The Ultimate Edition of 2010's Castlevania: Lords of Shadow packages the complete game with both DLC packs and greatly improved visuals, all for a stellar price.
If you were to ask our writers how many Castlevania games they have each played through, I imagine I would come in approximately last. Back in March, I decided I needed to play my first Castelvania game. I chose MercurySteam's Lords of Shadow and enjoyed nearly every minute of the fourteen-plus hour game. Playing through it put me in good position to enjoy the 3DS prequel, Mirror of Fate, and now I'm looking forward to the final act in the trilogy come February. With the recent announcement that Mirror of Fate is going HD, it looks like I'll have good reason to play through it again as I did with this nice Ultimate Edition of Lords of Shadow. A PC exclusive, the Ultimate Edition takes the complete original game and both of its substantial DLC packs, Reverie and Resurrection, and packs them into a single 15GB Steam download. Full 1080p visuals at 60fps (with the proper hardware) are also on the menu as is Big Picture mode.
So, my gaming rig is pretty modest -- I'm certainly due for an upgrade, and I'm almost embarrassed to list my machine's specs. But alright I'll list them -- I'm running a E8400 Wolfdale at 3.0Ghz with 8GB and a 4850 1GB; there, I said it. Seriously though, most games, and certainly Lords of Shadow, run silky smooth as long as I throttle the settings appropriately. With Lords of Shadow, I was able to set the res up to 1920x1080, with Medium Shadow quality, 2X AA, and Ambient Occlusion enabled. The complete list of the Advanced Graphics options are as follows:
Shadows --> Low, Medium, High
V-Sync --> On/Off
Anti-Aliasing --> Yes/No/Max
Anisotropic Filtering --> No/2X/4X/8X/16X
Ambient Occlusion --> Yes/No
I also turned on V-Sync to take care of the tearing that happened regularly as I ran about. I liked that next to these settings was a static image of Gabriel Belmont (the protagonist) and a typical background environment. Whenever you toggled a change, this still image instantly updated to reflect the changes you made. This isn't necessarily the best way to test out settings of course, but it was neat to see the very subtle changes that some of these settings give you.
Actually playing the Ultimate Edition was a real eye-opener. Keep in mind I just played through the PS3 version back in March, so it's still pretty fresh in my mind. Playing again on PC with these graphical changes was like someone threw a cool bucket of water on my face (a good thing...normally). The environments especially benefit from this, as do the details of the characters. The Dead Bog, which already looked great on the consoles, looks gorgeous on PC. The forest environments immediately thereafter also got my attention, and this trend would continue throughout the game. I won't go as far as to say that the improved visuals were like seeing or playing the game again for the first time, but it was pretty close. It wouldn't surprise me if some hardcore Castlevania fans picked up the Ultimate Edition for the increased visual fidelity alone. Keep in mind this is not a complete re-texturing or different art than what the consoles version had, it's just a significantly spruced up version.
More good news comes in the form of just how quickly the game plays, and loads. Load times stay well under ten seconds, and if you have played through the game before and don't want to hear Patrick Stewart narrate at the start of every mission or watch every cutscene, you can very quickly skip those. Speaking of cutscenes, I should add that these haven't been touched -- so compared to the in-game visuals, they aren't up to par, but, they're sufficient and I don't considertheir original quality to be a real issue.
Controlling the action is certainly best done with a gamepad. Using a Xbox 360 controller, I had no problem navigating the menus or interacting with the game in anyway. Control responsiveness was exactly as you would expect and I can't imagine playing it another way. As mentioned earlier, this game supports Steam's Big Picture mode, too.
Ok, so now we know what the Ultimate Edition offers and how it fares, which is to say "a lot" and "very well." Priced at $30 -- and you know how Steam goes, this will probably be $2.99 during a flash sale in a few months (kidding; well, somewhat) -- it's a heck of a deal. But if you haven't played this game (or its DLC) before, or if you have and you're wondering if MercurySteam made any changes under the hood -- I honestly didn't pick up on any. One thing they surely would have addressed had they gone back to make some changes is the camera, which can't be controlled by the player. The camera, at times, gives you a bad angle during combat. For example, Gabriel may be looking back at you, and the enemies are off screen "in front of you." This isn't a game-breaking issue, but it can be annoying.
Actually, while we're on the topic of annoying, some of the numerous puzzles in Lords of Shadow still bust my chops. In March, I remember looking up Youtube videos after being unsure what to do or more often the case, how the heck to solve a puzzle. For a few puzzles, I resorted to the same lowly tactics again on PC. Don't kid yourself either, Lords of Shadow has plenty of puzzles -- most don't bring down the pace of the game too much, but others are like hitting a brick wall. Solving these puzzles gives you a feeling of either "thank bleepin' goodness that's over!" and "hell yeah!," and not necessarily a lot in between. If you stop playing sooner than expected to, it's probably to give yourself a break from the trial and error of puzzle solving. At the end of the day I think the puzzles make the game more complete and better off in general, but I would have liked to see their difficult or design tweaked to where they aren't so frustrating.
In contrast to some of the puzzles, the combat is almost all a fast paced, engaging spectacle. MercurySteam did a great job three years ago, and their action gameplay has withstood the test of time. Gabriel routinely unlocks new combo attacks and other abilities to experiment with and master, and the whole light/dark magic angle is well done. Combine that with several other gameplay elements like his grappling tool to navigate areas, the ability to tame and temporarily ride a beast, focus mode, platforming, and you have a third person experience that mixes up gameplay very well. Boss fights are also well done and offer a good challenge. At the risk of potential spoilers I would put the Olrox fight as probably my favorite, and one the rock-throwing titan battle as my least favorite.
To this point I haven't mentioned much about the story itself, although that's for no particular reason. In brief, it's fairly typical -- the world is going to hell in a hand basket, and it's up to Gabriel, a member of the Brotherhood of Light, to repel the supernatural forces of evil. In the process, he might even save the soul of his lover who was murdered. There are some interesting plot twists as you progress, but I didn't find myself thoroughly engaged in the story at all times.
Beyond the main story lies the DLC packs. The first of these, Reverie, sees Gabriel helping this creepy girl (whose name I have forgotten but she plays a mean game of chess) defeat evil inside the big castle level from the main story. It's segmented into three entertaining stages. Next up is the Resurrection pack, which actually continues the storyline from Reverie. The crux of this excursion is a showdown with a powerful demon called The Forgotten One.
With that, let's get to the summary...