Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Ultimate Edition – PC
Publisher: Konami Digital Entertainment
Developer: MercurySteam, Climax Studios
Release Date: Aug 27, 2013
Genre: Action. Adventure
Reviewed by Mark Smith

Review Score: 4.5 of 5

Nearly three years since its original release, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Ultimate Edition finally makes its way to the Steam store. If you are wondering if there is any reason to revisit this epic quest on the PC, especially if you already played through it once, then the answer is probably not, but if you have never played Lords of Shadow, or perhaps never finished the copy you started back in 2010 or never purchased any of the DLC, then this may be your next big action brawler for the PC. And let’s face it; with the exception of DMC and Darksiders 2, there just aren’t that many hack-n-slash action games coming to the PC this year.

But then again, some might argue that Castlevania was never meant to be an action brawler. Originally designed as a sidescroller platformer, hardcore fans have proven resistant to the new direction MercurySteam and Climax have taken with their beloved franchise, but for those with an open mind and some serious PC hardware, prepare for one of the most breathtaking and time consuming adventures of the year.

The new Ultimate Edition adds both the Reverie and the Resurrection DLC. Reverie marks a return to the game’s climactic castle setting as Gabriel seeks to assist the recently-slain vampire Queen’s hand maiden. These three new stages offer a breath-taking twist to the game’s plot. Once completed, you can move on to Resurrection and explore the fate of both Gabriel and the Belmont clan. Gabriel must battle an evil demon known only as ‘The Forgotten One’ that has broken loose of its ancient chains. These new DLC levels provides a stunning finale to Konami’s epic tale of death, betrayal and redemption with ‘The Forgotten One’ intent on destroying mankind, and only Gabriel standing between it and its goal.

In addition to the new stages you also get a totally remastered game engine designed for the latest PC hardware including full DX11 support and AMD features such as Eyefinity technology and Crossfire™, as well as support for Nvidia SLI technology. I have to admit, the gameplay graphics in the Ultimate Edition are some of the best I’ve seen on my PC this year. Sadly, some of the cutscene graphics don’t share all of the graphical improvements and can be distractingly different from the gameplay.

So, riddle me this… When is a Castlevania game no longer a Castlevania game? When Gabriel Belmont turns into Kratos and the gameplay turns into God of War. Don’t get me wrong…that’s not a bad thing, but it certainly might upset a few Castlevania purists out there. My introduction to the Castlevania franchise was the original Lords of Shadow back in 2010. Sadly, the game was so huge and arrived during the holiday surge so I never managed to finish it, so I was very eager to complete the saga and the new DLC levels in the Ultimate Edition.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Ultimate Edition is a visually breathtaking action game that uses the names, characters and the mythos of this historic franchise but any other similarities end there. I was captivated as Gabriel rode up to the massive wooden gate in the opening cutscene, rain dripping from his armor and weathered skin, then the game seamlessly put me in control as I unleashed a holy can of whoop-ass on some werewolves in the opening fight tutorial.

From there I was spirited away on a talking steed with TRON-style markings, and then deposited into a swamp where my 30+ hour quest was only getting started. The story is surprisingly good, involving Gabriel’s dead wife who reaches out from beyond the grave to tell her beloved of a fiendish plot to overthrow the world by the unholy powers of darkness. The story is expertly voiced by Patrick Stewart, who also shows up as NPC, Zobek, several hours into the game, and is supplemented with a fine cast of voice actors including; Robert Carlyle (Gabriel), Natasha McElhone, and Jason Isaacs.

At its core, Lords of Shadow is a fighter with light (fast) and heavy (slow) attacks that can be combined with jumps and grabs and an entire book of upgrades – seriously; it’s a book. You’ll have so many abilities and combat moves that it takes real dedication to pick your favorites and master them, but you’re going to have to do just that if you want to stand any chance of progressing more than halfway through this challenging and massive adventure that occupies more than 15GB of your hard drive.

The core game is spread across 12 chapters, each with several sections that unlock in linear fashion as you finish the previous. You are encouraged to replay previous chapters to explore new areas and find new items that become accessible as you earn new powers and abilities. I have to admit it is frustrating seeing that chest on the rock and having the game tell you to “come back later”, but it certainly adds to the replay.

Your primary weapon is the multi-function Combat Cross that slowly grows in power and usefulness with each new upgrade. It’s a spear, it’s a chain weapon, it’s a grappling hook – it slices and dices your enemies into Julienne fries, and with some pretty awesome animation and special effects tossed in. Your number of attacks essentially doubles once you realize that jumping and attacking from the air initiates just as many brutal attacks as when you start them from the ground. Secondary weapons like weapons and holy water offer a bit of variety in the combat.

To enhance your melee tactics is an interesting magic system that relies on dark and light powers and the absorption of orbs to fuel those meters, but unlike other games where your “mana” is preordained, in Lords of Shadow the gold orbs are neutral and you get to decide which type of magic you want to fuel by pressing the corresponding analog stick. Each type of magic has its benefits and its drawbacks and can be used to enhance your own specific style of play. Do you want to heal during combat or inflict extra damage? You get to decide.

When you aren’t fighting off the evil hordes of darkness, which aren’t limited to just werewolves and vampires, you are exploring some of the most stunning scenery the PC is currently capable of delivering as well as solving some fiendishly clever puzzles. And just when you think you can’t possibly be impressed anymore, here come the boss fights, and we’re talking boss fights on a scale of Shadow of the Colossus, where you have to scale skyscraper-sized titans and hack away at key nerve centers to bring them down.

At first I was annoyed by the lack of camera control until I realized that the virtual director usually knows best and was presenting me with the best possible view at any given time. The camera totally enhanced the drama and sense of scale in each scene and never got in the way of combat, jumping, or puzzle solving. My only issue was when the camera switched to a reverse angle and my analog stick control inverted – at least until I released the stick to adjust.

I’m usually not one to begrudge a game for being “too long” but in a world where 10-12 hours seems to be the norm, when I hit that mark in Castlevania I realized I wasn’t even halfway to the finale. Great news for those looking to maximize their gaming dollar, but if you are looking for a weekend adventure you might be biting off more than you know. And that’s just the first pass. You’ll certainly want to go back to just about every previous level and pick up those items you couldn’t access before or try to complete level-specific challenges.

I can’t recommend Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Ultimate Edition enough. Even if you’re a fanatical follower of this historic franchise there is still enough core story material in play to keep you interested, and there is no denying the hypnotic visuals, great story, excellent voice acting, and the adrenaline-fueled gameplay that is only matched by God of War. This is a visionary new look for Castlevania, both in stunning graphics and a new style of gameplay that hardcore action junkies and adventure seekers won’t want to miss.