Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Ultimate Edition – expanded vampire adventure – review

Gare – Saturday, November 30, 2013 2:14 AM
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In 2010, the highly successful Castlevania franchise received a new chapter in the form of a fundamentally reimaginedLords of Shadow, presented by Cilve Barker’s Jericho developer MercurySteam. The game introduced a number of changes to the well-known formula and after three long years, has finally made its way to PC this August via an expanded version called Lords of Shadow: Ultimate Edition. Let us take a detailed look at what MercurySteam’s vampire adventure has to offer, now on PC as well.

Anger and revenge

As far as lore and story are concerned, Lords of Shadow discards its franchise predecessors and starts with a semi-blank slate and its very own story. Our hero is one Gabriel Belmont, a valiant member of the Brotherhood of Light, an organization waging an endless war against the forces of evil. His life, however, takes a tragic turn when his beloved wife, Marie, is murdered by a mysterious assailant. Left with nothing but anger and a desire for revenge in his heart, Gabriel soon finds out that destroying the titular Lords of Shadow will grant him the ability to resurrect his deceased beloved. And so, he sets out to put a permanent end to the era of darkness and terror enveloping the world, accompanied by his friend and fellow member of the Brotherhood, the Patrick Stewart-voiced Zobek.

Light and Dark Magic system in combat

In terms of gameplay, Lords of Shadow offers a familiar mixture, combining the puzzle-solving aspects of Zelda or Darksiders with an action-packed and combo-oriented battle system most reminiscent of the God of War series, made complete with occasional climbing and platforming segments. An often-seen formula, no doubt, but as there is nothing new under the sun, we might very well accept this – on paper – as an unoriginal, but potentially fun gameplay experience. Sadly, however, this is where the game's problems first arise – we will go into this in more detail a bit later.

The battle system of Lords of Shadow offers a decent amount of variety in the form of numerous combo attacks and unique skills that can be mastered as the story progresses. Another layer of complexity is introduced to the combat system via the game's Light and Dark Magic system, which allows Gabriel to absorb the orbs left behind by defeated or wounded enemies in order to replenish his own supply of magical energy. Said energy can then be used to unleash either Dark or Light Magic-based attacks: while the latter lets Gabriel heals his wounds, the former allows him to deal more damage. Aside from the above, a number of unique combat skills exclusive to Dark and Light Magic will also be unlocked as we play. Ultimately, this lends combat a balanced dynamic of switching between Light and Dark Magic as we decide which type of energy to use during each fight. And yet, there are a number of aching problems with the game's combat mechanics: simply put, it isn't entirely as satisfying as one might expect, becoming more than a little repetitive later on. Slaughtering the same enemies over and over again becomes a monotone, mind-numbing chore of an exercise as we use the same old strategies and repeat the same old maneuvers to defeat the hordes of copy-pasted monstrosities making attempts at our life.

Forgettable boss battles

Boss battles, similarly, fail to create something truly memorable. During these fights of epic proportions, which should have served as the highlights of the adventure, Gabriel battles several building-sized titans, climbing onto their bodies – very much in Shadow of the Colossus fashion – to find their hidden weak points and thus eliminate them. However, what worked brilliantly in SotC, comes off – regrettably – as a stellar example of unimaginative, lazy game design in Lords of Shadow. In the PS2 Colossus-hunting classic, each and every one of the massive creatures required the players to figure out the specific, often fairly tricky strategy needed to take down the beasts; Lords of Shadow, in comparison, almost holds the player's hands and tells them what to do: oftentimes this consists of repeating the same dull sequence two or three times in order to claim our ever-unsatisfying victory. As such, the titan battles of LoS lack excitement and fun; the otherwise visually awe-inspiring encounters with these creatures unfortunately end up as painfully lacking in imagination.

Beautiful design vs. simple gameplay and soundtrack

The game's platformer segments feel equally redundant: Gabriel traverses beautiful locales, scales the grandest of castles and ruins of old; and yet, it all comes down to something depressingly simple and linear: we march on from A to B, from B to C, leaping always at the one single ledge that the camera leads our attention to, making the entire process feel like the game is in autopilot mode without ever requiring the player to be present. To go one step further, Lords of Shadow, more often than not, gives the impression that a number of its encounters and puzzles were added not for their fascinating content, but only to pad out the already somewhat dull gameplay even further. A major offender of this are the Chupacabra segments that, other than irritating most players, add nothing of actual value to the gameplay experience than a pointless diversion.

On the audiovisual front, Lords of Shadow is a mixed bag. Graphically, it looks gorgeous, it really does: the various locales explored are all designed with great care, giving the game an overall stunning atmosphere. The soundtrack, however, is an entirely different animal. Instead of using classic Castlevania tunes, it comes forward with its own orchestral soundtrack, which, we must add, is a very much welcome change if executed properly. However, the problem with the soundtrack lies in its utterly forgettable nature that will no doubt fail to enchant many a player. The score to Lords of Shadow is, unfortunately, mostly without character and uniqueness: the vast majority of it rings hollow in the ear and comes off as dull and uninspired.

The saving throw: an interesting twist

Plot-wise, we can expect no major surprises: the few seemingly shocking revelations that do arise during the adventure are all average at best, and utterly cliché at worst. On the flip side, the final 5 minutes of the tale do offer a very interesting twist that serves as the one major surprises in Lords of Shadow – sadly, looking at the whole picture, the game's plot still failed to leave a very strong impression on me. The extra two DLC chapters appearing in the Ultimate Edition contain more of the same content, and, to a certain extent, address the shocking twist at the end of the original title, but ultimately offer no satisfying conclusion regardless. Of course, the story is far from over, evidenced by the sequel, and I believe it would not be an exaggeration to say that we can very much expect Lords of Shadow 2 to explore in great detail what started at the end of the first adventure. However, those wishing for a complete and utterly satisfying plot during only the first episode might leave the adventure somewhat disappointed as a result.

Is Lords of Shadow an awful game?

Not at all. But is it an excellent title, the cream of its crop? – you may ask, causing me to fall into a deep, awkward silence. No, I'm afraid the answer would have to be a no - gorgeous graphics are married to mediocre and often dull gameplay, making the adventure of Lords of Shadow one that might be moderately acceptable for one quick playthrough, but is in no way worth a second.

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