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Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Ultimate Edition (PC) artwork

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Ultimate Edition (PC) review

"Well what do you know... There are video game reboots I don't hate."

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Ultimate Edition (PC) image

The words whispered from the downtrodden form a horrifying consensus: that God has forsaken humanity. Man-eating beasts have crawled out of their shadowy hovels, attacking burgs and feasting upon the fallen. Of all the villagers, there exists one warrior who's through watching as wargs, goblins, and trolls rampage across his homeland....

Enter Gabriel Belmont. In another universe, his name would strike fear into the decaying hearts of his opponents and bring relief to the oppressed. However, this is not your ordinary Castlevania title. Lords of Shadow marks the beginning of a new canon within Konami's long running franchise, one where the name "Belmont" has yet to be associated with "badassery." Instead, the game makes Gabriel out to be a long shot. Never mind his insane skills, inhuman agility, godlike fortitude, and ability to shrug off punishment like no other, this dude is the final hope that the species Homo sapiens has of survival.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Ultimate Edition (PC) image

Gabriel's mission is take out the three "Lords of Shadow." With his partner Zobek at his side--or some distance behind--Gabriel stakes vampires, lashes werewolves with his mighty Vampire Killer, and re-kills vast legions of the undead. For you, though, this means a lot of button mashing, especially alternating between light and heavy attacks. The former is a more focused whiplash, which is perfect for taking out one foe in particular. The latter sweeps around the vicinity, nailing any rogue who dares invade your space. Simply mashing one button will only provide a simple string of swipes, most of which will leave you susceptible to retaliation. However, mixing up the two attack buttons, not to mention tossing in the occasional directional or leap, grants you access to a variety of punishing combination blows. For instance, executing a heavy attack followed by a jump will not only send Gabriel into the air, but also raise any villains around him. From there, you can hit a plethora of aerial combos, ranging from devastating guillotine-like downward chop to a string of crippling circular blows.

It wouldn't be a Castlevania game without subweapons. In addition to your main arm, the Combat Cross, you can also obtain paralyzing fairies, piercing knives, and even the righteous holy water make a return. Unfortunately, most of them are useless. I found myself rarely using the daggers, and mainly utilized them to solve certain puzzles. The only subweapon worth mentioning is the holy water, which either deals a hefty amount of damage to its victims or automatically leaves them open for a finishing combo.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Ultimate Edition (PC) image

When I realized that the developers dropped the ball on one of the brand's defining features, I started to become cynical towards Lords of Shadow. It also didn't help that the early phases of the campaign constantly sent me down familiar paths, executing many of the same actions repeatedly while squaring off against droves of standard adversaries. I eventually grew tired of kicking werewolf tail, slaying goblins, annihilating trolls, and squashing mammoth spiders, especially when such battles rose and fell in a recognizable arc: off all of the lesser villains, wear down a beefier target, mount it, and then use it to access and otherwise barred location (e.g. breaking down a gate with a troll, climbing a wall via warg, etc).

My guess is that the developers at Mercury Steam realized that this formula would eventually wear thin. To remedy the situation, they decked out the post-Werewolf-Lord piece of the game with new creatures, fresh puzzles, and more exciting battles. For instance, some of my favorites involved warring with vampires in the second realm you visit, especially the second Lord's generals, Olrox and Brauner. There are also a handful of tough scuffles against some of Death's undead minions, including a few breezy battles against vile necromancers and some sub-boss fights with possessed scarecrows. To make matters more interesting, the game's enemy AI is not of the stand-there-and-die breed. Rather, your foes are intelligent and deft on their feet, forcing you to remain conscientious of your actions. Should you become too involved in a combo attack, say, you might end up on the receiving end of a life-threating blow from behind.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Ultimate Edition (PC) image

Part of what makes these altercations enjoyable is the combat system itself. Although it's pretty much a rehash of battle systems like those found in God of War and Devil May Cry, it works wonderfully in Lords of Shadow. The game moves fluidly, seldom missing a beat or lagging. It's also spectacular to weaken some of your harsher opponents and finish them off with a QTE. While some may roll their eyes at such a concept, I felt the QTEs in Lords of Shadow worked, mostly because they lead to thrilling animations. Granted, they still aren't as awesome as the ones in MadWorld, but they do come pretty close.

The game probably wouldn't have been as enjoyable without its dynamic atmosphere. At times, the game takes on a wondrous mood, almost as though you're traipsing through a gorgeous fairy realm. That's when you let your guard down and fall victim to a number of perils, including unseen hands that pull you into the mud and chupacabras who pilfer your swag. Suddenly the environment doesn't seem so charming... During other occasions, the game takes on a grim form. These are times when you venture through stormy countrysides, battling myriad ghouls who rise from uncovered abysses or tangle with imps in the depths of forbidding caves.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Ultimate Edition (PC) image

Perhaps the most enjoyable segments, though, exude a kind of grandeur that hearkens back to the older Castlevanias. It's apparent in moments when leap from one crumbling structure, hoping against all hope that you land squarely on a nearby dilapidated column, lest you fall to your death. You can hear it in the epic score that blares when you are locked in combat, as all manner of winded instruments and violins sing in harmony, as if to help exaggerate Gabriel's badassdom. It's especially present in the game's collection of foul bosses, such as a scene where Gabe takes on an immense ogre, hellbent on slaying Gabriel if it means tearing his own abode to bits. You'll also meet a revamped version of the crow-demon Malphas, portrayed as a cursed witch who has taken the form of a tremendous pitch black bird. Perhaps my favorite battles, though, pit Gabriel against kaiju-sized golems. These puppies function more like puzzles, complete with weak points you have to discover and exploit--a strategy similar to Shadow of the Colossus.

Unfortunately, there were times where I felt the grandeur was a bit much, mostly thanks to the game's stretched out length. Heck, there were even some stages that I felt could have been condensed down. For instance, it's not really necessary to have multiple forest stages to explore, or several levels in which you search ruins, especially when many such locations do nothing to further the plot or provide any fresh material? Including my time playing the game's two expansion quests, originally featured in the DLC packs Reverie and Resurrection, I logged in nearly twenty hours of Lords of Shadow. I would expect such an length from an RPG, or maybe even an expanded adventure title, but a button-mashing action game? Twenty hours of executing the same maneuvers grows wearisome, and I found it to my benefit to take regular breaks from Lords of Shadow to keep from burning out.

Thankfully, the game doesn't greatly overstay its welcome. By the time I reached the end, I felt like I had concluded a fantastic journey that I wouldn't mind undertaking again. Ultimately, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is a terrific action title that reimagines its source material in an exciting way, while remaining respectful of it. It's just a shame that its portable follow up isn't so great...


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (October 29, 2014)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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zippdementia posted October 29, 2014:

Lords of Shadow has one of my favorite music tracks of the modern video game age... The Waterfalls of Agartha. An incredibly moving, nostalgic string lament.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted October 30, 2014:

Yeah, I did enjoy that one quite a bit. I also like that they borrowed notes/referenced older BGMs from previous games (just like they borrowed a tiny bit from Super Castlevania IV in this piece).

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