Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Game & DLC Review (Spoiler Free)

Posted on September 9, 2011 - 6:38pm by Kenshiro3

TLDR;

This game is EPIC Beyond Belief! It is not only an AWESOME 3D Castlevania, but it’s an AWESOME game PERIOD! It also has one of, if not THE best stories in SERIES HISTORY. The story is AWESOME beyond description. It also has some of the BEST VOICE ACTING I HAVE EVER HEARD IN A VIDEO GAME EVER! In short I jizzed in my pants.

It’s not perfect though, not by any standard. It has a few minor issues and one MAJOR (but rare) as of yet unresolved glitch holding it back. It’s an incredible game held back by a slight lack of polish. As such I can't give it a perfect score. It’s STILL one of the best titles released this year. So I would give this game 8.9 out of 10.

Hey everyone Kenshiro3. As of Oct. 18th 2010 1:30AM EST I have taken off my Castlevania: Lords of Shadow shirt I got for preordering the game. I swore I would not change out of or wash that shirt until I beat that game. So that means one thing. I have FINALLY completed the game.

This means I can finally give you my review of it. Don't worry people. I'm leaving out plot spoilers. Prepare of one of the most epic, in-depth, & spoiler free written reviews you have EVER seen! So cue the epic music, sit back, and enjoy the read!

 

Castlevania Lords of Shadow Music - Besieged Village

 

INTRODUCTION

Ok, now that I am done ranting; it's time for my actual review. So, what did I actually think about the game? I was actually blown away by it but it did have a few problems, one of them MAJOR!

I first found out about this game from the Leipzig GamesCom 08 Announcement where it was just called Lords of Shadow. I found out about it when someone posted the trailer in a Castlevania Group I belonged to. Even though the name wasn’t there, it was OBVIOUS this was a Castlevania game.

It was developed by MercurySteam, a Spanish developer with a more than questionable pedigree. They have a reputation for making games with awesome concepts that looked pretty, but played like ****. They were the ones responsible for Clive Barker's Jericho. It looked and sounded awesome but played like absolute ****.

MercurySteam made the game in association with Kojima Productions. Basically Kojima played an assist role providing advice and support when MercurySteam needed it. He offered his assistance after MercurySteam presented their idea for a series reboot too Konami. Trust me when I say it payed off.

Kojima's influence can be found THROUGHOUT the game. It’s ESPECIALLY evident in the top notch presentation the game received. It's present in the awesome, top notch, cinematic style of the game and its cinematics. It's even present in some of its eastereggs.

Unlike most of the fans I held off on my judgment of the game until I played it. I was QUITE familiar with MercurySteam's work. And, I knew they were the ones in charge of the actual development, not Kojima. I originally had no plans on preordering it, either. However, I ended up preordering Thursday before release. Judging from what I heard from the info I got from early reviews; It sounded RIGHT up my alley. It did NOT disappoint.

 

 

 

STORY

In short, the story is EASILY the best story of the ENTIRE series, canon or otherwise. The game takes place in 1047 meaning if it WERE part of the main series canon it would be the first game, chronologically. However, it has already been stated that this game is Separate from the main series and doesn't follow the main series timeline.

The story moves at a steadily increasing pace. The pacing of the game is akin to that of a passenger train. It slowly and imperceptibly pick up pace with the player almost completely unaware until he realizes he hanging from a giant boss flying through the air, at full speed, while it's wildly diving and climbing in an attempt to shake you off of it.

The plot itself is like a decent into hell. It reflects the inner turmoil of the protagonist’s soul perfectly. The settings are an almost a perfect outward reflection of what is going on inside the hero. The tone of Lords of Shadow's story and hero steadily darkens with each chapter until the hero finds himself surrounded by hellish landscape matching the torture and rage within his heart.

In Lords of Shadow you play Gabriel Belmont. Gabriel Belmont is a member of the Brotherhood of Light. The Brotherhood of Light is an order of religious knights dedicated to fighting demons and the forces of evil. Gabriel was an orphan, most likely of the noble Cronqvist family, and was raised by The Brotherhood.

