Castlevania Lords of Shadow 2 is the sequel to Konami and Mercury Steam’s Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, released in 2010 (and 2013 for PC), and once again follows Gabriel Belmont, who since the events of the first game (and its DLC) has become Dracula, the great enemy of the Castlevania series and his own family, the Belmont Clan.
- Robert Carlyle, Patrick Stewart and Jason Isaacs.
- Looks great.
- Terrible plot that makes no sense whatsoever.
- Terrible characterization.
- Forced Stealth segments.
- Bad upgrade system.
- Void Sword makes everything easy.
- Too tutorial-focused.
- Wasted modern setting.
Lords of Shadow 2 (LoS2) opens up in Dracula’s castle as the Brotherhood of Light, the order Dracula belonged to in the first game, when he was still Gabriel Belmont, besieges it. This somewhat short segment serves as one of the many, and I do mean many, tutorials in the game, showing you how to play, even stopping you from doing any action except what you’re supposed to do and refusing to go forwards until you’ve executed and learnt what you’re supposed to.
When this ends, the game treats you to the longest and worst written cut-scene in the history of gaming, as you are told the entire backstory for the series, including the evens of not only the previous game in its entirety, but also the 3DS interlude title Mirror of Fate. And when I say the entire backstory, I’m being deadly serious, as the cut-scene is just a collection of still life images to the narrator’s voiceover explaining every single plot point in the series.
After this magnificent cinematic, the game skips to the announcement one, where Zobek visits an emaciated Dracula in his new hideout, forcing him to come out of hiding to stop the return of Satan.
If you thought this was where the proper game would start, you’d be mistaken, as you’re forced to play Dracula as he shuffles around the city pursuing the ghostly image of a boy, lazily fights an unwinnable battle during which you question the decision of including it in the first place, shuffle again in a locked room where you kill a small family to regain your power, and then are treated to another bout of exposition in which you learn about your true mission, to find Satan’s acolytes, his children, and stop them from summoning their father. In exchange for this, Zobek promises death to the angst-filled Dracula, in the form of the Vampire Killer, his old weapon and the only capable of ending him. And that’s where the real game starts.
Castlevania Lords of Shadow 2 controls the same as its predecessor and any other God of War styled beat’em-up, with a single attack button and an area attack button, building combos by mixing them up with variable timing. Then of course, are the quick-time events, which here are lazy at best and consist of pressing any button at a specific time, which like many other things in this title, makes you wonder what the point of it was. There’s platforming involved, in which this game leads you by the hand by telling you where to aim for the next platform or scaffold or ledge, and as you progress you gain access to one or more special abilities to help you in combat or exploration, no matter how dull it becomes or what little there is, respectively. You have three weapons, the Blood-Whip, the Void Sword and the Chaos Claws. The first is your standard Castlevania Lords of Shadow whip, with the same move-set from the previous game though you must still unlock every single move, despite Gabriel being one of the most skilled whip-wielders in history, and low power, from his weakened state, does not mean he lost all his skill; the Void Sword makes the game ridiculously easy as you can never lose, with each strike restoring health; and the Chaos Claws hit so hard they wreck everything, including all armoured foes.
Dracula has an array of special abilities at his disposal, as well as items to heal himself and do another number of things, though I never felt the need to use them at all, except the health ones and only in extreme circumstances, in which my all-attack strategy almost got my killed and I’d spent all of the Void Sword’s energy (both the Chaos Claws and the Void Sword run on magic meters). His special abilities include projectiles, which change shape depending on the weapon selected, bats to distract enemies during the obnoxious stealth sections (read below) and mist form, acquired very late in the game.
