Review

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2

Written by: / / No Comments

I’ve made no bones about my affinity for the original Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – with an epic journey to complete backed up by a stellar combat system, I had no problems recommending it when it was released back in 2010, so of course I was looking forward to the planned sequel after the cliff-hanger ending.

Now that Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is finally out, is it a worthy follow-up to the original, and a worthy conclusion to the series? Has it been worth the wait for fans? Has the wait been worth it for me?

CastlevaniaLordsOfShadow2Banner

What You Need to Know

Fast-forwarding one thousand years into the future after the events of the first Lords of Shadow will find us in the present of Lords of Shadow 2, where Gabriel Belmont has made the transition from demon slayer to the ultimate demon, Dracula, a now ancient blood-sucking vampire who has locked himself away for centuries after defeating Satan and withering away into a shadow of his former self.

As it turns out, however, Belmont’s old ‘friend’ Zobek needs Dracula’s help in warding off evil once more in the modern age, too, as Satan’s acolytes prepare for the return of their master – it’s up to Dracula to regain his strength, relearn powerful abilities, and continue his eternal quest for vengeance, except with a promise from Zobek: Should Dracula finish off Satan, he shall finally be freed from the shackles of immortal life.

Taking place both in ‘present day’ in the crumbling metropolis of Castlevania City (built on the ruins of Dracula’s castle) currently under a demon attack, as well as during supposed flashbacks or dream sequences taking place in and around the sprawling grounds of Dracula’s castle (now long-since destroyed), Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is a third-person action adventure game through and through – if you’re not going toe-to-toe with horrendous enemies and towering beasts with an advanced selection of combo-based attacks (while dodging and blocking incoming rounds of violence), then you’ll be clambering up walls and jumping from one handhold to another, with a spot of stealthy sneaking and light puzzle solving added to mix.

Progression is also decidedly in the style of previous ‘MetroidVania’ games, where skills and abilities you unlock later in the game will open up previously inaccessible areas, both of the ‘secret’ and ‘important to the story’ variety.



What’s New?

New to Lords of Shadow 2 is a more open-world hub system, where Dracula is able to leap back and forth between the city and the castle either to continue the story, or explore previously discovered areas for secrets with new abilities at his disposal. To accompany this addition is a mini-map and a more useful full map, while this newfound freedom of traversal is helped with a full 3D camera this time around (as opposed to the static camera with chosen angles from the first game) – additions that we’ve come to expect in the genre but make a big difference here.

As you earn experience points by defeating enemies (and destroying bric-a-brac around the world), you’ll be able to buy new attacks to add to your arsenal of combat manoeuvres, spread out across Dracula’s Blood Whip (his main weapon), the Void Sword (a summonable sword that siphons health from enemies with every attack to heal Dracula) and the Chaos Claws (another summonable weapon that is useful in destroying armour protecting enemies).

The more you use your collection of attacks (which range from simple slashes of the whip and sword to devastating aerial assaults and ground-pounding outbursts of ultimate rage), the more you move towards ‘mastering’ that move. Once mastered, you can add that mastery to a specific weapon to improve its effectiveness, which is a great way of encouraging players to mix up their approach and attacks.

CastlevaniaLordsOfShadow2ss_004

Fights are made even more interesting with another combat system that feeds into itself. When attacking, you’re able to build up a meter with every hit, and if you yourself don’t get hit by an enemy, once the building meter is full the enemies will begin to drop energy orbs. Because the use of the Void Sword and Chaos Claws are themselves on a separate energy meters, you can choose to absorb these orbs to fill either one of these meters to continue to use them in the fight or during light puzzle sequences. In this way, you’re rewarded for fighting well and making good use of the systems at your disposal – there are a lot of layers to the combat of Lords of Shadow 2!

Also new in Lords of Shadow 2 is the use of a wide range of items in addition to basic health supplements, with the chance to slow enemies down after sequential attacks, fill up your ability meters for a limited time, or just break an ancient-looking egg to send a freshly hatched dodo out into the world to show you where secrets are hiding. You know, the usual.

What’s the Same?