He's on a quest to stop the Lords of Shadow who have cast a spell on the world isolating it from heaven. This prevents the souls of the departed from passing on. It also cuts Earth off from God & Heaven's influence, allowing the forces of Hell to take over.

Gabriel seeks to destroy the Lords of Shadow to obtain the pieces of the God Mask in order to banish the spell and release the souls. However, he also hopes to use the mask to resurrect his wife who was murdered shortly before his quest began. Her murder is what started his quest.

 

 

 

He is guided along his quest by Zobek. Zobek is one of the oldest and most beloved members of the Order. He acts as Gabriel's guide and mentor during his quest. He also acts as narrator for the game. The delivery of his naration is FLAWLESS. In short, Lords of Shadow's story is EASILY the most epic and sweeping story of the Castlevania series and the ending brings it together PERFECTLY!

 

VISUALS

Lords of Shadow is OUTSTANDING in the visuals department. It is EASILY the best multiplatform game I have seen, in the graphics department. It gives God of War 3 a good run for its money most of the time and even manages to rival Uncharted 2 at times. However, the graphics aren't the ONLY thing incredible about the visuals of this game.

This game also has INCREDIBLE art direction as well. It sort of takes Castlevania back to the somewhat dark and gritty feel of the older games. It takes the inspiration for most of its art direction from Castlevania 1 & 4. They kinda wanted to restore the darker & edgier feel of the older games artwork along with the artwork of Guillermo del Toro.

I'm not kidding this game is just plain BEAUTIFUL! *Tears up a bit* The intricate detail & variety of stunning visuals this game is just simply breath taking. This game REALLY raises the bar in the visuals department for all multiplatform games that come after it. In the visuals department, this game puts some EXCLUSIVES to shame.

There is quite a bit of blood in this game. There is also a bit of nudity. However neither of these is overly excessive or sexual in nature. Unlike the God of War series, their presence isn’t there for the sake of extreme violence and sex. Rather, they are there to help provide authenticity to the game and its setting. They went for sort of a medieval fantasy classical/gothic aesthetic for the game. There is nudity in it. You do see boobs and nipples. However, it feels natural & nontitilating.

 

 

 

I can think of only ONE instance that it was done in a sexualized manner and that was with Carmilla. But even then it was handled tastefully and not sexual for its own sake. Carmilla is a vampire and regular reoccurring character in the series. She uses lust to seduce, ensnare, & entrap her victims. So it's completely appropriate to depict her this way.

The INGAME visuals are on par with MANY current gen games’ cutscene. In fact it regularly puts them to SHAME! This game has some of the most striking & sweeping visuals I've seen in a game, multiplat OR exclusive. This game gets a 10 in the visuals department, as far as I am concerned.

 

SOUND DESIGN (MUSIC, VOICE ACTING, & SOUND EFFECTS)

Now for the sound design, I say sound design, because this section encompasses voice acting, music, and sound effects. In short the sound design for this game is nothing short of astounding. Overall, the sound design for this game is a true a feast for the ears.

MUSIC

First, I will go over the music which was composed by Oscar Araujo. This has been a point of contention for most fans. A LOT of long time fans feel alienated, and are pissed off over the lack of classic Castlevania tunes in the OST. There is a music box version of the classic Vampire Killer Theme in the game during one stage. But, that's it.

If you listen carefully though, you can recognize that MANY of the tunes from the soundtrack draw their inspiration from classic Castlevania tunes. They take many of the musical themes and motifs that were presented in the classic tunes and take them in an entirely new and rather epic and dramatic level. See for yourself.

 

Castlevania Lords of Shadow Music - Belmont's Theme

If Lords of Shadow OST is taken as an entirely original soundtrack, as it should, it's just jaw dropping! It would EASILY rank as one of the best out there. The feel of this OST is very much akin to that of The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. Trust me when I say it is VERY appropriate for this game, reflecting its incredibly epic nature, and it fits perfectly. And, there is no denying that Gabriel’s theme is just INCREDIBLE!

