The game throws players into the action quickly as Gabriel Belmont. You are initially tasked with protecting a small village from a band of attacking werewolves. A tutorial encompassing basic combos, dodging, ranged attacks, and quick time events is included here. Combat is fairly simplistic, and even with most of the moves unlocked by the end of the game, players should not feel overwhelmed. Gabriel's weapon of choice is the Combat Cross, a metal cross with a retractable chain whip. The whip is used as both a melee weapon and a Bionic Commando style grappling hook. It can be used to grab enemies at range, or to swing Gabriel to otherwise unreachable areas, but sadly the grappling aspect is contextual.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow periodically provides upgrades to both the Combat Cross, and Gabriel's combat abilities. Things such as light and dark magic, double jump, sprint, and hand to hand combat are distributed after downing the games various bosses. This serves to encourage exploration of previously completed levels using newly acquired abilities. Players earn currency by defeating enemies, which can then be used to purchase additional combos or special magical moves from the game's menu at any time.
While I've heard talk of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow taking 20-25 hours for many to complete, I ran through the game in about 15 or so. The game has four modes of difficulty, but certain mechanics keep the game from being overly challenging. Human sized enemies can be grabbed at range and instantly killed via a single button quick time mechanic. This, combined with the fact that Gabriel is invulnerable during the grab animation, make dispatching large groups of enemies a breeze. This tactic feels so cheap at times I felt ashamed to use it, prefering instead to chalk it up as a design flaw and use Gabriel's normal fighting mechanics in all but the most dire of circumstances.
Patrick Stewart pushes the narrative along between levels, explaining Gabriel's emotional struggles and introducing the newest locale. However the game never takes the time to emotionally develop Gabriel through it's various cutscenes. The story itself has several twists and turns, but the ending is cryptic and forgettable, leaving plenty of room for DLC or sequels to expound upon. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is fun, especially for fans of the action genre, but a shallow narrative, lack of genuine replayability, and a combat system that feels gimmicky at times serve to keep Castlevania: Lords of Shadow from being a must have title this season.