Review: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Collection – The Most Complete Version of the Vampire Slaying Epic
To (presumably) help get everyone up to speed in preparation for Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 , Konami has released Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Collection. This loaded bundle takes the original 2010 title, piles on both of the game’s premium DLC chapters, the recently released HD port Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate HD, and tops everything off with an exclusive playable demo of Lords of Shadow 2.
It goes without saying that if you’ve yet to play Lords of Shadow, this is easily the best package you could ask for. Luckily, since Lords of Shadow got lost in my backlog the year it released, I was able to experience everything for the first time.
Let’s start with the main game, the prominent highlight of the bundle.
Lords of Shadow scraps the Castlevania series’ traditional side scrolling elements in favor of a fully 3D world, with lots of things to discover. The story follows the journey of Gabriel Belmont, a member of a holy clan sent to investigate the cause behind heaven’s recent severance from the Earth (and the murder of his wife, yawn). This journey takes Gabriel to a host of fantastic locations and his story evolves quickly and dramatically.
Although some elements of the narrative were clichéd, the tale of the Lords of Shadow and its origin was overall pretty interesting and unique. I didn’t come away feeling as though I’d just been retold a story I’d heard a million times before. The scale feels quite grand, and the large scale boss battles and lovely environments make the events and characters seem important.
This game has a wonderful visual style. The level of detail in the characters, enemies and environments is quite high and the graphics look polished and refined. Furthermore, these sharp graphics are put to work on a wide variety of environments and enemy designs. The stages in particular are quite memorable and many backdrops and various scenes are simply beautiful.
Some of the boss battles, like those against the titans, are large scale and epic. These intense battles are reminiscent of the God of War games, but this is a positive comparison. Gabriel and his enemies have access to a wide arsenal of magical abilities, and these keep the screen aglow with bright spell effects. Overall, I feel that Lords of Shadow has strong visuals.
The game’s attitude of grandeur is maintained with its orchestral soundtrack, which is dramatic and very pleasant. Throughout the game I was impressed by how well the music contributed to the atmosphere, making scenes seem more peaceful, frightening or intense. While I didn’t come away from the game with any of the songs stuck in my head, I felt that the soundtrack served its purpose really well and that it works wonderfully within the context of the game.
Although many things are obviously different from other games in the series, the game-play in Lords of Shadow still feels somewhat familiar. Players will battle monsters, solve puzzles, enjoy surprisingly solid platforming and discover various jewels and important items in the beautiful and big stages.
Players are encouraged to rely on a variety of powerful relics to mix up combat. Gabriel’s main weapon is a combat cross whip, but he obtains a number of sub-weapons and powers throughout the game. The combat, while solid, honestly left me wanting a little bit more depth or variety. One of my issues was that the whip was essentially the heart of the combat and that there just simply wasn’t a ton of interesting ways you could use it.
Many of the enemies will encourage you to employ all of your weapons (simply because of how much health many of them have) but sometimes I felt like I was button mashing, which isn’t a good feeling in this type of game. There is a big variety of skills that you can unlock using the whip, and it is both fun and rewarding to mix things up with the different powers. But at the end of the day I still felt the combat was a bit limited. It isn’t a big deal because this game cohesively gets so many other things right, but I really wanted it to give me a bit more as far as combat is concerned.
I love the platforming here because it is smooth and responsive most of the time. There were a few instances where Gabriel would get stuck while scaling a wall or while swinging between points, but in general the platforming works and it lets you take in the environment better.
Lords of Shadow implements a lot of QTEs. It keeps them from being problematic by using only two types: one that’s purely timing based (hit any button within a certain amount of time) and one that’s based on mashing. There is no spur of the moment guessing on which button you’ll need to hit next stuff happening, so they avoid that feeling of cheesiness; however they did break up the flow of the game and I felt like they could have been used more modestly.
Within the game’s stages you’ll want to search for hidden paths that lead to upgrades and other items. You can read scrolls left behind by fallen members of the Brotherhood, many of which either gives you hints and clues at items that may be nearby or clues to solving eminent puzzles. You also need to find the gems to upgrade your health and magic slots. After completing a stage you are able to see how many of each item is hidden in the stage. It was odd to see that even in stages in which I actively explored every route I came across, I still left behind a variety of goodies. This means that completionists will need to replay many stages in order to find everything.
