I bet you think this castle’s about you
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is the excellent third person action adventure game that proved that Castlevania could work in 3D. While attempts had been made in the past, none were of the scale of Lords of Shadow and while it changed fundamental game mechanics, it kept something about the spirit of the game alive… or undead. While the game was released back in 2010, the ‘Ultimate Edition’ has recently been released on Steam and it builds on the original in many ways.
First off, using the might of a PC to power the game makes the experience so much more enjoyable. Constant 60fps at 1080p lets the art style and animations really shine and while some of the reflective and lighting effects seem a tiny bit deated, the chunky character models and intelligently used camera still allows the game to look spectacular alongside more modern titles. In an early section you go from fighting wolves in a rain-swept forest village, out to jumping from stone pillar to stone pillar in a breathtaking canyon as the sun shines through the gaps. In terms of games being thought of as art, this is often an overlooked gem, with Del Toro style mythical beasts common in the second half of the adventure.
While the game is more linear than previous Castlevania games, it allows Konami to tell a story and a good one at that, full of foreboding, misery and revenge. Everything you could want in a gothic horror, but with enough unique characters to make it something special. Many of the action sequences such as riding beasts don’t work all that well, but provide a nicely timed break from third person brawling and the pace of the game holds up all the way to the end. Throughout the game you’re progressing through item and ability unlocks so fighting and exploring never gets tedious, you’re always able to change up the way you play.
In terms of the combat, Castlevania can be considered right up there with Devil May Cry and Bayonetta. it’s third person combo-based action, with a variety of different melee and ranged attacks, with a slight focus on juggling enemies and keeping them stunned or airborne long enough to deal with big crowds. Larger enemies do often end in a quicktime sequence but the animation is fluid and exciting so we can almost forgive them for it, even if it still feels a little cheap and tired in the genre. There’s something satisfying about whipping enemies around or cleaving them apart, there’s no lack of gore either as certain enemies seem to explode even if you just throw a knife at them, let alone when you start unleashing more powerful abilities and take out entire squads of kobolds at a time.
There are platforming sections but it’s definitely not a focus as it was in the 2D incarnations. Jumping can feel a little floaty and imprecise, whenever there’s finesse involved there’s usually a grapple point or something else that you can lock on to making the whole process semi-automated. It’s a shame that third person games still struggle with this kind of navigation despite the superb Prince of Persia or Assassin’s Creed games, jumping in Castlevania is frustrating rather than liberating, which might make sense considering the size of his frame, but it’s much less fun than it could be.
In terms of new content, the Ultimate Edition contains both DLC packs that came out of the original. Reverie and Resurrection both expand on the game’s plot and provide a decent amount of new content that’s well worth returning to the game for even if you played through once on console.
The biggest draw for this version is easily the ability to play without worrying about framerates or resolution. On a platform that can handle it, Lords of Shadow is majestic, and boasts an art style easily up there alongside such greats as Bioshock or Portal. Although selling over a million copies in the original run, Lords of Shadow feels like an overlooked gem, and something that any fans of action RPGs or more gothic games should definitely check out.