6279908Challenging enemies make the battle system worthwhile.
Additional attacks for the combat cross and subweapons are available for purchase as you make headway toward the land of the vampires and earn more currency by defeating enemies and solving puzzles. Some of these moves are more useful than others, so it's entirely possible to get by with just purchasing one or two and never looking at the skills menu ever again. Despite even that, Lords of Shadow maintains a quality combat engine because its enemies and bosses provide a good, fulfilling, and often memorable challenge. They require manipulation of Gabriel's strategy in a way that utilizes nearly all of his basic skills and items. This same sensibility works its way into the magic system and its source of energy.
Gabriel has two kinds of magic at his disposal--one type, when activated, heals him when he attacks enemies while the other type inflicts more damage with each blow. In most instances, weaker enemies present a prime opportunity to gain some valuable health because their defenses are minimal, but stronger enemies will give more health if you have the skill to inflict a lot of damage before they start blocking. Both forms of magic can be recharged either by finding statues and absorbing orbs of energy or by defeating enemies while a special meter at the bottom of the screen is completely full. Charging this meter requires you to engage enemies in skillful way--dodging and attacking without ever getting hit causes orbs to spew from enemies.
When magic is introduced in Lords of Shadow, it feels forced; it's almost like another idea being thrown into a game as part of a kitchen sink mentality to create a game that appeals to everyone. But it does end up working well in conjunction with the combat system, especially during boss battles when you have to be careful with how and when you use magic. To be perfectly clear, however, there are two types of boss battles in Lords of Shadow. One type is against incredibly strong foes (namely, the Lords of Shadow) where victory requires not only a clear strategy, but also a strong knowledge of what Gabriel can and can't do because these boss foes simply aren't stupid. The other type is a dramatic titan battle where Gabriel maneuvers his way up the appendages of a massive creature to find its weak spots and take it down. It's quite a blatant takeoff of Shadow of the Colossus, but Lords of Shadow pays proper tribute with its own intense and memorable versions of that formula and surprisingly adds its own spin, playing up Gabriel's ability to use his primary weapon as a grappling hook.
If anything, these confrontations with the hulking titans are also some of the most visually impressive portions in a game where awe-inspiring scenery is already plentiful. It's almost a shame that Gabriel runs so fast because there are times when it becomes necessary to stop and appreciate the amount of effort that went into the great span of environments in Lords of Shadow, whether it's the fallen empire of Agartha, a dilapidated castle, or even the murky swamps. Even the tiniest of details, such as the mist from a waterfall or a setting sun are cause for praise. It's just a beautiful game. As for the character models, Gabriel looks fantastic, but it's pretty clear that secondary characters, aside from bosses, weren't given as much attention and look rather bland in comparison. It's also worth noting that while the PlayStation 3 version maintains a steady frame rate, the Xbox 360 version occasionally hiccups during action sequences and cutscenes.
You might say this situation is about to suck.
But no matter the version, another impressive aspect of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is its soundtrack. While most fervent Castlevania fans will probably be disappointed by the lack of grandiose references to music from the series (they're there, but relatively subtle), the epic score fits perfectly well with the game's locations and what's occurring onscreen. The only issues that arise are the frequent playing of the main battle song (which triggers when Gabriel gets into a fight) and the fact that there just aren't enough tracks to give each stage a unique tune--perhaps understandably so, given the sheer number of levels. Nonetheless, it's one of the few areas where Castlevania successfully carves out its own identity from the games that obviously provided its inspiration, but it's still surprising that the game doesn't borrow from an abundance of great source material from its own background. Other aspects of the audio, such as voice acting, are also well done with even minor characters giving good performances.
All of this leaves Castlevania: Lords of Shadow in a position where it takes bits (and sometimes chunks) of ideas from other games to reboot a classic series for a more contemporary audience. Those core ideas are what make those games good, and fortunately they're also what make Castlevania: Lords of Shadow good. And, to the game's credit, it takes more than a bit of skill to make all of these ideas gel together in a way that doesn't produce a disparate train wreck. Still, it's not without obvious faults. The combat is great and the boss battles are quite memorable, but it degenerates when those core ideas clash--when Castlevania ignores what it does so well (action) for the sake of creating a more diverse experience. The problem is that diversity ultimately adds nothing notable except for shallow adventure elements and frustration. It's a good start for a series in need of some new blood--so to speak--it's just unfortunate so much of it comes from other games and not an original source.