When I reviewed Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow Ultimate Edition, I stated that while it wasn’t the 3D Castlevania game I had been waiting for, it was a serviceable title. Not great, definitely not horrible, but decidedly something worth playing for a fan of the franchise. As such, I was pretty stoked when I found out I would be the one reviewing Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2, thinking that they may have cleaned up the glaring faults and finally found a way to offer what I was looking for. I couldn’t wait for the return of Dracula, and to see where this storyline ended up. However, now that I’ve wrapped up my time with the game, I can safely say that Dracula isn’t the only thing that sucks here.
I can save everyone a bit of time here by making a very simple statement: If you didn’t like the original Lords of Shadow, there’s nothing for you here.
Lords of Shadow 2 picks up centuries after the original as Dracula has finally arisen in a modern city. Weary from the burden of immortality, Zobek reveals he knows a way to finally kill him should he defeat Satan’s acolytes. Said story plays out in the modern world while jumping between realities as Dracula revisits his old castle in an effort to restore his powers and destroy Satan and the corporation that’s in league with him.
Quite honestly, this story sounds more like the fan fiction of a serial Hot Topic employee than something I would expect from a Castlevania game. Everything feels extremely forced, as if they reached a point in development where the writers essentially said, “Screw it, we’re in this deep, let’s just keep going.” The base concept is fine, if not a bit silly, but the implementation of it just becomes tiresome very quickly. This is compounded by the fact that the game seems to think this is the best story to have ever been written, showing it off through lengthy cut scenes as Dracula and Zobek discuss how to destroy Satan Incorporated, which alternates between “mildly interesting” to, “Wait. What?”
To his credit, Patrick Stewart does what he can to save this with some phenomenal voice work as Zobek, but Dracula’s role, voiced by Robert Carlyle, just falls flat. At least to my ears, he couldn’t have sounded more disinterested in the role. There were some stellar moments, such as in the game’s introduction sequence where he claims to be God’s chosen one, but the rest was largely forgettable.
The combat mechanics are largely the same from the original Lords of Shadow, with a few slight variations. While Dracula no longer has access to the Combat Cross, via his new ability to harness his blood as a weapon he’s able to form his own whip. Alongside the whip, you’ll have access to the Chaos Claws and Void Sword, each with their own skill tree and sets of upgrades. While this does encourage you to break away from the mould and try out a few new things, a lot of the tried and true methods do work. All the same, it’s great to know that these options are available.
Even if your methods stay largely the same, you’ll have to juggle the three weapons if you want any real chance of survival. The Void Sword slowly leeches away your opponent’s life, giving you a chance to stay in the thick of things a bit more, while the Chaos Claws have the ability to break through an enemy’s blocks. However, in order to use these, you’ll have to have enough magic.
In order to start earning magic orbs, you’ll have to hit enemies uninterrupted to fill up your rune meter. Should you get hit, your meter will reset to zero and you’ll have to start over. This can be a bit cumbersome, but it does add a bit more to the mix rather than “run in and hit x until things die.”
As an action game, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is actually pretty solid. The system doesn’t do anything to reinvent the wheel, but it doesn’t do anything really wrong, either. My only real complaint is that some boss battles ask you to do certain things which can be frustrating to pull off, leading to some cheap deaths.
Sadly, however, Lords of Shadow 2 wasn’t content to just be an action game, and those diversions turned this from a simply subpar version of the original to a rather annoying experience on the whole. The game tried to add an element of exploration, but as opposed to making me feel like I was a working part in a much bigger machine, I was simply reminded that I didn’t have the proper key yet or some other such nonsense.
There is also an asinine insistence on stealth here. Not only are stealth sequences completely out of place in a game such as this, they’re not even particularly well done. You’ll often find yourself in a position where you need to get past a particularly imposing foe, only to sneak up behind him and possess his body to use a retinal scanner. These stealth sessions don’t leave any room for failure, and should you be seen you will die. Add in the wonky checkpoints and you may be dropped back a room or two to once again complete the menial jumping puzzle that you needed to complete to get to where you were.
In order to complete these sections, you must become a rat. That’s not a typo, you become a rat by hiding in a dark corner. Following that you can go through gates, chew wires and find another dark corner in which to become Dracula again. These sections are boring, slow and extremely out of place.
One small thing here that I ended up really liking was the ability to turn the QTEs completely off. I think we’re past the point of those really being an entertaining part of the experience, especially for menial tasks such as opening a door. This did cause some awkward pauses in the action since normally the game would be waiting for me to mash whatever button, but for the most part it was a welcome break from monotony.
Maybe I’m being a bit hard on Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2, but that’s because the potential for greatness was there. The formula was in play and only needed to be refined to have something truly exceptional, but instead we’re offered a game that feels inferior in every imaginable way to the first. This 15 hour romp shines during some of its combat only to be dragged down by the abhorrent inclusion of useless mechanics. I can’t come up with any reasonable explanation for what we have here outside of the game having either been pushed out without being complete, or spending so much time in developmental hell that useless features were just continuously being added. Regardless, the title is worse off for it.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game, which we were provided with.
Lords of Shadow 2 had limitless potential in front of it, and could have been the best Castlevania game of recent memory, but poor design choices, a questionable story and flawed mechanics will kill most players' interest before they even get half-way through.