About a third of the way through Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2, as Dracula (a.k.a. Gabriel Belmont) is careening along on an out-of-control train with some form of nasty demon in-hand, he says, “I am the only one who lives forever.” In this one line, Lords of Shadow 2 forces its players to confront its dichotomy: the idea that, while playing as the Prince of Darkness should have its appeals, this is still a video game. It is also in this moment where players will start to question the experience as a whole, and where the game, for the most part, starts to (literally) run off the rails.
Those who have read our initial first impressions of Lords of Shadow 2 know that the game starts off surprisingly strong. Its early hours hearken back to the first game, which, by many accounts, is a solid entry in the character action genre. It might not be a faithful entry in the Castlevania series, but that’s another issue entirely. After that initial enthusiasm wears off however, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 begins to show quite a few flaws and does so at an alarming rate. But first, the good.
Combat in Lords of Shadow 2 features a refined, tighter version of the whip-based mechanics from the first game. Players still have access to their standard whip, two separate, magic-based weapons, and a few other helpful abilities for some added color. While players can survive just fine using the whip — in this case a shadow whip — the addition of the Void Sword and the Chaos Claws helps give Dracula an extra boost in battle, either helping drain life from enemies or dealing extra damage, respectively. All together the combat is fluid and fast-paced, everything gamers could ask for from a character action game. It might get a little cheap when Dracula gets locked into an endless damage loop, but those instances are few and far between.
The design in Lords of Shadow 2 is also a real highlight, especially with regards to the side characters, enemies, and bosses. While the main areas in Lords of Shadow‘s open world might look a little generic or rely too heavily on a boring dark grey color palette, the game’s characters are varied and bursting with creativity. Players will encounter a wide variety of enemies, some massive building-sized demonic creatures and a smattering of average height combatants — all of which are well designed and detailed. Seeing what bosses (big or small) lay right around the corner is a successfully motivating factor towards finishing the game. This is important because, for the most part, the remaining elements seek to discourage that idea.
Either because the game wants to offer a change of pace from the combat and platforming, or maybe to pad its length, Lords of Shadow 2 adds several forced stealth sections into the game. While it’s cool that the game adapts Dracula’s ability to transform into rats or possess characters as a key mechanic in these simplistic sections, the idea of stealth levels in a game featuring the all-powerful Dracula is very confusing. To establish that only one set of enemies are impervious to Dracula’s attacks for no better reason than because this section is stealth is not a justification, and the fact that these portions of the game are so bad makes things even worse.
Not to mention, there’s a completely different forced-stealth section in the game that all but had me ready to turn the console off and never play again. Players are meant to creep by a boss enemy through platforming and distraction, but any slight misstep, even to try to ascertain where to go next, forces them back to the beginning of the area. Again, why Dracula needs to sneak by this enemy, especially when he fights and defeats him immediately after the stealth section, is beyond comprehension. This section is so poorly conceived that it actually starts to color one’s impression of the game as a whole — forcing players to ask why at nearly every turn.
For example, the game purports to offer an open world setting — in the form of Dracula’s castle, past and present — but both are poorly established as such. There are nooks and crannies in which to seek out collectibles and health/ability upgrades, but for the most part players are put on a very linear path. The fact that the levels “seamlessly” blend with each other (through the clever use of hidden loading screens) doesn’t make the world seem very “open” either. The game also makes it unclear where to go next, aside from a yellow arrow on the mini-map, that players will find comfort in staying on the main path rather than risk getting lost.
Our impressions piece touches upon Lords of Shadow 2‘s story, which sees Dracula working to topple Satan’s uprising in exchange for the “true death,” but now having seen the entirety of MercurySteam‘s tale we can say there is a lot to like, even if the story tends to veer off into weird tangents. The characterization of Dracula (voiced again by Robert Carlyle) is that of a badass demon killer, in all the best ways. Here is a character that fears no one (except in stealth sections) and is capable of pulling of some insane, yet awesomely brutal feats, and Lords of Shadow 2 revels in that. It may be some time before gamers see Kratos again, but Dracula does his best God of War impression – impaling foes, ripping limbs, and crushing hearts. The story even touches, albeit slightly, on some common Castlevania ideas, but not enough for die-hard fans spurned by the first game’s approach to come around.
Putting players in control of Dracula in a Castlevania game was a bold move, one that could have made Lords of Shadow 2 a worthy successor to an underappreciated character action title. Unfortunately, some appallingly bad gameplay decisions, a meandering narrative, and lackluster level design weigh this sequel down enough to make it a lesser followup. There is some fun to be had in the combat, and the bosses are so creative that players will want to push forward just to see what’s next, but the journey is ultimately an unfulfilling one. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2‘s lack of focus is its downfall, and plants it firmly in the mediocre pile.
Have you had a chance to play Lords of Shadow 2? What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is out now for PC, PS3, and Xbox 360. Game Rant was provided the Xbox 360 version for this review.
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