In some ways I think using an existing franchise to buid a new game doesn't always help. Castlevania is a long franchise dating back to 1986 with over 30 releases. I haven't really played any of them fully - 2D platformers just aren't my style. So seeing a new Castlevania game I was lucky to not skip straight over assuming just another old-fashioned indie platform game. In fact, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is a complete reboot in story and gameplay. It's a third person (kind of) action game full of fast combo-based combat and puzzles.
Combat is similar to the much-compared-to-everything God of War, or Darksiders, or Devil May Cry. It's all melee based with a single weapon (sword slash cross) but many different combo attacks. The combat is very fun and fast-paced. But I do think often the combat comes down to the same sort of attacks because the enemies are all so similar, there's not much variety in how you attack them. Most of the small bosses that involve combat are just the same simple attack/dodge formula.
You also have magic to use - light magic and dark magic. I didn't feel the magic replenish spots were often enough so I tended to save my magic most of the time. When you do turn magic on you can either use it to replenish health or increase your attack damage. But the magic meter goes down pretty quickly. You can also gain magic by picking up glowing orbs that appear usually when killing enemies but also if you manage a series of several hits without taking damage. This was very useful when up against bosses where you'd need to keep replenishing your magic.
Then you've got secondary weapons, such as throwing knives or fairies. Then you've got a lot of combos related to when magic is turned on, most of which required such complex keypresses that you just won't remember them. Some of the combos I did remember I soon decided just weren't worth the effort because trying to initiate them usually got interrupted. The best method was quite simply to master dodging and blocking. Screw all the magic, screw all the combos, screw all the secondary weapons, it just complicates the game
Some enemies take a little too long to kill, such as the fucking skeletons, but overall I really enjoyed the combat.
Story is also well told. I won't go into it but there must be a movie-worth of cutscenes in Castlevania. There's a few too many slow pans over the upcoming environment (just get on with the fucking game, I'll see the level soon enough!), but that's a small niggle. It must be noted the story has little to do with the original Castlevania, which was about the Belmont family stopping Dracula over and over again. There are familiar settings; vampires and werewolves, and your name is Gabriel Belmont, but in this version you're after three Lords Of Shadow (a werewolf, vampire and necromancer) in order to gain enough power to re-unite earth and heaven, bring your wife back from death and, which we won't find out till later in the game, battle Satan. Really, nothing to do with the original games. This is a completely unique game with the Castlevania title slapped on it for sale purposes, but how many young gamers have heard of Castlevania anyway?
The visual design of Castlevania is pretty darn good. The environments look fantastic. Plenty of variety but always sticking to a dark fantasy theme, a bit like Darksiders, but even better to look at. There are some very amazing set-pieces as well, such as the vampires castle. Even the DLC's have some real wow-factor. Probably the only disappointment with level design is the lack of exploration. Sure, you often get two paths - one will lead to a powerup, the other the correct path. It's pure luck which one you pick. But other than that, the path is always very linear and full of invisible walls. The sequel to this game is open-world, so I guess the developers learnt that open is better.
From what I've said above it sounds like Castlevania is a great game. Sadly, it has some glaring issues to bring it down.
The controls are really designed for consoles, not PC. There's a few boss fights where you need to catch an item then spin it using all four movement keys in rotation. On PC, it was an epic fail and just about impossible to do. I had to use an Autohotkey shortcut a user had made to allow me to pass those bosses.
Fixed camera angles. These NEVER FUCKING WORK! It's not quite as bad as some of the Tomb Raiders where you'd be walking in a loop because walking forwards suddenly becomes walking backwards as the camera angle jumps to the opposite side, but it does happen. Also a lot of times you need to do certain things but can't just run forwards or sideways, you've got to move in both because of the stupid angle the camera is on. I just don't get why a developer would come to the conclusion to go with fixed angles instead of freelook. It's never going to result in a better experience. I guess the only reason it's fixed is for console gamers that can't aim so well without a mouse.
Keyboard lag. Never heard of that? Neither have I. I'm not sure what else to call it because I've never experienced it in a game before. But Castlevania is a first. While it wasn't so bad in the first half, the game became terrible in the second half. Basically, key presses get queued up because there seems to be some lag when you press them. For instance run forward, let go then run left. The game will continue to run forwards for a second or two longer after you stopped pressing the key, before switching to moving left. Essentially you can hit several movements keys, jump, attack, then let go of the keyboard and watch the game catch up and do all those moves for you! It's not quite so bad during combat, but during the platform puzzles it's fucking infuriating. Especially those that are time-limited such as navigating climbing puzzles, which is a big part of Castlevania. Climbing left or right requires you holding the key down, but when you get to the end and need to jump to the next handgrip you have to wait for the game to realise you're no longer moving before you can finally jump. Doing this when the handgrip is crumbling means lots of death while you repeatedly bash the space bar but the character is still waiting to catch up. Again this is a PC issue.
I attempted to play the DLC's, and while the first one looked fantastic I got to a point that required climbing between moving saws - all instant death if you get touched. With the keyboard lag it was just too much and I had to rage quit.
Some of the bosses were equally infuriating, especially those where you need to climb around a giant hulking titan or flying creature to get to certain weak spots. You'd have to hold a key at certain points to prevent from being shaken off, but the keyboard lag meant it wouldn't trigger in time and I'd off fall off. The final boss like this near the end of the game I HAD to put cheats on to complete it. If I didn't then I simply wouldn't have bothered finishing the game, and even then I wouldn't have bothered putting cheats on if only for the fact that you have to finish the game to get to the two DLC's.
I also had issue with the number of jumping/platform type sections and puzzles in the game. They weren't really that fun and would definitely prevent replay-ability, for me. The combat was the fun part. But in a game that's almost 15 hours long, I guess it can't all be combat or that too would get tiring.
Overall, the fantastic visuals are your main purpose for playing Castlevania. Decent story and cutscenes and some fun, although sometimes overly-complicated combat help. What doesn't help are the bad fixed camera angles, some annoying boss fights and the keyboard lag. Oh the keyboard lag, that really has to bring my score down. But just don't play it on the PC.