 

VOICE ACTING

The voice acting for this game is the best to be found in the Castlevania series. In fact, it is nothing less than some of the best to be found in ANY video game. I haven't encountered voice acting this incredible since the Legacy of Kain series. And the script is just plain awesome as well. The writing of this script really shines through in this game. The cast for this game is also filled with A-List actors.

 

 

 

The part of Gabriel Belmont is played by Robert Carlyle. He pulls of the conflict and turmoil within Gabriel’s soul perfectly. EVERY utterance of his lines comes off as genuine & COMPLETELY believable. His acting is full of subtlety and subtext that is rarely if EVER seen in a videogame. It really helps connect the player with Gabriel & his plight. In short it was nothing less than genius.

Patrick Stewart plays the mysterious Zobek. His portrayal of the charismatic and slightly sinister Zobek was wonderful. He serves as narrator of the tale as well. The way he pulls it off is just incredible. You know there is something not quite right with his character it’s just impossible to pin down or point out. It’s not as if he seems evil or untrustworthy, though. The best way to describe it is that he seems to know more than he is telling.

Natascha McElhone plays Marie, the murdered wife of Gabriel, who serves as Gabriel's driving force and moral compass. Though you don’t get to hear her too much, she carries her role well. The warmth and compassion of her character really shows through her lines. The way she pulls off her character really makes easy to see why Gabriel would be willing face down the forces of Hell itself to bring her back.

Finally there is Jason Isaacs. He plays the villain of the story. I’m not saying who, as, that is spoiler material. But, I will say this. His portrayal of said villain is quite possibly the best I have EVER seen. It's just a shame he was a "surprise villain," because, his performance was just... "BRILLIANT!"

 

 

SOUND EFFECTS

The sound effects used in this game and their implementation is nothing short of astounding. I played this game with my set of Skullcandy Headphones plugged into my TV. I was completely dumbfounded by how amazing it was. I could hear EVERYTHING down to the tiniest ambient noise.

EVERY possible sound effect that could have been there WAS there, even down to the smallest minutia. The best part they all sounded BEYOND INCREDIBLE. From what I could tell they were all unique as well. It was literally astounding. If you could think of a sound affect would have fit it was there.

The surround sound effects were a real treat to behold as well. The placement of EVERYTHING was seemingly PERFECT. EVERYTHING sounded like it came from where it should as well. Combined with the abundance of audio cues the game gives you, it actually becomes a big aid in the game as well. This is ESPECIALLY useful during combat when your enemies give off little audio tells indicating where they are and even what they are doing. It allows you to anticipate and react to them even if you can't see them. Which believe me is an extremely useful edge to have in this game.

 Here is some fittingly epic & rousing music to listen to while reading about the gameplay.
Castlevania Lords of Shadow Music - Final Confrontation

 

GAMEPLAY

The gameplay of Lords of Shadow is your standard linear 3D Action game. It barrows heavily from Hack n' Slash fair, like Devil May Cry or God of War. However, Castlevania layed the GOUNDWORK for these series. So, calling this game a God of War rip-off is REALLY doing BOTH (God of War & Lords of Shadow) a disservice.

You can also upgrade your magic and health meters by picking up life, light, & shadow gems. Collecting enough of each will increase the length of each respective meter. This is the ONLY way to permanently boost your stats. You cannot boost any of your stats through experience or leveling them up. I think this is nice because if you can't boost your base attack or defense strength it forces you to use your ENTIRE repertoire of moves. Basically, you cant become OP. And Lords of shadow EXCEEDS in this respect. You will need EVERY move at your disposal to make it through this game intact.

Also this game is TOUGH. It WILL kick your ass on default setting. It’s tough though mostly due to the combat system. Most of that difficulty is derived from the tense unforgiving combat. But its difficulty is fair and rather balanced instead of just being cheap (at least on default setting), which is nice. The difficulty of this game is a HUGE plus in my opinion.

