Developer: MecurySteam, Kojima Productions
Release Date: October 5th, 2010
Available On: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Reviewer’s Note: I played this game on the PC and the Xbox 360. Screenshots are from the PC version. There were no noticeable differences between versions.
Castlevania has never really handled 3D well. While its various 2D entries are legendary, most of its efforts to enter 3D have fallen flat. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow seeks to fix this problem with some massive changes to the formula. Yet is this reboot enough to make that third dimension work?
Lords of Shadow follows Gabriel Belmont, a member of The Brotherhood of Light. After a spell cuts off Earth from Heaven, he is tasked (along with all other members) to kill the Lords of Shadow and fix the spell. Gabriel also has selfish reasons for his task though, after his wife’s mysterious murder he knows he can bring her back using the God Mask and plans to do so. The game’s central narration is one of the strong points, as Gabriel’s quest brings him across many locations and he meets many interesting characters. It’s also helped by the inclusion of Patrick Stewart as the narrator, as he gives a great narration to each of the game’s chapters. The game also ends on one of the best twists I’ve seen in a while, one that makes me really excited for the sequel. That said, there is some times when the cutscenes would drag (you can tell when Kojima takes over when some of the cutscenes go on for 15 minutes) and I wanted to just get back to the game. Thankfully, this isn’t often.
Lords of Shadow is not a metroidvania like past Castlevania games. Instead you select levels from a world map and each level takes place inside a set area. This does not mean there’s no exploration though. As I advanced through the game Gabriel would gain new abilities that he could bring back to previous levels. An early level I spot a jump I can’t make and the possibility of an item up there, and later when I got a double jump I could make the jump and grab a reward. Usually these came in the form of gems that increased my health or magic, or sometimes a scroll that would add some more lore to the world.
Combat is much closer to God of War than past Castlevania games. Gabriel can use either direct or area attacks with his combat cross, and over the course of the game gains various different combos and special attacks to add to this. He can also use items, which take the form of throwing knives, vials of holy water, and faeries to distract enemies. A big feature comes in the form of magic. By activating light magic I could absorb health from enemies, while shadow magic allowed me to deal my damage. Both light and shadow magic further modified my attacks and items, and they became essential to winning the game. Lords of Shadow boasts a surprisingly deep combat system that really makes each encounter a joy.
Along the way Gabriel encounters all kinds of monsters, both classics and new. Werewolves, vampires, zombies, and other monsters block the way, and each of them have different strengths and weaknesses. Skillful blocking and dodging was always a necessity, and each fight was difficult enough to feel like it provided a legitimate challenge. As I slew my way through the enemy hoard, I would collect XP points to spend on skills. Each skill opened up new attacks, new ways to use my relics, and new abilities when I was using magic. I also gained the ability to tame some of the larger monsters and use them as mounts, allowing me to destructively bash my way through puzzles or enemy swarms. It was always satisfying getting control of the mounts.
Many chapters also ended in climatic boss fights. I never found a dull moment here, as each boss brings something new to the table and further excited me in many ways. The majority of the game’s bosses are fought normally, and they include everything from vampire countesses, to massive werewolves, to other knights. They’re always a great spot to put all your skills to the test. Bosses, as well as other parts of the game, do have quick time events. Yet I actually found how Lords of Shadow handles them to be better than most: you can hit any button so long as you hit it when one circle is inside of another. It’s also rather forgiving, which helps. Occasionally instead of a regular boss there will be a Shadow of the Colossus-styled platforming boss where you need to climb over the boss to reach weak spots. They’re rare, there’s probably like three total in the whole game, but they’re visually stunning and exciting to watch.
There’s also a good chunk of puzzles in Lords of Shadow. I was actually surprised by how challenging some of them could get, but they were a welcomed change of pace. Some of them get reused, there are a ton of puzzles trying to figure out the correct order and position of emblems to hit with magic, but most of the unique ones aren’t. The most unique puzzle in the game (and, admittedly, the most frustrating as well) involved programming a music box that would determine the paths you could take. Another interesting puzzle had me combining gems that would open doors or trigger traps depending on how I did it. If I was ever too confused about a puzzle then the game allowed me to give up the XP reward to just be told the solution, a feature that I found helped for when I wasn’t in the mood.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is a massive success and an amazing entry into the series. The interesting story, deep combat, smart puzzles, and lovely soundtrack and visuals all lead into a wonderful game that is well worth sinking time into. Fans and newcomers alike should find something worth exploring in this castle.