The first Castlevania: Lords of Shadow was something of a cult hit, albeit on a small scale. Those who gave the game a chance likely found a lot to enjoy in Lords of Shadow’s concept, even if the game was more or less God of War meets Castlevania.
However, that tepid reaction from casual gamers was thought to be the kiss of death for a sequel, leaving the game as yet another in a long list of franchise-starters that showed potential but ultimately failed. And yet, somehow the folks at Konami thought the first game viable enough to greenlight a sequel, and now Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is available for the gaming public
While we’re not ready to give a full review for Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 just yet, we thought that since the game launches today we would share our first impressions. And boy what a first impression the game makes.
For as much as the first Lords of Shadow was a nice combination of character action and basic Castlevania tropes (challenging boss battles, collecting new power-ups/abilities) its only true connection with the franchise was its hero: Gabriel Belmont. It’s likely the main reason most Castlevania fans were unwilling to adopt Kojima and MercurySteam’s first title, which is a shame considering the story and character is very strong. But rather than try to reign things in, MercurySteam – now in full developmental control – has decided to go the opposite direction, further embracing the lore created in the first game. Yes, there are still familiar Castlevania ideas, but this is very much its own creation.
For example, players are once again controlling Gabriel Belmont, only now he’s a vampire. In fact, he’s THE vampire. Dracula. See, after the events of the first Lords of Shadow, wherein Belmont defeated the four Lords of Shadow in order to bring back his dead wife, Gabriel was appointed the Prince of Darkness and punished with immortality. A few misery-filled centuries have past, and Dracula has all but given up, but when an old friend appears with a task for our pasty-faced hero, a task that if completed will break Dracula’s curse and allow him to die, he cannot help but oblige. It may mean seeking out the acolytes of Satan and putting an end to a potential apocalypse, but that should be small potatoes for the Prince of Darkness, right?
While that set-up is suitably “Castlevania” on its own, it’s barely a sliver of Lords of Shadow 2‘s story. There’s a little bit about Dracula’s relationship with his son, his quest to retain his old arsenal of weapons, and even a subplot centering on seedy corporations seeking to impose their will. It may seem like a lot to juggle, and it is, but LoS 2 spends plenty of time explaining that story, practically to a fault. Every gameplay bit – be it a 20-minute boss battle or a 5-minute platforming section – is book-ended by a cutscene. In fact, we would guess we have spent more time watching videos than actually playing the game.
That being said, the actual playing of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is of the fast-paced, button-mashy character action variety, and is just as great as we remember. Think God of War or Devil May Cry, both in terms of the character’s wherewithal in battle and their badass attitude. Whereas in the first game Gabriel had a cross whip, this time he has a shadow whip, but the differences between the two, or between them and Kratos’ Blades of Chaos for that matter, are almost negligible. The shadow whip has two sets of basic attacks that can be mixed and matched into various combinations, and are represented by long slashes of color on the screen. Same goes for Dracula’s other two weapons: the Void Sword that absorbs enemy’s life essence and the armor-breaking Chaos Claws. But while the shadow whip is always available, the Sword and Claws can only be activated when two separate meters are full.
It seems reductive to draw direct comparisons between Lords of Shadow 2 and God of War, especially based on first impressions, but they are hard to overlook. From the overtly violent quicktime-fueled animations to the whip-swinging combat, this sequel once again makes no qualms about the franchise it is biting. Even the enemies, which range in scope and size and are all cleverly designed, call to mind supernatural versions of Kratos’ foes. The only area that LoS 2 seems to drop the ball on in terms of matching its betters is the platforming, which is inconsistent and finicky in all the worst ways.
What Lords of Shadow 2 does have going for it, though, is variety. That was one of the first game’s major successes and it’s comforting to see MercurySteam continue that trend here. Even if the actions are simple, it never feels like the player is doing the same thing twice, or even fighting the same set of enemies twice from level to level. For the first game, that meant a 30-hour experience brimming with new design after new design. The hope is that Lords of Shadow 2 will be able to carry on that trait, but it’s still too early to make that claim.
For the first few hours, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 delivers exactly what fans of the first game could want: the same fluid and fast-paced gameplay, TONS of story set-up, and level and character design befit of such a macabre franchise. Its protracted use of cut scenes at nearly every turn is, without question, a momentum-killer. The same goes for the inconsistent platforming. Those flaws, however, are not enough to detract from our enjoyment of the game thus far, especially as fans of the first game.
Are you looking forward to Lords of Shadow 2? What are your hopes for the sequel?
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is available now for PC, PS3, and Xbox 360. Game Rant was provided a copy of the Xbox 360 version by Konami.
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