 

EXPLORATION 

Lords of Shadow features a heavy emphasis on puzzles, platforming, & environmental exploration. Its platforming and exploration elements, sadly, are one of its weaker areas. It employs subtle environmental cues to indicate where you need to go and what you need to do.

Here in, lies one of the weaknesses of its platforming and exploration. The cues are often TOO subtle and easy to miss. The cues often come in the form of an easy to miss shimmering ledge or twinkling grapple point. Thus, they often leave you at a loss for what to do or where to go next.

The other contributing weakness present in the game's exploration and platforming elements is its camera system. Your camera is fixed at ALL TIMES. You have no control over it. This, combined with some of the camera angle transitions can serve, to foul up the controls every now and then. Sometimes, a camera transition will interfere with your character often resulting in the character moving in a direction other than what you are pressing. For a platforming game with pitfalls and deathtraps this is a BIG no-no. Luckily, the occasions when it is lethal are a rarity, making it more of an annoyance than anything.

The final weakness of the game's exploration is more of a nitpick. It makes EXTENSIVE, BLATANT, & OBVIOUS use of invisible walls to herd the player along the path. While it is a bit annoying & off-putting, it also saves your life on MANY occasions during platforming and exploration. They often prevent you from falling off edges to your doom.

 

 

 

MOUNTS

Certain enemies within the game, like Wargs & Giant Spiders, can be used as modes of transportation. They are called mounts. You have to tire them out and stun them before you can ride them though. You do this by wearing them down to a stunned state then grappling them and completing a QTE in order to mount them.

Each mount has their own unique abilities. Wargs can climb & Spiders can create silk bridges. These abilities are usually required in order to get past certain environmental obstacles blocking your progress. It’s also quite fun to devastate enemies with these abilities as well.

 

PUZZLES

Lords of Shadow features a rather heavy emphasis in puzzles. They usually come in the form of environmental puzzles that must be solved in order to progress. Some, however, are used as set pieces for a level.

For these puzzles, you will find a nearby corpse of a comrade with a scroll describing the challenge for you. It basically serves to tell you how the puzzle works and what you must do to solve it. They can often be brain teasers requiring serious thought, basic problem solving, and a little planning. That being said, they are NEVER tough enough to make you rage quit.

But, the scrolls describing the puzzles also afford you another option at the outset of the puzzle. They also offer to give you the solution to the puzzle. In exchange for forfeiting the experience you would have earned by solving the puzzle on your own, it will give you the solution.

 

 

 

COMBAT

The combat for this game is sublime. It barrows a page out of God of War's playbook giving you an EXTENSIVE upgradable move system that allows you to unlock new moves by purchasing them with the experience you earned from killing enemies. This in turn, unlocks more moves for you to purchase, as you learn new ones. Each new move and ability directly upgrades your combat potential.

For you main weapon, you have the upgradable Combat Cross. It’s a cross that basically contains a retractable chain whip within. It functions in a similar fashion to the Chains of Chaos & Athena. It extends and retracts by swinging it. It has two types of attacks. You can use it perform powerful direct attacks on enemies or weaker area attacks with it. You also earn specific upgrades for it at set points in the game further increasing its combat potential and allowing you to overcome specific obstacles. One such upgrade allows you to grapple things from a distance. This lets you grab enemies from afar or swing & and hang from grappling points.

You also have four sub weapons you can use at any time once you earn them. They are Throwing Daggers, Fairies, Holy Water, & Dark Crystals. The daggers act as projectile weapons. The fairies act as distractions to divert enemy attention from you. Holy Water Vials act like grenades. And finally, Dark Crystals act like batteries for devices as well as area clearing smart bombs.

While Lords of Shadow barrows MANY of the combat elements and mechanics. Many of those same elements were, in fact, introduced in the Castlevania series, ESP its 3D entries. However, God of war improved upon them, VASTLY, in MANY ways. So, it seems appropriate that it would employ said mechanics.

