Castlevania Lords of Shadow 2: review

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow was a successful game and despite being a fun and interesting reboot, it was met with some criticism for forgoing standard Castlevania practises – namely by being a 3D mission-based hack and slash. The “sequel” or stepping stone to this new chapter was Mirror of Fate – for the 3DS, and more recently an HD conversion for consoles and PC – a back to old Castlevania tricks with a more built-up combo system. Finally we have the current Lords of Shadow 2 which attempts to draw the story to a close and merge the old with the new with varying degrees of success. Is it bloody good, or does it suck?

Playing the previous titles is unnecessary but advised, as they’re both quite good; and the first is better of the two larger productions. That’s not to say that this is a bad game because it isn’t – it’s just full of chaff and the story is fully explained at the beginning of the game bringing you up to speed conveniently quickly or giving a gentle if not lengthy reminder otherwise.

Picking up more or less where the last game ends, discounting the tutorial mission; the game sees you wandering helplessly down the street as a withered Dracula. Not one to be out of trouble for too long you soon come across one of Satan’s minions who attacks you and – despite your feeble attempts to fight back – you are overcome, and saved by Zobek’s bodyguard. It then takes you to a first person gratuitous murder of a family including a child, for little more than controversy’s sake.

There are quite a few moments in the game like that scene, which feel overly childish, as though they were written by a teen that thinks it’d be really cool if “x” happened. It doesn’t detract hugely from the overall story arc thankfully and is never brought up again aside from a single moment that Dracula looks into that particular room. It does have some pacing issues, as it sends you back and forth between the “present” day and the past of Dracula’s mind, breaking both story and gameplay pacing. It’s a shame because some genuinely humorous moments effortlessly play out without feeling crammed in or out of place. The flitting between timelines doesn’t do the story many favours but it still leaves the plot intact enough to follow and to be interesting, if a little easy to predict.

The combat is where a lot of attention lies and with good reason too, fights are frequent and can be quite unforgiving both early on, as well as further into the game depending on how much you’ve increased your health. Void and Chaos weapons are now their own entities with similar but differing styles that either replenish your health, or deal increased damage and break shields respectively. It uses a system of limitation on these weapons, which for regaining health seems fair but makes shielded enemies tedious to attack when you lack energy in your Chaos bar.

The cordoning off of two of the three main weapons behind this system leaves them a luxury, which you’ll want to wield more often than not but you can sometimes be left without them for painfully long periods of time. It makes little sense to restrict combat as much as it does, but when/if you learn the system you’ll soon get into the swing of things. It’s not a particularly fun way of getting you to use the different weapons but it makes sense for how powerful they are.

There are varying enemy types that tend to be restricted to specific areas but you’ll come up against a few over and over again. Skeletons are perhaps the most difficult of the repetitive enemies and it’s made worse by the need to break their shields with chaos. The bosses are quite interesting in most cases but certain attacks are replicated, the shaped projectiles that are only dodged from one direction are the main repetitive annoyance. Generally though in terms of fighting against bosses that tower over you, there are some really well made multipart bosses that change up during the fight.

The biggest sin the game commits is in its “open” world. The two parallel worlds are frustrating to navigate due to an incredibly poor map that shows only your current area but not where anything leads to. You could search to find your way from one area to another specific place for hours and perhaps still not find the place you wanted. Hours is hardly an overstatement either, as long loading times are exacerbated but the endless supply of loading rooms and lengthy cutscenes when moving between map rooms (the map rooms are practically a joke to use) and worlds.

Castlevania has its flaws but it also has some little touches that make it better; turning off quick time events (immeasurably better in 90% of cases), whilst climbing you can highlight possible paths with a button press, Robert Carlyle, turning into rats (they have nine lives, just like cats), and mastering weapons doesn’t require an endless slog of mastering all the individual skills (just a handful instead).

Moving onto bad things however: stealth in the latter half of the game and the stealth boss (literally the worst part of the game), the ending is a little unfulfilling (perhaps fixed by a New Game+ ending?), some of the best ideas are left almost entirely unexplored (withered husk Dracula and the Toy Maker spring to mind), and why does everyone smoke?

It’s a real shame that this reboot has ended in the way it has (or has it?), an interesting plot, gorgeous art and reasonably fun combat under a thick layer of awkward padding that breaks the story pacing. Getting through from A to B will probably yield the best experience as it won’t give you time to lose interest fully or tire of the slog that is journeying from one end of the world to the other.

critical score 6

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Written by Sean P

I enjoy playing games and I enjoy writing things, so I decided to combine the two. I do bits here and there and have a twitter that mainly just announces things I've done as my life revolves around very little that is truly interesting.

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