Other than the multi-layered nature of the combat, fights take place much as you would expect as you’re tasked with whittling down the health of your foes with your attacks, carried out with a series of simple button presses (and a few more intricate hand-contorting combinations), while climbing and puzzle solving is fancy-free, guided along with hints as to where you can climb to next, and long drawn-out camera pans to show you the path forward.

You’ll Enjoy Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 If You Liked…

… the epic, gothic-inspired story of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow.

… the brutal moves of God of War 3.

… the decision- and skill-based combat of Bayonetta.



What I Liked

- 5.) Like in the original game, I really enjoyed previewing combat moves in Lords of Shadow 2 not only because they showed exactly what I was about to buy, but also because they’re animated as I would expect them to be when shown in an ancient tome.

- 4.) The chance to choose an option in the menu to skip Quick Time Event inputs should be included in every game that continues to use this outdated method of interaction.

- 3.) All of the character, enemy, boss and mechanical designs are amazingly creative, enforced with judicious use of special effects to bring them to life.

- 2.) The multi-layered combat system is full of decisions to make on-the-fly, making fights thoughtful instead of button mashing fests.

- 1.) The story of Lords of Shadow 2, like its predecessor, is epic, backed up by fantastic presentation, stellar voice acting and stirring orchestral compositions.

Favourite Moment

The general weirdness of Lords of Shadow 2, all presented as though it’s completely normal, was always fun to see. Watching Dracula obliterating a boss and stand in triumph with a mammoth-sized heart held aloft was a great moment, while other general peculiarities like the enigmatic shopkeeper, Pain Boxes and secret-finding dodos all contribute to the game’s uniqueness.

CastlevaniaLordsOfShadow2ss_001

What I Didn’t Like

- 5.) There are a number of plot holes, the most grievous of which is that the game forgets who Dracula is – an immortal being who shouldn’t be able to die if attacked by meagre enemies or caught in a small jet of flame.

- 4.) There are a number of contrived limitations placed on the game’s progression and how I was able to move through certain sections, resulting in the inclusion of what I would call ill-advised, poorly executed stealth sequences performed by a character without a complete set of tools to be stealthy.

- 3.) There are a few sections that require deft platforming skills, but again, the game’s controls and approximations of physics (both in the jumping and in the swinging platforms) aren’t appropriate for these actions.

- 2.) While the combat system is deep and well thought out, it’s meaningless if enemies are able to unpredictably hit past your blocks and cancel out your dodges when they attack, or when ranged and melee enemies gang up on you to continually hit you down without a chance to get back up.

- 1.) Perhaps not the most serious misstep, but definitely the most long lasting for me, was the unpredictable progression of the story and unsatisfying conclusions to sections of the game – just as something was about to happen, I would be pulled back into the castle to learn a new ability or confront an enemy I had no investment in before meeting them. It felt like a rolling sequence of disconnected narrative strings being presented to me.

Least Favourite Moments

The most consistently frightful sight to experience was the various ways in which Dracula will maim and exert himself to extract blood from his body to open doors, corrupt items and pick up secret items – seeing him gnaw at his wrist, violently vomit up blood and slowly run his wrist along a long blade made me rather squeamish…

… the train battle sequence was also pretty frustrating requiring specific button inputs with not a lot of direction, meaning lots of failed attempts and retries.


Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 Launch Trailer


What’s Extra?

Once you’ve completed the game, you can go through it all over again with the ‘New Game Plus’ option with all of your weapons and upgraded skills intact, but on the way to completion you’ll have unlocked a lot of artwork and additional snippets of lore that you can peruse at your leisure.

As mentioned before, the option to skip Quick Time Event button mashing is a welcome addition (although puts into question the inclusion of QTEs in the first place), and you’re also able to toggle extra user interface notifications like damage done to enemies (and received) and enemy health meters, as well as experience points gain and percentages towards mastering a particular move (which I found encouraged me to use specific moves in combat in order to master them).

The Bottom Line

The scope of the tale is just as expansive as the original and the combat can still be enjoyable, but Mercury Steam has tried to cram too much variety and too many story strings into Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 without ensuring its component parts are refined enough to warrant their inclusion.


Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 was reviewed on Xbox 360


Tags: ,