The newest Castlevania is here and it’s like nothing you’ve ever played before! Well, that’s not entirely true. I guess it’s not even remotely true since it’s actually a lot like another venerable series you may have played, a little-known romp called “God of War”. But for the series’ devout, Lords of Shadow marks a total departure from everything you know and love.
Let’s just get it out of the way now: Lords of Shadow is Castlevania in name only. With a few loose exceptions, none of the staples that define the series are to be found here. There are werewolves and vampires and yes, you get to throw daggers and holy water but it’s all implemented in an alien way that the seasoned Castlevania player may find hard to swallow.
Forsake any attachment you have to the Castlevania series as you know it, though, and Lords of Shadow is a great game, even if it struggles to maintain its identity after having borrowed so heavily from other blockbuster titles. It might not be very innovative, but Lords of Shadow still stands out as a worthy contender in the action genre, and the game itself, as a whole, is just a beautiful thing to take in.
There are some loving touches placed throughout the game that give Lords of Shadow an immersive lore, like the detailed bestiary that updates when you encounter a new creature, and the stunningly beautiful backdrops you travel through in your quest to free the land from its evil usurpers. The music is also moving, weaving in and out of notice like the score to a movie.
Lords of Shadow has you taking on the role of Gabriel Belmont, a knight in service of the Brotherhood of Light. Sworn to protect mankind from the supernatural evils that push humanity to the brink of extinction, Gabriel embarks on this noble quest for ulterior and selfish reasons; he seeks a way to bring back his murdered lover. The story is quite compelling and has frequent bursts of originality, but suffers somewhat from becoming more and more bizarre as it approaches the finale.
There is little exploration in Lords of Shadow; it’s about as linear as a game can get, driven ever forward by the narrative and affording you barely any room to spread your wings. There is no castle to explore, or any of the other lovable elements that make up the Metroidvania appeal of earlier Castlevanias. You can get some optional upgrades from replaying old stages, but that’s about it.
Combat is at the very heart of Lords of Shadow, and there’s no shortage of it. Gabriel is armed with the combat cross (a highly dramatized whip) and there are lots of combos to unlock as he gains in experience and acquires new armaments. It can be fun to experiment with Gabriel’s moves but you’ll find many combos are too impractical since you’ll spend a lot of time dodging. Despite the arsenal of techniques available, you’ll probably just pick a few favorites and stick with those.
In addition to the combat cross you can also employ secondary weapons whose usefulness varies depending on your situation. For example, throwing daggers are quick and always find their mark, but aren’t very useful against bigger enemies. Holy water decimates the undead, and fairies don’t actually deal damage at all, but spellbind your enemies into a state of paralysis. It’s an odd assembly of sub-weapons but they can be very useful at times.
Gabriel also has access to light and shadow magic, which when active give him special abilities and augment some of his regular moves. Naturally, these powers come in limited supply but can be recharged at certain areas or if Gabriel deals enough consecutive damage without getting hit. Light magic is indispensible thanks to its healing properties and shadow magic is no slouch either, allowing you to deal colossal damage. You’ll need to make use of both when handling the game’s challenging bosses.
Lords of Shadow suffers from the dreaded fixed camera angle, which can make for some aggravating encounters when your enemies are hitting you from offscreen. It can also be disorientating when the camera shifts as you travel from zone to zone. But it’s also because of this fixed camera that you are treated to some of the most dynamic landscapes ever seen in a game, so it’s not all bad.
On the non-combat side of things, Lords of Shadow features “Uncharted” style platforming and an abundance of environmental puzzles, some of which take a good deal of thought to figure out. Gabriel receives a nice sum of experience to spend on abilities when you solve them, but if any of the puzzles prove to be too much, you can forego the reward in exchange for the solution. It can be tempting, at times, to do just that.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is ultimately a pretty fantastic game. It’s surprisingly long for an adventure of this type, and it’s hard for me to recommend against it since it has so many redeeming qualities. However, because it’s been dubbed Castlevania: Lords of Shadow and not simply Lords of Shadow, I have to caution fans of the series once more: This isn’t a Castlevania game. It’s something totally different, but great nonetheless.
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About the Author
|Mark A. Brooks uses the A. initial in his name so as to seperate himself from the teeming legions of other Mark Brookses (there are at least 65,000 in the state of Michigan alone).
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Mark A. Brooks has written 642 posts on Delta Attack.