There was a lot of skepticism when Mercury Steam was tasked by Konami to reboot the Castlevania franchise, but surprisingly Lords of Shadow turned out better than anyone could have hoped for. That’s not to say there weren’t problems with the first Lords of Shadow. Unlike the short and sweet God of War and Prince of Persia games that it borrowed heavily from, Lords of Shadow had a complex, if not convoluted tale to tell that arguably made the last few hours of the game a bit tedious. Lords of Shadow 2 doubles down on that narrative that it’s really hard to recommend the game to anyone that didn’t play the first.
The highlight of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is easily the combat, though the new open-world offering is a close second. While the basic system is pretty rudimentary for a 3D action adventure game, Lords of Shadow 2 adds just the right amount of depth. Gabriel or Dracula as he is now known, is recently resurrected and is in a weakened state. Throughout the game Dracula is able to gradually extend his abilities. His three main weapons include the Void Sword, Chaos Claws and Shadow Whip. Each of these three weapons has its own skill tree where combos and abilities can be added through a dynamic experience system.
The basic attacks include a focused and area attack which can be combined with blocks, jumps, dashes and dodges. These all apply to each weapon, though use of the Void Sword and Chaos Claws is somewhat limited because of their magic requirement. Of course both have required uses. The Void Sword will sap life from Dracula’s enemies and also provides a freezing missile attack. The Chaos Claws burn with fire and will allow him to destroy his opponents’ armor. The more Dracula uses a specific weapon or attack combination, the more its power grows, allowing it to be upgraded quicker.
One of the most memorable aspects of the first Lords of Shadow game was the stellar art direction. The variety of locales and a few breathtaking shots helped make the game feel epic. Unfortunately much of that is missing from Lords of Shadow 2. The vast majority of the game is spent travelling back and forth between Dracula’s castle or similar locale and a sparsely populated post-modern locale. This does provide for a small but strange collection of enemies, though the camera is often pulled too far back to appreciate them. The exception to this are the boss fights, each of the bosses is a sight to behold though they are often easier to defeat than some of the regular baddies.
I opened this review with a mention of the narrative and while it continues the tale well, it is also the root of many of Lords of Shadow 2’s problems. Firstly, it might be a bit difficult to wrap your head around this story of angels and demons without the benefit of the first game, though the intro does try to catch up the uninitiated. Where it becomes a problem for those that did play the original, are the strange gameplay constructs that make no sense. There is a troublesome stealth section where Dracula must avoid catching the attention of an enemy under penalty of death, but then once the segment is over, Dracula can easily send him to his end.
These stealth sections, in Lords of Shadow 2 quit making any sense after the first quarter of the game. Once Dracula has enough power to defeat some formidable bosses, having to sneak around lesser enemies seems contrived. It’s not only stealth that Lords of Shadow 2 uses to break up the combat. There is a wide variety of activities that offer interludes to the bloodshed, but honestly, the game could have just been shorter. The ability to backtrack and find hidden areas offers enough that the developers could have tightened it all up some.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is a pretty good sequel, even with all of its flaws. If you’re invested in the story, the game provides a fitting conclusion, though the whole of it is as mind bending as a Clive Barker novel, if just a bit more predictable. The fighting is what the game is really about and it does that well. Unfortunately the camera robs the game of much of the combat’s thrill. Everything else could have been omitted and the game would better for it. If you loved the first game and want to see how it all turns out, Lords of Shadow 2 is worth your time. Everyone else should probably hold off on this until playing its predecessor and then make their decision from there.