The game also has some fun puzzles and a cool feature that allows you to unlock the solution to the puzzle by sacrificing the point reward you would receive from solving it yourself. I only used this feature twice when I didn’t feel like finishing the puzzles, but you’re free to use it as often as you like or to never use it at all.
You can use points earned from defeating enemies to purchase new skills for Gabriel, and lots of beautiful concept art for an art gallery.
One of the biggest merits of this game is simply how long and full of content it is. The campaign took me well over a dozen hours to complete and I visited far more locations and faced far more enemies than I thought I would from the outset. This isn’t something you’ll run through in a weekend unless you play nonstop. It has some meat on its bones, which is always good to see in this type of title, even if the combat could afford to be richer.
The DLC packs Reverie and Resurrection both add an additional chapter to the game. They also add more story, and while it is great to learn more about the events after you finish the main game and see new areas and enemies, these DLC chapters in general are a very straightforward and brief. They also don’t change the game in any immediate, meaningful way. I would expect a premium add-on to introduce a cool new playable character, a new weapon, or something else relevant, but neither of the DLCs did this in my opinion.
It’s great to have them here as it just further boosts the value of the bundle and gives you more to play, but I don’t think I would have bought this DLC separately for Lords of Shadow, or at least I’d be fairly disappointed if I had.
Let’s move right along to the second full game included with this collection: Castelvania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate HD.
Mirror of Fate HD is a remake of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate which launched for the Nintendo 3DS earlier this year. It’s interesting to see how a Nintendo 3DS game has made the switch to home consoles, but it doesn’t seem to come from the experience as a worse title.
The events within Mirror of Fate HD take place after those within the original Lords of Shadow, as Simon Belmont (Gabriel’s grandson) sets out to avenge the death of his parents. This game’s story introduces new characters, but also focuses on Gabriel. The events in Lords of Shadow and in Mirror of Fate HD are of course closely tied so I don’t want to go into any spoilers. However, I will say that it’s great to have this and the original game in the same place since it helps you understand everything. Playing Mirror of Fate while the events of the first game are still fresh in your mind is recommended.
Game-play wise, Mirror of Fate feels more like a classic Castlevania title, thanks to the side scrolling style. The progression of the game is also familiar, as you gradually make your way through a huge castle, defeating bosses and unlocking upgrades as you go.
Character progression is a little different in Mirror of Fate because skills are automatically unlocked as you defeat enemies and gain levels.
The visuals in the game leave a little bit to be desired. It is clear from the outset that this was once a Nintendo 3DS game, although it obviously looks better than the original. I get the feeling that more could have been done to freshen this up, but when it comes as part of such a rich collection, it’s hard to leverage too many complaints here. On top of being more familiar, Mirror of Fate is also much shorter than Lords of Shadow, but the unique style of game is a refreshing change of pace.
It’s also really clear how the gameplay favors a handheld console, just because of the brevity of the segments.
The platforming is still fun in 2D and the combat is simple but effective. Several moves were actually imported from Lords of Shadow and the system of collecting magic and sub-weapons is still intact. The cinematic videos use a cell shaded style and very stiff character movements that actually aren’t quite effective. It winds up looking awkward, but I can appreciate that the developers tried to do something different with the cinematics.
Both games feature trophies and four unique difficulty settings, so there is lots to do even after you clear both titles once. I should also mention that Lords of Shadow put very few trophies in my way, and I’d only collected very few trophies once the ending credits rolled, so you’ll probably have to do some extra digging and figuring out if you wanted to platinum this game.
I will dedicate a separate hands-on demo impressions to the last piece of content in this collection, the Lords of Shadow 2 demo.
The Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Collection is easily the best introduction to Mercury Steam’s praised series that you could ask for. You get the fabulous Lords of Shadow, which is made even more epic thanks to the two extra DLC chapters, as well as the game’s sequel in Mirror of Fate HD, which offers an entirely fresh game-play experience compared to Lords of Shadow. The intrinsic value of the bundle is quite high; you’re getting dozens of hours of quality content for the price of admission. Although both of the included games have their own minor kinks and flaws, it is hard to take anything away from a package this rich, especially when the core game is so enjoyable.