of the mount’s attacks in these situations, and you’ll also need to make use of them to move forward when they appear.
For example, the giant spider can shoot webbing that forms a narrow footbridge over gaps, and it can also use its web to pull down obstacles in your way. The troll can smash through large obstacles that you can’t surmount on your own, and the warg can leap large distances and climb certain walls. Still, once your mount has served its purpose, you simply strangle it and move on, making the enjoyment temporary.
As you probably know, Patrick Stewart appears in Lords of Shadow, both as the narrator and a character in the game. The main character, Gabriel Belmont, is voiced by Robert Carlyle, who I remember best as Renaud in ‘The World is Not Enough.’ He also can be seen in The Full Monty and Trainspotting. While the game’s script is forgettable, the voice acting is solid throughout, which should be no surprise given the caliber of the talent.
All in all, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is an admirable reboot for the classic series. Sure, it borrows a bit from other games here and there, but what game doesn’t in this day and age. In fact, the borrowing actually makes the game more fun in places. Lords of Shadow does bog down from time to time, but when it focuses on action, it’s excellent. It’s also that rare action title that rewards players for doing something other than button mashing, something we could use a lot more of. This is a game that fans of action adventure or Castlevania should definitely check out.
- Excellent action sequences
- Variety of combos that actually reward the player for using them
- Cool mount system
- Outstanding boss fights
- Some repetitive puzzles
- Uninspired story
- Backtracking seems pointless
Like hack-and-slash adventures? Got God of War: Ghosts of Sparta? We’ve got a step-by-step walkthrough at this link.