Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 Review
Sometimes a game doesn’t bring anything exceptionally new to the table, but is still an enjoyable experience. This is definitely true of Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow 2. It combines a Metroidvania structure with God Of War-esque combat and ties it all together with an absolutely gorgeous game world, and an interesting character journey. It may not push any boundaries, but it’s definitely a game worth playing.
The original Lords of Shadow was a reboot of the Castlevania series, and its plot continued in Mirror Of Fate. LOS2 picks up where they left off (though the game does a mostly good job of helping newcomers catch up), casting the player as Gabriel Belmont, a hero who set off to save the world from supernatural evil, only to be cursed at the end of his journey and transformed into the infamous vampire Dracula. Having caused the death of his own family, and being forever persecuted by humanity, Dracula sees his immortality as a curse and wishes to end his own life. Unfortunately, when you’re Dracula, attempting to end your own life isn’t that easy. As is often the way with game plotlines, only a very specific ancient artefact can kill Dracula and it’s in the possession of Zobek, the leader of the order that Gabriel once belonged to, who has gone into hiding. But as fate would have it, Dracula finds himself awakening from a long slumber in the present day, drained of his powers, and is approached by Zobek himself with a deal- if Dracula helps him stop the return of Satan, he will grant him the eternal rest he desires. It’s interesting to see a protagonist whose goal isn’t to obtain glory or riches, and instead seeks the embrace of death after a long, tortuous existence.
There’s some disconnect between the story and gameplay in regards to Dracula’s immortality. At times Dracula’s immortality makes sense – for instance, when he falls off a cliff while platforming he’ll teleport back with a bit less health, and if he possesses a rat he can respawn if killed by possessing another rat in the pack. However, if Dracula’s health reaches 0, the player is given a game over screen like any other game. Having this sort of gameplay mechanic doesn’t make sense given the fact Dracula can’t die. Whilst it doesn’t ruin the game, it does make a central plot point lose some of its impact.
The plot is interesting enough, but the pacing is odd. It starts off slow, and hits a dead end part way through. It feels like the original plan was padded out but the developers changed their minds and kept abridged versions of the extra levels. The end result is a lot of shorter chapters that feel rushed compared to the more fleshed out events at the game’s beginning. Whilst I appreciate that the developers avoided dragging the game out to the point where it would outstay its welcome, I would have preferred a smaller amount of longer, fuller segments than lots of shorter, throwaway ones. The plot also borders on the absurd at times, which is a style that I can appreciate but others may not. To try and give you an idea of this, there’s one section where Dracula has to break into a pharmaceutical company led by followers of Satan to find an antidote to a demonic plague. At the plot’s conclusion it ends on a weird note. I understand what the writers were going for, but it doesn’t feel definitive enough for what’s supposed to be the end of Dracula’s story. Overall, aside from a twist near the end, there’s nothing that happens in the plot that’s more interesting than the plot recap of the previous games, which is disappointing and odd. However, there are many strong character moments with Dracula and the game’s supporting cast.
Over the course of the game, Dracula has to decide whether he can be redeemed after the evil he has performed, and choose which side he stands on. Is he a despicable monster inside and out? Or is he still a noble hero at heart, who wants to do what’s right? You get a real sense of how Gabriel’s transformation has affected him, and how tragic his life story is. While the plot is hit and miss, Dracula’s character itself draws you in. His journey is a melancholy one, one which is reflected by the worlds he wanders. Most of the game takes place in the present, in a gothic city built on the ruins of Dracula’s castle itself. It’s a really interesting combination of gothic elements you’d expect from a Castlevania game, as well as modern and sci-fi elements. It’s a similar style to the Underworld films. But you’ll also return to Dracula’s castle in its past glory through the power of magic. Or is it all a hallucination? Dracula’s past comes back to torment him in what appear to be dream sequences, but as events in these sequences begin to tie into the present you begin to wonder what’s actually going on, and how much of the game’s events are actually happening.
In combat, Dracula has a number of tools available to him. In addition to his primary weapon, the Shadow Whip, which deals regular damage and specialises at handling groups of enemies, he can switch to his Void Sword and Chaos Claws as situations requires. The sword deals less damage than the whip, but drains enemy health with each blow you land, while the claws are limited in range but deal much more damage than usual, and can break enemies’ guard. Due to their special traits, the sword and claws can only be used when their respective gauges aren’t empty. In order to fill these gauges you’ll need to find recovery items, or land successive attacks on enemies without getting hit back. This adds an extra layer to the combat which makes it more challenging and engaging. Before too long you’ll work out the game’s flow and be able to manage your abilities appropriately. You’ll have to analyse enemies to work out their attack patterns and weaknesses before you go in for the kill. Basic attacks can be countered if you block at the right time, whereas certain attacks are signalled as unblockable, and these will need to be dodged. Some enemies also have armour or shields which may need to be broken with the claws if you can’t find another way to bypass it. The combat is flashy, with lots of colourful effects and blood splatters, but sometimes it’s too much so, as the effects can sometimes obscure your view of enemies, causing you to miss the cues to block their attacks.
