Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Review

Posted: October 26, 2010 by brice42 in Reviews

So I just finished Lords of Shadow…finally.  The game has so many cool levels they couldn’t fit it all on one disc.  And damn, those levels look amazing.  The environments are absolutely top-notch, with ambient weather and incredibly dramatic (and dynamic) lighting.  Would you expect anything less than blazing visuals from a game bearing the name Hideo Kojima?

Before I go any farther, I should note that this was the first Castlevania I played all the way through.  I did play SOTN, but only relatively briefly.  Still, I was amazed at how deep that old side scroller was.  As for Lords of Shadow, I am amazed at how deep it is as a brand-new fighting game.  At first, it seems just like a God of War clone, there are your quick attacks, your heavy attacks, and your blocking/dodging.  You even buy new moves and abilities as you go along.  I was amazed at how good it looks and how natural it feels, but in the back of my mind I felt like I had already played this game before, only the main character had more weapons and less hair.

A good trade.

Then, they drop the magic system on you.  Kratos only had to charge up one badassery meter, but Gabriel Belmont has to keep track of three.  During combat, it is up to you not only kill the enemies (of which there are many different types, and they rarely attack alone), but to make use of Gabriel’s Light Magic, Shadow Magic, and Focus.  If you are getting your ass handed to you, turn on your Light Magic.  Gabriel glows blue, and each attack you land earns you back some precious health.  Okay, now you’re all better, and it’s time to bring the pain.  Activate your Shadow Magic, Gabe flares red, and now your attacks hurt a lot worse.  Each magic type also has specialized moves and combos that are amazing, but drain your juice faster.  Damn, there’s still more of them, and you’re out of both magics.  Time to get ninja.  By changing up your moves and avoiding damage while using no magic, Gabe builds a focus meter.  Special moves fill it much faster, and getting hit pretty much drains it instantly.  Once it’s full, every attack you land makes your enemies drop magic orbs like they suddenly became yen.

Almost enough for a McMuffin.

The orbs hang around until you can find a split second you’re not actively fighting for your life to draw them in.  You can fill one, the other, or both of Gabe’s magics at the same time, according to your needs.  Don’t take too long, though, or they’ll disappear, leaving you powerless.  I cranked up the difficulty, so there were hundreds of times my very survival depended on building that Focus meter enough to fill my Light Magic enough to heal, all the while dodging or blocking blows that are falling like raindrops.  It was damn difficult, but I definitely felt like a badass when I managed to pull it off.  Throw in ranged weapons like daggers, dark crystals, fairies, and holy water, each especially effective against certain enemies, and strategies get even more complicated.

Other than the brilliant magic system, LOS doesn’t bring anything new to the table, but what it does bring are classic recipes that have finally been perfected.  Of course Gabe is a parkour master, but the platforming is never boring because your combat chain is also used to swing around on/climb up and down with.  It goes a lot smoother than it does in a lot of the other adventure games, and is mainly used as transportation instead of thrown in as an obstacle course, though there are some very notable exceptions.  They borrowed the “take on enormous bosses” concept from Shadow of the Colossus and gave it a new coat of paint, and those sequences blew me away.  Quick-time events happen regularly, but they are more often than not based on timing rather than just pushing the correct button.  And of course, the timing always lines up dramatically with the animations, so it’s really cool when you nail it, and suprisingly hard to do correctly all the time.

You get neat equipment along the way in the form of relics.  Once Gabe gets a relic, he has a new ability that helps him get around better, and of course makes combat even more awesome.  By the end of the game I had more moves, combos, and abilities than I could keep track of, but thanks to the intuitive controls, it you try to make a certain thing happen, it usually does.  Or Gabe will knock out some other awesome move you didn’t even know you had.  Either way, it’s fantastic.

With a fighter that plays so well, I honestly wouldn’t mind if each level was just a huge oval filled with enemies for me to cut bloody swaths through.  It’s precisely that kind of thinking that would have gotten me fired from working on LOS.  I can’t sing enough praise about the brilliant level design this game sports.  I was genuinely amazed at every new environment in the game, and no two levels felt the same.  From scaring crows from post to post to flinging open huge hanging curtains so that sunlight will hold the vampires at bay, each level has a unique and delicious taste, and they just keep getting better and better as the game progresses.  Ryan, a much more avid Castlevanian than I, remarked on the similarity between some of the new levels and those in old Castlevania games.  I didn’t catch a lot of those references, but I was still impressed nonetheless.

Also, Patrick Stewart is the narrator, and I swear about half of the phrases he says come out of my favorite movie of all time, Excalibur, which HE WAS IN.

Move over already.

So this was pretty much destined to be my new favorite action/fighter before I even threw the first punch.  For others out there less biased, I assure you that this game will not disappoint.  My only negative comments are that the story, though it did throw a couple of curveballs, isn’t something you could write a paper on, and that Gabriel’s head looks kinda tiny on his hulking figure.  But hey, that just means it’s a smaller target.



  1. lagunawsu2 says:

    Wow. A good beat-em up? Now? And I thought God of War had killed that genre dead long ago.

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