It DID blatantly and inarguable copy one mechanic from the God of War series. That would be God of War's Quick Time Events, which it, in turn, copied off Shenmue. That being said it also managed to improve it (IMO) by removing the random specific button inputs. It didn’t draw you out of the game and cinematic by forcing you to look for a random specific button to press at any given action. It instead gave you SPECIFIC inputs predetermined by your on screen actions. You can actually predict what kind of input will come. Also, the inputs DON'T obstruct your view of the action AT ALL unlike the God of War games.

 

 

 

MAGIC

One thing COMPLETELY different about its combat system though is the magic. The magic system acts more like a supplemental attack & ability modifier system. It modifies the properties of your normal attacks & sub weapons. It utilizes two different forms of magic known as Light & Shadow magic. One increases your defensive abilities. The other increases your offensive capabilities. Some moves and combos are only available while using Light or Shadow magic. You are also able to fluidly switch between the two without stopping. This, in turn, further increase's your combo potential.

Light magic allows you to heal yourself by dealing damage to your enemies. It also gives you special unique defensive abilities while it is engaged. Some of your sub weapons take on special additional defensive properties when you use them while light magic is engaged. The BIGGEST example of this is when you use the Holy Water. When you throw a vial while Light Magic is engaged it forms a temporary barrier around you protecting you from enemy attack.

Shadow magic, on the other hand, increases your offensive potential by increasing the strength & destructiveness of your attacks & abilities. It basically makes EVERYTHING you do more devastating. Like the light magic, it also modifies the properties of your sub weapons. This is best exemplified with the daggers. When you throw them while Shadow Magic is engaged they become explosive.

Your Light and Shadow Magic are fueled by two different magic bars, one for each. You can recharge these by collecting neutral energy orbs Onimusha style, by sucking them into your fist. You can charge each one individually or simultaneously with the press of the right and/or left analogue stick.

 


 

COMBO SYSTEM 

Lords of Shadow eschews a traditional combo system that rates you based on how many consecutive hits or juggles you can link together. It instead simply rewards you for fighting effectively without taking damage. It rewards you by producing tangible rewards. It produces neutral magic orbs for each blow you deal after filling up your combat bar. Filling up your combat bar is achieved like I said. It’s done by fighting effectively and dealing damage without getting hit.

This is also where the difficulty of the combat system and the game itself resides. ANY hit you take from an enemy will reset your combat gauge back to zero and you will have to start over from scratch. And, you NEED to keep your combat gauge full, because enemies NEVER drop enough orbs to keep your magic filled. Beating them out of your enemies with your combat gauge full is the ONLY effective & reliable way to replenish your magic.

You need your magic as it is also the primary means of healing yourself. The only other means is to find the single use health station. They are rather few and very far between. Their dispersion is rare enough that you cannot rely on them. There is usually one or 2 per stage. They are usually right before or after a particularly tough battle.

 

 

 

BOSS BATTLES

The boss battles in this game are AWESOME. They are one of the highlights of this game. They are fun, challenging, and EPIC. They test your brains AND your reflexes. They require you to utilize all your wits and skills in order to defeat them. Some of them, The Titans, play out like the Colossi Battles from Shadow of the Colossus. And, they work extremely well.

Unlike the other boss battles, the Titan Battles serve as a test of your planning skills and memorization. Their pace tends to be a bit slower and more methodical. They are unbelievably massive puzzles. You need to figure out how to mount them and how to avoid being knocked or shook off of them. Like in SotC your object is to destroy the seals animating them.

 

THE GLITCH  (HAS BEEN FIXED!

There is one huge possibly game killing technical issue with this game though that could have destroyed your experience if you weren't prepared for or aware of it. Upon its release, it was discovered that that Lords of Shadow had a fatal save glitch that would erase ALL your progress, if you don’t have your save file backed up. Rarely the game would corrupt your save while loading. Luckily, Konami was aware of this glitch. And they got there ass working rectify this issue, right away.