The upgrade system has received a downgrade from the previous game, becoming something so convoluted it barely works. You must still use your accumulated experience to purchase each skill individually (of which there are many but as it is with these games, you’ll always use the ones you’re familiar with), but now, once purchased, each use will increase their mastery level and when it reaches 100%, you can transfer the mastery over to the weapon itself to increase its level, to no apparent visual or mechanic effect as most enemies seem to need to take the same amount of hits from a levelled weapon than they do from the base ones, making the whole system rather pointless, and committing a design sin: trying to force the player to do and use something they don’t want to. And of course, it wouldn’t be a modern beat’em up without health, inventory/ammunition and magic upgrades, which in this case come in both Void and Chaos flavours for each of your weapons.
LoS2 made the promise of letting us play as Dracula, the Prince of Darkness and one of the most powerful creatures in the Castlevania universe, but Dracula is only powerful in cinematics while being extremely weak while you play. Stranger still is that drinking blood, which is used as a finisher for most enemies, restores such a measly amount of health that using the Void Sword is preferable, even when he’s a Vampire! But the worst offender to Dracula and the fan expectations and good game design in general, comes in the form of the Forced Stealth Segments, and you know they are forced when all other options are LOCKED, meaning you either stealth your way through, or you die, no fighting back for you; and while this is an annoyance at first, but understandable given Dracula’s weakened state, it becomes completely nonsensical by the end, when you’re supposedly in top shape. I mean, you can fight Lucifer and win (in a cinematic), and kill his children, but you have to sneak around his guards or they’ll wreck you. Apparently, in Satan’s army, the mooks have all the power.
The uninspired gameplay and combat, which are frankly tedious at times, are coupled with a lacklustre plot, horrible characterizations and a wasted modern setting. While the game teases you with a modern environment, and a city to explore, the truth is you’ll spend less than half of the game in this setting, and what you see will be completely devoid of life, just empty streets to fight mooks. Most of the game is spent Dracula’s castle, not the real one on top of which the city is built, but a dream-like version, a vision of the past so to speak, filled with dangers and enemies and at one point the most atrocious stealth section ever conceived in a videogame, where you most avoid a mad faun so he doesn’t kill you on sight, just so you can escape that zone, reach another and fight him like a boss, making you wonder, once again, what the whole point was.
The only thing notable about the characters is the talent used for them, especially the main cast, with Robert Carlyle’s exceptional acting skill wasted on this Dracula and the game’s horrendous writing (dialogues and well, everything else), Patrick Stewart nailing Zobek once more, even if the character is predictable and as deep as a flat board, and just as he did in the first game, Jason Isaacs plays Lucifer during the last five to ten minutes of the game.
The only other notable thing about the game is the visual element. This is a beautiful game, and the scenarios are well crafted and manage to transmit the sense of abandonment of the castle and chaos of the city better than its plot, or characters or the writing as a whole. And Dracula looks cool. In fact, almost all characters are visually stunning in one way or another, with the exception of Lucifer who just looks ridiculous.
As for the plot, it’s a mix of family drama, redemption story, the struggle against the monster within and a world saving quest that first, doesn’t mesh well together as it’s obvious they tried to do too much at the same time since this was the “conclusion of the epic saga”, and secondly, makes little or no sense, especially when, as a player, you fail to understand how Dracula is so feared when he’s such a wimp while you control him. There’s a ludonarrative dissonance happening here, and the immersion break results in the entire plot becoming less convincing by the minute. Even the “big reveal” at the end is so badly handled (and not because it’s so astonishingly predictable and drab and uninspired), that instead of drawing you in, it gives you yet another chance to regret having spent money on this disaster.
Castlevania Lords of Shadow 2 had one simple job, give us Castlevania’s Dracula as a character, the Prince of Darkness under our control and let us feel powerful and understand why people fear him, but instead it emasculates the Whining Royalty of Darkness and makes him not only a terrible protagonist, but also an atrocious character all around, and his entire story arc feels forced and thus unsatisfying.
The Mental Attic Score: Oh Hell No! While the game might look pretty, it’s an insult to every Castlevania game out there and even manages to dismantle everything its predecessor built, as well as completely wreck the image of the Castlevania Dracula.