As one of the longest-running videogame franchises around, Konami’s Castlevania series has appeared on almost every games machine that ever existed. The games have varied greatly in style and quality over the years, but always maintained a dark fantasy flavour. Two fan favourites stand out, Castlevania: Rondo of Blood (1993) and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (1997), and the last two games, Castlevania and Castlevania: Curse of Darkness on the PS2 and Xbox weren’t bad either.
This latest installment in the franchise, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, is the first in the series to be created for our modern consoles, and fans might find it to be something of a departure for more than a few reasons. Firstly, the flavour is significantly different to the others. Whereas the previous games have always been very much focused on vampires and other creatures of the night, Lords of Shadow is based more on old English, pre-Christian mythology – you know, the old ways, the old gods, goblins, gnomes, imps, satyrs – that kind of thing. Vampires just happen to be one of the foes players must face along the way.
The story for Lords of Shadow is about Gabriel Belmont, a knight in the holy Order of Light, crusaders who protect the innocent for the greater good. Gabriel is on his way to an enchanted forest where the living can communicate with the dead, to speak with his departed wife one last time. This is achieved relatively quickly, but she reveals some dire truths about the sorry state of the world and a looming evil that Gabriel must prevent.
The basic gameplay for Lords of Shadow is comprised of two elements: exploration and combat. Players will often be required to navigate jaw-droppingly beautiful cliffs, ruins, swamps and castles in a way not at all unlike Prince of Persia, Uncharted and other action adventure games. There’s plenty of room for exploration, but Gabriel won’t be able to access certain areas until he gains certain tools or abilities, so remember those areas and come back later.
Along the way, Gabriel will be attacked by hordes of enemies, but unlike previous Castlevania games where most enemies were casual distractions and only big enemies and bosses required any real strategy, the combat in Lords of Shadow is intense. Even regular enemies can cause Gabriel undue hassle if they’re not dealt with decisively, and the bigger enemies and bosses are a serious test of players’ skill and reflexes. The combat feels a lot more like that in God of War and other similar action games, with some elements from Castlevania thrown in. As Gabriel defeats enemies and clears stages, he earns experience which he can use to buy new attacks and abilities. There are a lot of them on offer, and players will find that combat slowly but surely becomes easier as Gabriel becomes more powerful.
I’m not sure if Castlevania purists will take particularly well to this new flavour and gameplay style change, but as an action game, it’s pretty damn good in its own right.