WORDS BY: Francesca Reyes
Revenge — it makes the game world go ’round. Kill someone’s beloved, and they’ll spend 12 to 16 hours of game-time slaughtering your underlings just to wreak vengeance on your face. The formula may be as familiar as the Castlevania series is long — and most notably to PS3 owners who love God of War, from which Lords borrows liberally — but it’s a great foundation for this latest 3D spin-off, which makes all the right moves in forging a new path for the franchise.
As Gabriel Belmont, you’re a cross-wielding member of an ancient @@@-kicking club of God-fearing do-gooders during that nebulous European era when vampires and werewolves had high-society tea-time and people used the term “forsooth” unironically. Also, you’re pissed. Some shadowy bad guy has murdered your lady-love, Marie, and now it’s payback time. And should your revenge quest happen to dovetail with a deeper mystery involving long-dormant prophecies? Hey, all the better.
Through Lords of Shadow’s 12 sprawling chapters (each full of multiple stages), you’ll slay lycans, ogres, and other fantasy creatures, giving you experience points used to upgrade your arsenal of attacks. And you’ll need all the moves you can get: all of these nocturnal nasties duck, dodge, and crack your skull open with such finesse, you’ll appreciate the ability to swap difficulty levels on the fly.
The spikes in Lords’ toughness come in part from the sheer amount of stuff the game throws at you. With its wide range of enemy types (each with unique weaknesses and quirks), a clever play on Light/Shadow combat magic, and epic boss battles, there’s always some new lesson to learn. Between your brushes with countless flavors of Gabriel-smoting death, Lords even includes mellower, puzzle-solving segments that range from a Pachinko-like switch-flipper to a sinister game of gothy quasi-chess. And if you solve these brain-benders on your own, you’ll even net an XP bonus. (Wisely, the game also lets you sacrifice that XP bonus for a puzzle solution if you’re stuck.)
Ultimately, what’ll really make or break your time with Lords is its combat — a complex beast in itself. You can dodge and swing your nifty Combat Cross chain around as much as you like, but you won’t survive long if you don’t exploit the right moves or secondary weapons in combination with your Light and Shadow magic. With most nemeses, including boss creatures, you’ll need to whittle their health down to a certain point before executing a finishing move. In some cases, you’ll need to smash a defeated foe’s bones before he can reanimate; in others, you’ll have to use your grappling chain to destroy a baddie’s shield, thereby eliminating his defenses. And you’ll even need to beat some beasts into submission to transform them into useful mounts you can use to break walls, cross chasms, or lay waste to their minions.
Titan fights are a whole different experience. Giant, monstrous mountains of stone, the Titans won’t task your fighting skills so much as your platforming prowess. Scaling one with your grappling hook and hanging on for dear life when it tries to shake you off is an exhilarating feat, making for breathless, white-knuckle breaks from the meaty hacking, slashing, and stabbing encounters that fill the rest of Lords.
All the while, you’ll need to be careful to swap between Light/Shadow magic to replenish your health, while keeping an eye on your non-elemental magic gauge…whew! It’s not easy, but it’s old-school rewarding when you finally get the hang of it all. And you will. But if you don’t relish a good, ol’-fashioned gut-punching challenge, you may want to move along.
Between its puzzles, systems, and high-level combat, so many ideas are stuffed into this formidable actioner that some hiccups aren’t surprising: expect the occasional death-by-fixed-camera and the odd unresponsive leap. But with the string of 3D-style casualties in this series’ history, Lords is the first time we’ve been looking forward to where this shining new direction takes us. Go, Team Belmont.
+ Lengthy, challenging, and plenty replayable.
+ Takes the series in an interesting direction that facilitates sequels.
- High-level challenge will frustrate some; doesnâ€™t necessarily feel like a Castlevania game.
? Why donâ€™t games have more Scottish leads? Gabrielâ€™s subtle brogue is pretty freakinâ€™ hot.