Some sweeping orchestral tunes give the soundtrack grandeur and the voice work is decent enough. There's little to complain about here.
Sometimes gorgeous, occasionally drab, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 manages to squander some incredible artwork (available to collect throughout the game) with inconsistent visuals. Sterile and mundane locations throughout Castlevania City are at odds with the comparatively rich Gothic design of Dracula's Castle. It's aesthetically all over the place.
Robust combat mechanics are sabotaged by a dodge move that can leave you vulnerable, certain enemies spamming unblockable attacks, and even the most powerful and flowing combos able to be interrupted at any time. And the less said about the horrendously misjudged stealth sections, the better.
By no means a short game, much of Lords of Shadow 2 is excruciating to play, meaning the prospect of a New Game + or braving the laughably tough Kleidos challenges is one that's best avoided.
A perfectly serviceable list, with most tasks revolving around completion of the story, the Kleidos challenges, collectibles and upgrading Dracula's weapons. It's fine, but nothing to get too excited about.
February 25, 2014
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow was something of an unexpected gem. A barnstorming opening chapter in a re-imagining of the Castlevania series, it excelled in providing a deep and varied combat system, some truly jaw-dropping vistas and a narrative that lived long in the memory, thanks in no small part to a stunning cliffhanger of an ending.
Three or so years later in the real world, and in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2, Gabriel Belmont has been stewing in his castle for centuries following the events of the first game and its ensuing spin-off, Mirror of Fate. With developer MercurySteam declaring that Lords of Shadow 2 is the final chapter in the series, our expectations going into the sequel are sky-high. Yet, this isn't quite what we had in mind.
Dracula gets mooned.
Lords of Shadow 2 starts strong, with a neatly veiled tutorial in the opening castle siege sequence that introduces you to MercurySteam's revamped fighting mechanics, designed to work in unison with the newly unchained camera, no longer confined to fixed angles like the first game. The result is something of a mixed blessing, with the freely rotating camera enabling you to take in the (mostly) rich environments and soak up the incidental details on show. Visually, Lords of Shadow 2 is actually rather inconsistent, however, with certain textures really suffering under scrutiny. It doesn't quite muster the same kind of wow factor as the first game.
Meanwhile, the camera has a tendency to get stuck when you're backed into a corner (which happens more often than you'd think) or find yourself in a tight spot. For the most part it does its job efficiently, but there are moments when you'll curse its occasionally errant nature. By and large, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2's combat works in the same way as its precursor, and the freed camera even alleviates some of the gripes we had with the first game to some extent. And yet, the game is so laden with issues, from the repetitious revisiting of drab locations to the woefully misjudged and poorly executed stealth sections, there's unfortunately a lot not to like about Lords of Shadow 2.
There's the muddled hotchpotch of a story, which does nothing to really up the ante since the last game, with a diminished sense of urgency and an almost total lack of drama to proceedings. Robert Carlyle as Dracula and Patrick Stewart as Zobek do a pretty good job with what they're given, while strong turns from the supporting cast mean the voice work is actually by and large rather strong. It's just a shame that the story never really seems to gain any sense of momentum and fails to generate much in the way of excitement or intrigue. There are some decent moments, like the Toy Maker and his bizarrely tragic tale, but beyond that, we're struggling to remember little else of note. It's largely forgettable stuff.
Agreus doesn't like you treading on his dead leaves. Twat.
You'll also quickly discover that the first game's puzzling takes a back seat to hacking and slashing, with conundrums boiled down to the aforementioned stealth sections, which at first seem like a way of introducing some downtime between combat sections. It's when they start popping up again at certain intervals in the story that they really become a major irritant. They're a truly bewildering inclusion that only serves to pour cold water on any sense of pace or drive the story might have otherwise had.
As a matter of fact, there's plenty of padding like this in Lords of Shadow 2, whether it's tiptoeing past hulking Golgoth Guards, Pan's brother Agreus (beware the crunchy dead leaves of doom!) or having to evade Carmilla and her all-seeing lantern, or retrieving shattered pieces of the Mirror of Fate, there always seems to be some sort of pointless diversion just around the corner. It's also worth pointing out that being spotted during each stealth section results in instant failure, so gird your loins for some genuine frustration and game rage, as Dracula the prince of darkness is rendered utterly impotent all too often.
Lords of Shadow 2 goes (sort of) open-world this time around, allowing you to freely explore the interior of Dracula's Castle, as well as the streets of 'Castlevania City', a sort of futuristic London draped in Gothic architecture. Sadly, the game world can't muster the same kind of polish and lustre of the first Lords of Shadow, squandering countless pages of gorgeous artwork with pedestrian locales like the throwaway sewer environment and characterless stretches of dreary cobbled exterior that look virtually indistinguishable from one another. It's all a terrible waste of potential.
The saving grace is Lords of Shadow 2's combat, with a robust system enabling Dracula to perform some truly fantastic combos against a myriad of demonic enemies. As you progress, you'll obtain the Void Sword and the powerful Chaos Claws later on, enabling Dracula to sap life and deal heavy, armour-shattering blows respectively. Dracula's Shadow Whip acts as your all-purpose weapon, versatile enough for any given situation. So miserly is the distribution of fuel for your Void Sword and Chaos Claw gauges positioned at the bottom and right hand corners of the screen, that you'll often find yourself falling back upon the reliability of the whip, breaking out multiple hit combos that seldom fail to get the job done with minimal button mashing. MercurySteam encourages you to mix things up though, with each individual move given its own mastery percentage to max out. This mastery is subsequently poured into levelling up that specific weapon, with each level of weapon mastery making for more powerful tools with which to smash your enemies.
There are flaws to the combat system, however, not least in the apparent inability to maintain a flowing combo, with your efforts succumbing to even the most feeble of swipes from the lowest levels of demon spawn. When you're relying on the meter at the bottom centre of the screen to fill up by executing an unbroken chain of attacks, in order to gain valuable souls to top up your Void Sword and Chaos Claws gauges, this can be especially frustrating. Heavy pounding from Dracula's flaming Chaos Claws can be interrupted at any time, undermining their impact immensely. There are pros and cons to Lords of Shadows 2's combat, but for the most part it succeeds in providing some of the game's most enjoyable and memorable moments, with certain boss battles being perfect examples of where Dracula's fighting proficiency is given ample opportunity to shine.
Like its forebear, Lords of Shadow 2 has a number skill trees and moves to level-up with XP accrued from fallen foes, shrines unlocked with dungeon keys and destroyed chunks of scenery. Maxing out all of your weapons and mastering every move will reap a nice crop of achievements too, as does general progress through the uneven story and the unforgiving Kleidos challenges, accessed via a mirror in the Chupacabra's store with the requisite relic and its needles. Each batch of four taxing Kleidos challenges unlocks an achievement, as does completing them all and the story itself in the game's toughest 'Prince of Darkness' difficulty, playable via a New Game +, if you so wish. Two playthroughs might prove a little too much for some.
There's no way of disguising just how flabby and convoluted Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is. Where the previous game was vast in scope, but varied and beautiful enough to get by, the sequel is somewhat wretched by comparison, jettisoning its potential with a narrative that makes little sense, visuals that are patchy at best and a damp squib of an ending that'll likely elicit little more than a shrug. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 has all of the makings of a great game, but fudges the execution to a baffling degree, conspiring to make this nothing but a crippling disappointment.