Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Ultimate Edition (PC)

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow released on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 at the end of 2010 and marked another shift in direction for the franchise. Rather than being developed in Japan, Konami allowed European developer MercurySteam to create a reboot based around the character Gabriel Belmont. With a third game on the way and Xbox Live and Playstation Network versions of 3DS sequel Mirror of Fate due out on Halloween, it is clear that Lords of Shadow has managed to achieve a decent level of success. But what was most surprising was Konami’s announcement of Lords of Shadow 2 for PC as well as a PC port of the original with upgraded graphics and all previously released DLC content included for a $30 price tag. This port comes nearly three years after the original release, but is it worth checking out for PC gamers who didn’t have the chance to play through this one the first time around?

Although I have an Xbox 360, for one reason or another I missed out on Lords of Shadow so this was my first time playing through the game. The first thing worth mentioning is that if you want to play with the least amount of frustration, pick up a controller of some kind. While I have seen some posts on the Steam forums about people figuring out ways to make do with a keyboard and mouse, I wouldn’t want to deal with the combo heavy combat system and quick time events that the game throws at you without a controller. This isn’t that uncommon for titles that were originally on consoles, but it’s worth bringing up because I believe it will make a significant difference in the experience players have.

Unlike some of the better known Castlevania titles, Lords of Shadow goes for a fairly linear experience. The entire game is divided up into chapters, and you select a chapter and the level you want to play from the main screen. From there a short narrative plays while the level loads, which can be skipped if the level is ready to play. It is possible to replay levels for additional challenges and you can go back to them once you have acquired certain abilities to unlock hidden areas, but this is mainly for completionists who want to completely max out their stats and earn every achievement they can. Although some series fans may be disappointed with the real lack of exploration, there are still some fairly large levels that will take quite some time to explore which does help. I personally liked the way that MercurySteam chose to structure Lords of Shadow as it felt like you were progressing through a film or novel and each chapter had a different amount of levels from the last.

As previously mentioned, you step into the role of Gabriel Belmont. Rather than purely being a vampire slayer, you are a member of the Brotherhood of Light whose wife has been murdered. Your quest initially begins as a mission to fulfill a prophecy and save the world by defeating the Lords of Shadow, all while hoping to gain the power to revive your lost loved one. The plot gets a bit more complex as time moves on and you end up fighting vampires, werewolves, gods, and just about everything else you can throw into a fantasy game, but at the end of the day your progression and bloodlust gives the developers a good excuse to throw as many over the top bosses and combat scenarios at you as they possibly can. I must admit that the story started off a bit slow, seeming to dive into as many fantasy tropes as possible, but after the first couple of chapters it picked up significantly. I remember seeing that Hideo Kojima had some type of involvement with Lords of Shadow, and without spoiling the exact sequence, let’s just say that there’s a very Kojima like twist at the very end of the game. It leaves me very interested to see where the developers plan on taking this storyline, and while I felt motivated to play through the game more to see what crazy situation I would be thrown into next rather than for the narrative I still enjoyed the plotlines that MercurySteam had put together.

Lords of Shadow plays like a traditional action adventure game, mixing equal parts platforming, puzzles, and combat. The combat system is worth bringing up first, as so many of the levels revolve around waves of enemies and boss encounters that it ends up being what will take up the majority of player’s time. The basics of combat are: X for shorter range attacks, Y for longer range attacks, A to jump, B to throw daggers or activate other items like fairies and crystals (which you get later in the game), and the left trigger to block/dodge. Parrying attacks and rolling to dodge attacks is the key to survival, as is performing combos and special moves using a combination of short and long range attacks. As the player progresses, new combos/moves can be purchased through the skills menu at any time using points accumulated from each encounter. MercurySteam has made the progression at which you can unlock skills very reasonable, and by the time you’ll need specific abilities like the ground punch for puzzles you will have already gotten more than enough points to unlock them. The game gives you a lot of different things to keep track of in combat, and as you progress you only seem to get more and more abilities. Early on these range from light/shadow powers that are activated with either bumper, while later additions include fairies that can distract enemies and the ability to double jump. At times I felt like there were almost too many abilities, and certain puzzles used moves that I had forgotten I was even able to do. I do like the light/shadow dynamic though, as activating light magic allows you to recover health with each successful hit and shadow magic makes each hit do more damage. It’s a good dynamic, and while some players may feel the combat becomes repetitive I actually liked the waves of enemies the levels threw at me.

What I wasn’t crazy about was the way some of the boss battles were structured. Lords of Shadow is a lengthy game that will take somewhere between 20-25 hours to complete along with the DLC levels, and you’ll spend a lot of this time moving from one boss encounter to the other. There are some fights I really enjoyed that make winning dependent on timing and reading attack patterns, which reminds me of your standard action adventure or hack and slash games. But MercurySteam also included Shadow of the Colossus style Titan fights and other bosses that are more reliant on platforming and quick time events to defeat. Considering that the platforming sometimes feels a bit imprecise and unwieldy (more on that in a bit) and the quick time events sometimes popped up when I was least expecting them, this leads to frustration and I found myself happy to get past these sections rather than feeling truly accomplished. Admittedly by the time I reached the end of the game I had gotten used to the QTE’s a bit more, but during the first half of Lords of Shadow I found myself having a regular love/hate relationship with the game based on what level I was currently playing through.