I had read about this. So, I started backing up my saves every few levels. But, I had a friend that wasn't so lucky. He experienced this glitch first hand as I was talking to him over Skype. My friend, a fellow g1 called TheBadGamer, encountered this glitch on the LAST LEVEL of the game. He was in the final boss battle and it corrupted his save while loading the data. He ended up rage quitting the game over this issue. He also refused to continue the game until Konami patched it. If anyone has a PAL Region save for the PS3 version with the game completed or on the last level, could you please send him a copy.

 

 

DOWNLOADABLE CONTENT

This game has NO DLC confirmed for it, to my knowledge. It is focused on providing you the most complete and epic experience it can for your purchase price. Some would see this seeming lack of DLC as a positive other as a negative. In my opinion it doesn’t need it. After playing though this 20 hour long game over the past 2 weeks and STILL not completing 100% I have to say this is the most bang I’ve gotten for my buck in a LONG time!

EDIT: Upon closer inspection of the game's trophies after writing this review, there are quite a few hidden presumbable story related trophies. This would seem to indicate a planned MAJOR DLC explansion. There appear to be just as many hidden, possibly, DLC trophies as there are normal hidden trophies.  Since the writing  of this review, Lords of Shadow recieved two DLC packs called  Reverie & Resurrection, respectively. I ended up doing video reviews of them. So here are those reviews.

 

Castlevania Lords of Shadow: Reverie DLC Review

 

Castlevania Lords of Shadow: Resurrection DLC Review

 

REPLAYABLITY

This game has loads of replayability. You can go back to earlier chapters and stages once you have acquired new weapons and unlocked new abilities. Once you have these abilities, you will be able to explore different areas of the stages and discover new upgrades and secrets that were unreachable before.

There are also different challenges you can unlock after you complete a stage that test your skills. There are also various extra bonus materials like artwork that can be unlocked by completing these challenges. Some of the challenges can be QUITE satisfying. One such challenge is going through a level without healing in ANY way.

Completing the levels on the different difficulties is one of the challenges as well. Thankfully you aren't required to start your game over in order to do so. You can switch difficulty levels ANY time in between stages. There is also an unlockable Paladin difficulty by completing all the stages on all the difficulties.

 

 

 

OVERALL

So, what did it think of the game? In short, it... was... beautiful... I was completely taken aback by this game. It blew my expectations out of the water then proceeded to BLOW MY F*****G MIND!

This game is EPIC Beyond Belief! It is not only an AWESOME 3D Castlevania, but it’s an AWESOME game PERIOD! It also has one of, if not THE best stories in SERIES HISTORY. The story is AWESOME beyond description. It also has some of the BEST VOICE ACTING I HAVE EVER HEARD IN A VIDEO GAME EVER! In short I jizzed in my pants.

It’s not perfect though, not by any standard. It has a few minor issues and one MAJOR (but rare) as of yet unresolved glitch holding it back. It’s an incredible game held back by a slight lack of polish. As such I can't give it a perfect score. It’s STILL one of the best titles released this year. So I would give this game 8.9 out of 10.

 

PROS

- Beautiful detailed graphics and visuals. The game is a true piece of eye candy.

- Incredible art design all around

- Some of the best acting to be found in video games.

- BEAUTIFUL and epic original music score

- Epic and sweeping story unmatched in scope or writing within the series

- Identifiable & believable characters

- AWESOME and satisfying combat system

- AWESOME boss battles

- An ending that will tear are your heart open then make you crap your pants in amazement

- Roughly 20 Hours of gameplay with loads of replayability

- Unforgiving but Fair Difficulty

- Linear Gameplay

- PATRICK STEWART, MOTHER F****R!!!

 

CONS

- Linear gameplay

- TONS of OBVIOUS invisible walls

- Easy to miss environmental exploration cues

- Fixed camera can interfere with control

- Barrows a most of its gameplay elements from other games

- Huge Potentially Game Breaking save glitch that requires a patch to fix

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