Title: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2
System(s): PS3, Xbox 360, and Windows PC
Release Date: February 25, 2014
Publisher (Developer): Konami (MercurySteam)
ESRB Rating: “Mature” for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Language, and Nudity
About 10 minutes into Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 , Gabriel “Dracula” Belmont destroys the magic, crystal, power source of a castle-sized, steampunk titan by opening his mouth and spewing out Super Blood Vomit™. Clearly, MercurySteam feels it has something to prove, and the initial moments seem to serve a as a setup for something dark, disgusting, unsettling, and edgy. Gabriel comes across as, excuse my language, a badass.
Except the rest of the game sticks players with an emo Dracula who’s a brooding antihero, stealthily creeping through factories, sewers, and some decidedly trite and unepic locations in search of redemption. Something doesn’t feel quite right.
Dracula doesn’t want to be Dracula.
As I mentioned before, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 begins with Gabriel Belmont in his glory. He’s the big man. “Eu sunt Dracul!” He’s got the castle, which unfortunately topples after a giant robot crashes into it. He’s got the power. He has immortality. He’s Dracula, man! Dude has got it all.
Except, we immediately go from an opening that is incredibly awesome and sets us up for more, over the top, Lords of Shadow storytelling, and then find a desiccated, practically powerless Dracula asleep in a modern church. Zobek, one of the Lords of Shadow and a generally dubious figure, recruits Gabriel to his cause to fight Satan and his forces. They want to take over the world, and nobody wants to see that happen. In return, Zobek will finally end Gabriel’s eternal life.
So, we’re not going through Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2, fighting an evil even worse than Dracula as the virile, master of the night we saw in the first fifteen minutes of the game. We’re helping a washed up warrior reclaim some of his power so he can go through a trite story, be redeemed, die, and join his family in the afterlife. I’m not going to lie, but that felt like a bait-and-switch situation to me.
I don’t want to spoil anyone, especially since this has probably already been too much for anyone who didn’t play the original Lords of Shadow. Suffice to say, the first game set us up for something great, and Lords of Shadow 2 isn’t delivering. MercurySteam and Konami has talented actors like Robert Carlyle, Sir Patrick Stewart, and Jason Isaacs going through halfhearted, mediocre scripts and, while admittedly story hasn’t always been the strongest aspect of the Castlevania series as a whole, I think we expected a more after Lords of Shadow.
You’re the Prince of Darkness, so act like it!
Though Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 wasn’t shaping up the way I expected, even from the opening moments, the game does have a few redeeming moments. When the game actually allowed me to fight someone, especially if it were one of the many bosses, it got pretty entertaining. Aside from Gabriel’s trademark, Shadow Whip, he also wields the health-replenishing Void Sword and defense-shattering Chaos Claws. The whip is the standby, dealing the average damage and offering a wide range. The Void Sword is weak, but steals health with each hit. The Chaos Claws are a necessity against anything with strong armor with a shield, as their overwhelming power lets you get in and decimate opponents. The really strategic part comes from knowing only the Shadow Whip’s use is unlimited, and you have to be careful when using the other two. Switching between the right equipment in each battle, while also blocking and dodging at the right moments, is a dance.
Though really, it’s the standard enemies that will make you appreciate combat most. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2‘s bosses may look amazing, but they aren’t terribly difficult. So long as one pays attention to audio cues signalling unblockable hits, which must be dodged, it’s fairly easy to lay waste to any of the immense foes. In my case, the real joy came from crowd control instances, where I could let Dracula go all out.
There’s a glimmer of genius in the weapon skill trees as well. Mild RPG elements grant Gabriel experience for using weapons skills, making them and him stronger in a fight. If you have collected enough Blood Orbs, by defeating enemies, you can put together amazing combination attacks. Find what works, and soon you will feel like dark royalty. These fights are the only thing that would make Lords of Shadow 2 feel worthwhile to me, as it was then that Gabriel actually felt like Dracula.
It’s a shame, because while these two gameplay elements have so much potential, and perhaps even glimmers of brilliance, the rest of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is a disappointing mess. We’re teased with the propect of a more open world, and instead we get the terribly empty and uninteractive Castlevania City. Yes, that’s really the name of the modern city in which Dracula awakes. Sure, you can explore, but what’s the point if there’s nothing to do when you get there? There is none. Which meant I was teased by the prospect of a city at Dracula’s disposal, but faced with the reality that all I could still really do was go from one mission to another mission in either Castlevania City or his castle. Via mediocre platforming segments, no less. Can’t find your way? Press the L1 button for a flashing, guided path. Look for bats. Run around from point A to point B, hoping for a new power or a fight, and praying you aren’t going into a stealth situation.
I loathe the stealth segments. I can initially understand the need for it. When Dracula awakes in the future from his Rip Van Winkle nap, his strength is depleted and he can’t badass his way into strongholds. Instead, he has to creep around factories, sewers, and other buildings, sometimes transforming into creatures like rats to sneak past guards. But, these stealth segments shouldn’t continue throughout the entire game. This is Dracula! I saw what he was capable of in Lords of Shadow and the opening segment. After he’s gotten some of his powers back, he should be tearing through these joints.
But just saying that isn’t enough. Let me illustrate exactly how stealth ruins Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2. There is a segment in which Dracula goes into his castle’s garden to get a piece of the Mirror of Fate for his son’s ghost. Once there, he must sneak past a boss named Agreus to get it. This segment is not optional, and it is brutal. The stealth system is terrible, the loudest dead leaves in existence litter the garden’s grounds, and the AI is terribly unbalanced. Agreus sees and hears all. When he catches you, there is no if, you must restart the segment. I did this for two hours until I finally got the piece of the mirror, and then had the honor of making Agreus pay for my suffering. All the while, I was wondering why Gabriel didn’t just take the monster down in the first place.
A dark day for Castlevania.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 pales in comparison to not only it’s direct predecessor, but also to the Castlevania games of yore. While there are some fantastically intricate boss designs and the combat is well executed, the whole of the game is a chore to complete. The story feels hollow and contradictory to everything we’ve come to know about Dracula from past installments. Lords of Shadow 2 is made of concepts and ideas we would deem acceptable in an independent game from a small team, or a title released in the beginning of a console’s life cycle, and not one from a reputable series and developer for one approaching its tenth year. Even those who championed the original Castlevania: Lords of Shadow may be hard pressed to find something to love about Lords of Shadow 2.