Being a child of the 90s, I grew up with classic games that I hold near and dear to my heart. One of those game series was Castlevania. Being a vampire hunter was just plain awesome. The adult tone and gothic presentation was something a lot of gamers during that time never really saw. It was a breath of fresh air. In recent years, Castlevania took a “stab” at 3D gaming. Needless to say, the games were average, but still kept that “Castlevania” feel. So, how do you make a great 3D Castlevania game? Well, the answer is Castlevania: Lords of Shadow.
You play as Gabriel Belmont, a warrior working for a holy order that was sent to figure out what has placed a curse on our world and stop it. Gabriel is the first of the legendary Belmont family that serves as the main protagonist in most of the Castlevania games. He will take on hoards of ghouls, Lykens, evil spirits, and of course, vampires that try to stop him from killing the three Lords of Shadow and finally breaking the seal that is keeping our world from God.
Lords of Shadow is a full on 3D action game that features platforming, puzzles, and of course, 3D combat. Gabriel uses the Combat Cross, a cross with a chain whip attachment as his main weapon. With this in hand, you can use attack combos that feature direct attacks and area attacks. Direct attacks deal more damage while area attacks hit multiple enemies. There are a ton of combos you can use, all of which can be purchased using experience points that you gain by killing enemies or solving certain puzzles. Gabriel also has the classic Castlevania secondary weapons, such as holy water and silver daggers.
The game features a magic altering system where you can add special effects to your attacks. There is light magic that when used, will heal yourself for each successful hit you land on an enemy. Also, there is dark magic that increases your attack power. Magic can also alter you secondary attacks such as making your silver daggers stronger with dark magic, and creating a holy shield around Gabriel when using light magic and holy water. There is actually a lot of strategy involved when it comes to knowing which magic to use at what time. There is also a focus bar that will fill up after each successful hit and as long as you continue to hit enemies without being hit yourself, it will continue to charge. Once fully charged, each hit you land will extract magic orbs that can be absorbed to refill your magic.
The puzzles in the game range from placing certain items in a spot to the classic using mirrors to reflect light trick. Some can get a little advanced to the scratching your head point, but you’re never really lost. Also, the game features a very helpful tip system. If you have the experience points, you can actually purchase the solution to the puzzle right then and there. You will run into fallen knights that have scrolls on their bodies. Reading these will prove useful both in understanding the story as well as what to expect later on in the level.
The game is broken down into rather linear chapters. Each chapter is broken down into sections that are basically, certain areas of the environment. The game is somewhat linear, but you can always go back to previous chapters and replay them for experience points. The game actually wants you to do this. Multiple times, you will come across an upgrade for you character that you can’t reach or you don’t have the right items for. The game actually tells you to “come back later.” For the most part, going back to get those upgrades will help you out a lot, but you don’t have to go back if you don’t want to. It’s only there to make the game a little easier for you.
That brings me to my next point. If you have played a Castlevania game before, you know there’s a special kind of difficulty to the game. This difficulty is present in Lords of Shadow as well. The game can get brutal at some points. One or two enemies are not that difficult to take out, but when you have four or five vampires surrounding you, you could be in trouble. Luckily, all good vampire killers have a good arsenal at their disposal. Throw some holy water down, and you’ve just taken out those vampires. The bestiary is a very useful tool. You can check on every enemy you have defeated. It compiles a list of each enemy’s weakness as well as their strengths. So, vampires are weak against holy water, werewolves don’t like the sliver daggers so much, and so on and so forth. Always check your bestiary for helpful tips.
The game boasts a large number of boss fights. Much like a traditional Castlevania game, they are pretty epic. Some play out as a Shadow of the Colossus fight where you must climb onto the enemy and hit weak points to kill it. Each boss has its own unique way of fighting and it’s up to you to find their weakness.
The presentation is top notch. The beautiful environments well detailed and the camera angles really give it that Castlevania feel at times, particularly when the camera pans out to an almost 2D perspective. It really makes the Castlevania fan in me smile. The musical score is fantastic. It creates a very ominous and gothic atmosphere that fits perfectly with the game. The voice acting is suburb with the likes of Patrick Stewart narrating the story in between gameplay and cut scenes.
Lords of Shadow has possibly the best checkpoint system I have ever played in a game, and if you know me, this is one of my major pet peeves. There are even checkpoints during boss fights. It really helps the player out due to the difficulty.
The only real problems I had with the game is some of the platforming can become bothersome, mainly for two reasons. The camera is fixed so, every once in a while you’ll be running to the left and the camera will change and you’ll accidentally run back to the right if you still have the analog stick positioned that way. This can hinder some of the platforming as well as some of the combat. Another thing is the fact that sometimes you can become a little lost while scaling walls and ledges by not knowing where to jump. The game does allow for some error, but it can become annoying in parts.
When it’s all said and done, Castlevania is one that will go down as one of the better Castlevania games. The epic scale of the story, combat, and overall presentation really make this game a must own for both Castlevania fans as well as action game fans. It really is more than just another 3D action game. There is player strategy involved when it comes to the combat, skillful puzzle solving, and of course, the epic boss fights. The story does take a couple of hours to ramp up, but when it does, you will be hooked. The gameplay is so fluid that a lot of action games in the same genre should take some pointers from Lords of Shadow. It’s just so fun to break off a 20 hit combo on a small group of vampires. The small hindrances are there, but never really take you out of the overall experience, and with a gameplay time of almost 15 hours, there’s a lot to be experienced. If you didn’t like the past 3D Castlevania games, don’t let this one drive you away. It’s definitely one for the books.
Review copy provided by publisher.