Review: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 – Wasted Potential

The original Castlevania: Lords of Shadow ended with the main character Gabriel becoming Dracula. This was a nice tease that promised great things for a sequel where players would get to control the Prince of Darkness in a modern setting.

Unfortunately, the allure of playing as Dracula quickly vanishes after playing Lords of Shadow 2 for a few hours. What could have been the ultimate power fantasy fails due to a muddled story, imprecise mechanics and an overabundance of gameplay styles that never come together to form a unified whole.

At first I was enjoying the game more than the original. Lords of Shadow was one of my least favorite games of last gen (I’m being nice here) so I was surprised that I took to its sequel so fast. The combat was kind of cool and it had new elements like stealth and improved platforming. As the game progressed I started to see some of the inherent problems of these and other gameplay systems which never quite gelled. By the time the ending credits rolled I was left bewildered by how much of a mess this game turned out to be.

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Perhaps the biggest problem I had was with the various stealth sections. Now, the first stealthy bit was fine because Dracula was underpowered. However, after having defeated several bosses and countless lowly enemies, it made no sense that I still had to skulk around to avoid combat. The fact that the game wouldn’t allow me to do any basic attacks was even more frustrating. After the first one, every stealth section felt forced and unnecessary.

Combat is one of the better elements of the game, if you can work around some of its kinks. The main issue (and this is something that happened with the original game) is that there is a slight delay between the time you press a button and when the character responds. This made countering, an essential part of combat, harder than it had to be.

It also didn’t help that you could easily be knocked out of combos, making it more prudent to hit an enemy once or twice then dash over to their side to get a couple of other hits in before rinsing and repeating the process. You have access to three main weapons, each with  a wide variety of combos and upgrades, but when you can easily be hit out of a combo then there’s no real point in having such a vast moveset. I found myself using a basic Square x8 combo mixed with dodging for most of the game.

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Platforming was one of the worst parts of the original game and thankfully it is a lot better in the sequel. This isn’t to say that it’s as good as it should be though. Platforming could be tricky at times due to how sensitive the controls were. Making precise jumps to avoid certain obstacles became an exercise in patience due to how frequently I died because Dracula did something I didn’t want him to.

Story wise there isn’t much to say. This isn’t because the story was simplistic. On the contrary, there was a lot going on and that, unfortunately, is to the plot’s detriment. At the heart of it, the story is about Satan’s return to Earth and how Dracula must stop him. The problem is that all of the various subplots created too much confusion. The way the plot unfolded served as little more than an excuse to get Dracula into new areas where he could fight different monsters. I never once felt for any of the characters and their plight, least of all from the protagonist.

It’s a shame that the promise of playing as Dracula was never fully realized. Instead of doing something interesting with the character, the developers decided to depower him so that he would play like Gabriel did in the first game. I can understand the reasoning for this but since the main character is literally the Prince of Darkness I should have felt near invincible.

Even in the intro where I had full access to all of Dracula’s abilities I never felt like the ultimate vampire. Having the ability to turn into mist and rats and to summon bats just wasn’t enough to make me feel like I was playing as Dracula. It also didn’t help that the ultimate vampire lord was reduced to doing fetch quests for most of the game. I understand that a video game character needs to have certain limits but Dracula shouldn’t have been as weak as he was here.

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This game has a large almost open world that spans both the present day and the past. Many locations are connected and you can only access certain parts after you’ve obtained a specific ability. This made the game feel more “Castlevania-ish,” which I really liked. The problem here was that there’s no big map that you can access and you have to rely on the small mini map for guidance, which didn’t exactly help. I liked the big environments but hated getting lost in them and this happened more often than I care to admit.

The dark, Gothic ambiance was by far the game’s strongest feature and the thing I that liked most about it. Mercury Steam has some extremely talented artists at their employ and they really outdid themselves with the visual style of the game. The modern era had a distinctly European feel to it, with its old world style buildings and cobblestone streets. The sections which took place in the past also looked equally as beautiful due to natural light sources from candles, fires and a huge full moon in the sky.