You earn experience points from defeating enemies and grabbing certain pickups lying around the world. These points can be used to purchase new skills you can perform with each weapon. There’s some really useful skills that are almost necessary for the game’s harder segments, but there’s also some that barely have any use that you can easily do without. Before too long you’ll have acquired a respectful library of skills, and can backflip over enemy attacks, juggle enemies in the air and freeze them all in their tracks. The combat really is both enjoyable and flashy.
Dracula also has abilities that can be used for non-combat purposes, which are gradually unlocked as you progress through the game. Areas will be locked out until you have the abilities required to progress, typical of the Metroidvania format. As you gain more powers, you’ll be able to access more of the game’s world. For example, gaining access to Void Magic allows you to freeze water, allowing you to climb waterfalls to new areas. The game directs you where to go to progress the plot, but after a couple of hours of playtime you’ll be able to freely explore the world as much as your current skillset allows. Exploring the world can be a pain due to an unintuitive map system, and it isn’t always worth it. Backtracking all the way back to an area you couldn’t explore when you first saw it, only to be rewarded with a small powerup or collectible is a bit of a bummer. There’s plenty of hidden things around the world, but eventually you have more than enough boosts to get through the game that you just stop worrying about exploring after a while. The snippets of lore scattered around the world are interesting though, and sometimes offer insight on the world that the main plot doesn’t. You can also find artefacts hidden around that unlock arena challenges. These pit you against sets of enemies, with different criteria to be met, such as not using certain weapons and killing each enemy within a certain amount of time of each other.
The game does a good job of mixing up combat and non-combat sections, though there’s one stealth section that is infuriating and not the slightest bit enjoyable. To make matters worse, immediately after this section you fight and kill the creature you were hiding from, making the whole stealth section pointless. Some of the other puzzle-like stealth sections are challenging and may have you stumped for a bit, but when you work out the solution you blame your own silliness rather than the game. Also included in the game are some platforming sections, similar to those found in games like Uncharted and Assassin’s Creed. The platforming is rather rote (the way forward is often literally highlighted for you), but occasionally there’ll be timing challenges incorporated into them, like having to wait for an electric current to subside before leaping over a gap.
The combat and puzzles combine during the game’s boss battles, which require you to utilise your combat prowess in addition to your puzzle-solving skills. There’s a good variety of bosses and each of them has something interesting about them. They also offer some serious challenge at times, especially some of the later ones. Frustratingly, there’s at least one fight where you might decide to buy some healing items after dying a lot of times in a row, but you won’t be able to due to the way the checkpoints within the game are set up. The game only features one item store, located in Dracula’s castle, which is a pain to get to and can’t actually be accessed when you’ve triggered some boss battles, leaving you to rely on what items you have on you. You can restart a chapter (which doesn’t always place you at a point where you can visit a store) but you can’t load an earlier save or anything because (in the PC version at least) the game only has one save. On the topic of saves, there isn’t even an option in-game to delete your save (or, if there is, it really hasn’t made itself apparent), which is just bizarre.
By far the best bit about the game, however, is its world and atmosphere. The game features some absolutely stunning locations – I found myself stopping and taking screenshots more often than I’d like to admit. There’s a beauty to some game worlds that other mediums can’t come close to replicating. When you’re running across a bridge over a huge abyss in Dracula’s castle, and the camera zooms out, the sheer scale of the place is overwhelming. Then you look around at the castle walls, at each individual chain keeping the place up, and it looks beautiful. And all of it is accompanied by a beautiful orchestral score. The castle provides a large variety of environments, while the moden day sections are either industrial areas or modernised gothic locales like city streets or ruins of hospitals. It’s still a very game-y world which is evidently designed around the player at many points, but it oozes a melancholic vibe that fits the tone of the game perfectly. A haunting atmosphere flows through the entire game, from Dracula’s wistful stare at the loading screen to the moans and wails of the castle’s citizens as they beg their Prince to stay. If you’re playing on console your game likely won’t look as gorgeous as it does in these PC screenshots, but you’ll have the benefit of a better natural control scheme – you’ll need a controller for the PC version given the keyboard and mouse set-up isn’t as intuitive, and all the control prompts will display Xbox 360 buttons regardless of what control scheme you use.
As I said in the very beginning of this review, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 treads down some very familiar ground. With that said, It’s mostly good ground, and the game does boast a captivating world with beautiful scenery. Throughout my playthrough, Dracula was a character I found to be interesting, even if he starred in a plot that at times wasn’t quite right. I enjoyed Lords Of Shadow 2 enough to want to play through on New Game+, and as a whole I feel the game has a lot to offer.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 scores an 8.5 out of 10.