Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

Castlevania is a long running franchise that contains many of horror’s iconic monsters. Vampires, werewolves, mummies, and many others can be found in numerous Castlevania titles. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow breaks away from it’s traditional 2D action-platformer roots and sets out to reboot the well known series. The series now tackles the action-adventure style seen in titles such as God of War and Dante’s Inferno. The question now is, what makes it stand out from the other titles in the genre? Lets keep our holy water and crucifixes handy.

The Plot

You play as Gabriel Belmont, a knight who belongs to a brotherhood sworn to defend the living against otherworldly forces. Gabriel is a man on a mission, if you’ve seen the movie Commando you know guys like that are not to be messed with. Well someone has hit Gabriel’s rage button and now a whole lot of baddies are going to realize something even worse is coming for them. Gabriel’s love, a woman named Maria has been murdered, angered and saddened Gabriel sets out to find the God Mask. The mask is said to hold limitless power and is even said to be able to bring the dead back to life, giving Gabriel hopes of bringing Maria back to life. Gabriel will encounter many trials and characters on his journey, as twists and turns in the story make you question the character you’re playing as.

The Gameplay

That looks painful.

Lords of Shadow has taken the action-adventure approach, Gabriel can dish out a variety of combos with his whip called the “Vampire Killer.” Combos can be purchased and upgraded with points that you earn by killing baddies, this is cool because not only does it add depth but it adds a somewhat strategic element when fighting tough foes, I’ll explain further into the review. The game’s enemies are VERY diverse, you fight everything from werewolves, to zombies, to vampires, to skeletons, and all of them have their own quirks that make them different. Instead of having a rage meter (AKA a whoop ass meter as I like to call it) he has two separate bars of light and shadow magic, with a focus bar thrown into the mix. Each meter does something different when triggered.

The light meter allows Gabriel to heal by beating his foes to death, while the shadow meter allows him to deal out more damage. The meters cannot be simultaneously active and must be refilled by getting magic energy. Magic energy can be gained by defeating enemies or filling up your focus bar, this requires getting numerous hits on enemies without being hit yourself, which then makes your opponents spew out magic energy whenever you land a hit on them. If you’re hit your focus bar will be depleted and you’ll have to make it go up again. Each bar must be filled up separately, you hold in the left stick to absorb magic energy into your light bar, and the right stick for your shadow bar, energy and health pools can be found on every chapter so combat is not the only way to go.

Some combos are only available while in light or shadow mode, and certain weapons such as the dagger and holy water are more effective in those forms. So remember that tactical element I was telling about, it’s there believe me. When you’re getting butchered by a boss you’re going to try and get on your game by getting that focus bar up and absorbing magic energy in order to either heal, or deal more damage to them. You’re  probably going to  use combos like the chainsaw to land more hits on enemies in order for them to give out as much magic energy as possible before being hit. The game also has a block, dodge, and counter system.

Nice beard dude.

Some attacks from enemies can be blocked while others can break through your defense, this will require you to dodge out of the way quickly. Countering is simple as you only press the block button as soon as an enemy strikes, allowing you to attack them while they’re stunned. The game does retain it’s platforming element. Gabriel can climb walls, use his Vampire Killer to swing from one location to the next, or he can use it as a lever to turn switches and can even bring down statues with it. All of this makes your character feel capable, so when you overcome a boss or a tough spot using all of the skills available to you it does give a sense of satisfaction.

Finally Lords of Shadow has puzzles, these differ greatly and make you think. Some puzzles require you to move at a certain pace, move objects into the right position, match up patterns, and more. You folks who love challenging puzzles welcome to Lords of Shadow, those who don’t, know that most of them CAN be skipped, you will however lose the experience points you would have been given had you completed the puzzle. The puzzles can be fun and are a good change of pace. The game has a lot of elements that keep it fresh, from combat, to traversing levels, to making you use your noodle, it definitely stands out from being just an average beat em’ up.

The Atmosphere

The game’s atmosphere is dark and varied. Lords of Shadow keeps that great dark fantasy feel, it’s art style, epic soundtrack and scale make this game stand out BIG time. The story is LONG and makes you feel like a champ at the end of your journey. Visually Lords of Shadow is very good, no part of the game feels like the devs cut corners, everything looks top notch. It captures what it set out to do in flying colors and immerses you.

The Verdict

I love dark fantasy, I love action-adventure when done right, and I LOVE lengthy games. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is a treat for those who want something epic and challenging, for those of you who beat this on the highest difficulty I salute you. My only gripe with the game is that sometimes the camera gets a little wild, causing you to sometimes plunge to your death, or setting up for something really dumb to happen. Those problems can be overlooked, and do not hinder the overall experience. I highly recommend this title, and cannot wait to see what the future holds for this series.

[starreview tpl=46 size=’30’]

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