Lord of Blogging Neglect

Another month has passed with empty promises of blogging more so it’s about time that I sat down at my keyboard and typed some words into a browser for you.

Where have you been? I yearn to know!

Awww, I’m touched. Really. I haven’t been up to anything particularly exciting, just the same usual stuff. Well that’s not entirely true, because if it were that’d insinuate that I’ve been dumping as much free time as I can into that World of Warcraft thingie. No my friends, my typical winter break from MMOs has struck once more and a quick look at my Raptr account will provide the visual proof of it.

But, but, but … it shows that you’ve played WoW more than anything for the past month!

Yes, that much is true but those 18 hours came in the first two weeks of February and other than being logged in for 90 minutes to record The Overlores I haven’t even looked at WoW for the past 2 weeks. I’m not sure why I always seem to go through this phase, but there’s at least one benefit to its reoccurrence: I satiate my console gaming needs and keep myself from completely burning out on WoW. You can also blame my signing up with Raptr for my quicker than usual jump from MMO to console gaming.

Okay, so you’ve been playing Castlevania: Lords of Shadow? Is that any good?

HELL YES!

Castlevania: LoS is incredible! From the first trailers I saw of the game I knew that I was going to be entranced by this title. From the soundtrack to the environments and the overall direction of the storyline I was hooked. Toss in a couple of Shadow of the Colossus style battles and the fact that Sir Patrick Stewart provides the voice-overs for Zobek and you have a recipe that I couldn’t help but to fall completely in love with.

But isn’t it just God of War with a Castlevania theme?

Yes and no. Yes because the general flow of combat is very similar to God of War, but no because the combat has a metric ton of layers that provide an insane level of depth. You cannot mindlessly button-mash through Castlevania, doing so will have the game chewing you up and spitting you out even on the NORMAL difficulty. Lords of Shadow is a very finesse driven combat engine because of all its parts from trying to fill your focus meter to provide you the energy you desperately need to manage your light and dark magic abilities. I won’t go into great detail about it, but I will attempt a cursory explanation of these systems and just how important they are to the flow of combat.

As you might expect, light and dark magic are pretty much polar opposites of each other: light is pretty defensive focused and dark is offensive minded. When you activate your light magic aura attacks you deal will heal you and many of your abilities will gain defensive augmentations if you purchase the related upgrades. For example when you finesse a perfect block while in light aura you will blind all enemies facing you. It’s an awesome defensive ability if you’ve mastered the art of perfect block (pressing block at the exact moment an attack would hit you) since as you progress the game likes to throw mini-bosses en masse at you.

In polar opposition to light magic, your dark magic aura will increase the damage you deal and offer offensive augmentations to your abilities should you upgrade them. It seems basic enough but attempting to find the balance between your light and dark magic usage is where the complexity and depth of the combat engine shine. In order to use either magic type, you need to absorb magic energy from enemies by pressing in on your left thumb stick to fill your light magic gauge and your right thumb stick to fill your dark magic gauge.

Well that doesn’t seem all that complicated, what’s the catch?

Most enemies drop a small amount of magic energy and won’t provide enough of a supply to keep your light and dark gauges filled. When you activate either aura, you burn through it quickly which makes you really think about when is the best time to use it and for how long you keep it active. Fortunately the focus meter provides a mechanic that will assist in obtaining magic energy in that once your focus meter is full, any successful hits will cause energy to drop from enemies.

That sounds cool, but let me guess … there’s a catch there too?

Ohhhh yes there is. Filling your focus meter is TOUGH since it requires you consistently land hits to fill it and it will gradually deplete if you’re not hitting an enemy or will empty completely when you get hit. Let me state that one more time, it EMPTIES when you get hit.

OMG! Ouch!

Exactly, but fret not since this actually a boon to the combat engine. This meter is a good gauge as to how well you are playing the game. If you’re being reckless with your attacks you’re going to have an incredibly hard time with the game, but if you take the time to learn how to tackle each enemy type you’ll be able to fill that meter easily and unleash the fury of a thousand Belmonts upon those foolish enough to stand in your way!

Fist pump! Hell ya!

Erp, okay let’s calm it down for a second. There’s one thing that I need to explain about the focus meter and how playing well fills it quickly. Remember when I brought up perfect blocking? Well it is this mechanic that quickly fills the focus meter and it is something that you’re going to have to master to get through the game. I spent a good 30 minutes retrying a battle against 3 alpha lycans that really pushed me to the limits of my understanding of the nuances of the engine. It was REALLY HARD to not get hit and watch my precious focus meter empty thusly making the battle that much harder.

So it can be frustrating?

Yes, to a certain extent when the frustration lies in your own inability to play properly, but occasionally there are moments where camera angles get in the way (I’ve only encountered 2 occurrences of that in the 8 hours I’ve played so far). Lords of Shadow does a good job of teaching you how to play it, but it definitely does ratchet stuff up in the 2nd chapter. There’s a great sense of satisfaction from improving at the game and it is easily apparent with the focus meter. You just need to divorce yourself from the mindset that button-mashing can overcome the obstacles in your way.

So that’s what you call a cursory explanation?

Well, I suppose I did go on quite a bit about the combat engine, but considering that I’m only nearing the end of chapter two I haven’t come close to mastering the combat yet. Any assumption on my part to properly explain the nuances of the engine this early would be foolish, hence my cursory explanation of it. So while it may seem that I’ve babbled on about the combat engine for seemingly ever, there is much more to Lords of Shadow. Ohhh yes, so much more.

As I stated before getting side-tracked into explaining half of the game, there’s another half to this game: the atmosphere. Ohhh the atmosphere … it oozes with polish and beauty at every turn. Lords of Shadow is a GORGEOUS game aesthetically and aurally. Just about every environment I’ve come across has nearly taken my breath away and what breath I had left is taken by the stunning soundtrack to the game.

In case you haven’t heard, Óscar Araujo won “Best Original Score for a Video Game or Interactive Media” by the International Film Music Critics Association, and for good reason. Anything I could write wouldn’t do the score of the game justice … it’s just that incredible. So instead of attempting to wax poetic about it, I’ll allow a track from the soundtrack to do the speaking for me.

So what are you doing still reading this? Or for that matter why am I still typing words for you? We should both be playing this game RIGHT NOW! Okay, maybe that’s going a bit too far but seriously, if you haven’t played Lords of Shadow you should give it some serious consideration. In my opinion it is a masterpiece and I only regret not having played it sooner. So with that being said, I’m going to end this entry.

Here’s to hoping I don’t go another month with only updating this thing once ^^;