When you’re not in combat, you’ll either be traversing the environments or solving various puzzles. The platforming is far from the worst I’ve experienced in a game of this type, but it feels a bit too floaty at times and not quite as smooth as I was hoping. The developers have made it easy to tell where you’re supposed to go by highlighting objects that can be grabbed onto with your weapon’s grappling hook (this can be turned off if you wish), but it still felt like actually nailing certain jumps was up to chance. It also doesn’t help that all of the camera angles in the game are fixed, so sometimes the angle may suddenly change and make it a bit harder than anticipated to properly line up your jump and get where you need to go. However, despite the moments of frustration I found some of these sections to be quite enjoyable when I was able to pull off a string of jumps and fly across the expansive environments it was really cool. Plus, whenever you miss a jump you lose a chunk of health and are transported back to the spot you were at right before you fell, which makes things seem fair. If MercurySteam can tighten things up just a bit more for the sequel, I think this will no longer be an issue and the platforming elements will be up to the standards Castlevania fans expect. As for the puzzles, they’re much more diverse than I was anticipating. There are simple switch pulling and timing puzzles that are a part of just about every game in this genre, but later sections require thinking to get through. The developers even include a variation on chess at one point, and I really enjoyed the inventiveness and variety that seemed to come from each one. It’s possible to unlock solutions and give up the point bonus you get for solving each puzzle, but rather than simply inputting the solution for you it simply tells you what the steps are and leaves the action to the player.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow looks absolutely stunning, and at times I was finding it hard to believe that this game originally came out three years ago and has only gone through some minor tweaks for the PC port. As promised the title runs at a smooth 60 FPS now, and on my rig I didn’t encounter any slowdown even during some of the most intense boss fights. The level of detail is great, as the character and environmental models look sharp and crisp and the areas tended to be larger than I was initially expecting. I did notice that there seemed to be a slight loss of detail and some jagged edges during the cutscenes, but I’m guessing that the cutscenes are not something that can be as easily upscaled like the in-game engine and this wasn’t that big of a deal overall. But what really makes Lords of Shadow stand out is the art and level design. To put it simply, just about every area you explore is stunning to look at and at times make you feel really tiny. Although the environments are generic forests early on, once you reach the first castle and begin exploring expansive hellish underworlds everything continues to be more and more mesmerizing. There were certain points where I would just stop for a second to take in the sheer scale of the environment I was traversing, and this is one of the major reasons that I found the game so enjoyable to play through. During the two DLC sections cutscenes are a hand drawn comic book style rather than pre-rendered CGI, and I’m unsure if this is because of budgetary constraints or because of the content they covered (at one point Gabriel takes the blood of a vampire that looks like a little girl). But either way, it was an interesting shift from the main game and did fit with the overall style the developers were going for.

The soundtrack was written by Spanish composer Óscar Araujo and performed by a 120 piece orchestra, giving the background music the epic film score feel that a game like this needs. While there weren’t any pieces that grabbed me more than the others, this is mainly due to the fact that I wasn’t able to truly focus in on the music and was trying not to die in many of the levels. I did notice that there were some adaptations of some classic Castlevania songs during some key moments though, so it was pretty neat to see this nod to the series past. Chances are even if you haven’t played the game yet you know about the voice acting, as Patrick Stewart’s role as Gabriel’s Brotherhood companion Zobek (and level narrator) was featured fairly prominently. The voice acting as a whole was top notch, as I really felt like the different actors were giving their all and breathing life into the various characters and monsters.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is a game that starts off in a somewhat generic fashion and then throws two Shadow of the Colossus style fights at you in a very short span of time. There are sections that seem to have been added on to only artificially add to the game’s length, and the platforming and camera angles can occasionally lead to some real frustration. But despite this, I really enjoyed the time I spent with the game and it seemed to only get better and more interesting as it progressed. As a Castlevania title, Lords of Shadow is slightly disappointing, but when compared with other action adventure games it comes off as a solid B grade game that reaches greatness during certain sections before falling back into an above average point. For the $30 price tag I’d say it’s well worth checking out if you haven’t played it on one of the consoles, and I’m interested to see if MercurySteam can realize the full potential of both their gameplay ideas and plotline when Lords of Shadow 2 comes out next year.

http://store.steampowered.com/app/234080/
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Ultimate Edition on Green Man Gaming

System Requirements
Minimum:
o OS:Windows XP – Service Pack 3
o Processor:2.4Ghz Intel Core 2 Duo
o Memory:1 GB RAM
o Graphics:Direct X9 compatible video card 512Mb Ram
o DirectX®:9.0
o Hard Drive:15 GB HD space
o Other Requirements:Broadband Internet connection
o Additional:Keyboard or Xinput compatible Joypad for control

Recommended:
o OS:Windows 7 or higher
o Processor:Quad Core CPU
o Memory:2 GB RAM
o Graphics:Direct X11 compatible video card with 1024Mb Ram
o DirectX®:11
o Hard Drive:15 GB HD space
o Other Requirements:Broadband Internet connection
o Additional:Keyboard or Xinput compatible Joypad for control

 

The Good

+ Stunning graphics and an engine that runs at a smooth 60 FPS

+ Expansive environments that are often massive in scale

+ Strong voice acting and musical score

+ Combat system is fun and provides players with plenty of options


The Bad

- Some sections feel a bit too long or tacked on to add unnecessary length

- Platforming feels a bit imprecise at times

- Too many quick time events during boss fights

- Beginning sections feel a bit generic for a Castlevania title

Verdict8

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