In the end, this is a game that’s a victim to its own excesses. It tries to balance several disparate gameplay elements without ever fully realizing any of them. The promise of playing as Dracula is squandered and the story is downright confusing and didn’t do much to keep me engaged. The art design is beautiful but pretty graphics do not make for a great, or even good, game. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 isn’t a complete disaster but it could have been more than what it turned out to be.

Join the Discussion

  • Delsin Row

    the article was good. i really hate Castlevania: Lords of Shadow2. the first game was good, but this was an step back.

    • Tony Polanco

      Lords of Shadow was pretty bad to begin with. This one is somewhat worse which is hard to believe.

  • Redinferno124

    I can tell you wanted to love this Tony, such a shame. Well back to Lightning!

    • Tony Polanco

      Yeah I did but the game didn’t love me back. Oh well.

  • Galen Nycroft

    How was the music? One big complaint I have with the Lords of Shadow series is that though the music is technically sound, it’s really quite generic in comparison to the memorable, catchy, often rock infused Fugue melodies in ‘real’ Castlevania games.

    Generic orchestra music and God of War ripped off gameplay mechanics. Still gonna pick this one up though.

    • Matt Dickinson

      It wouldn;t work with those kind of graphics

      • Galen Nycroft

        I don’t mean chiptunes, I mean just something catchy or with a memorable melody. What they have produced is really generic sounding. I always say if you can’t whistle it, hum it, or recall it in your head, it’s probably not that memorable (in terms of game music).

        • Matt Dickinson

          The graphics also look unmemorable. They are about mood and atmosphere. Misty. A lot of the same color on the screen like blue and gray

          • Galen Nycroft

            I just wish the tunes had some sort of character to them. There needs to be a hook, some kind of defined melodies that play throughout. All those ambient sounds and movie style nondescript chords get really dull and can make a game seem pretty dull too.

            Same thing happened to the most recent Mickey Mouse Castle of Illusion remake. The game had well composed, but incredibly generic and unmemorable music.

          • Tony Polanco

            Most games of this gen have that issue. They try to have cinematic scores but the problem with that is that most movies have bland and uninteresting soundtracks.

            I miss catchy tunes so badly in games. 🙁

          • Eric Irving

            Its more of a debatable thing. However I do know where the developers were coming from on this. Sometimes music is there to help portray a certain emotion out of the audience in a certain situation, not in the intent of being catchy or completely memorable. When you fight a boss and you finally overcome him and the ending scene where you beat him, the tone of the orchestra changes greatly to give you that sense of victory that is approaching, and it does work.

            Movies do it the same way for better or worse. For this particular game I think it works well enough. Would I want something like this in a Igarashi Castlevania game? No sir. The Igarashi series is well known for it’s great yet simplistic music, have most of them on my smartphone. The Igarashi games are also not large scale 3D epics either and while I would need to see it to judge it, it might be just as awkward to add them into a game like this.

          • Matt Dickinson

            Do you mean that you would have preferred Castle of Illusion done with higher quality FM synthesis, such as found on larger synthesizers (not microchips for arcade machines)?

          • Galen Nycroft

            Sort of…I mean a big part of the original Castle of Illusion’s appeal were the very catchy, memorable, melodies and arrangements. To replace those kinds of tunes with generic orchestra music was kind of a step back.

            Not sure if Non-Japanese composers really understand melody the way Japanese composers do. Simple, memorable melodies can be created with a full orchestra…many of the most famous classical musical compositions did just that…Mozart, Brahms, Bach, Chopin, etc. They all managed to have grand orchestral compositions but with very defined melodies and ‘hooks’ if you will.

            Modern gaming composers who make use of full orchestrated music can’t seem to do this. The result is really bland and generic, nondescript orchestral mush. Boring ambient stuff…sounds with no form, stray horns and strings with no real structure.

            I guess it’s more about personal taste than anything though.

          • Matt Dickinson
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    • Tony Polanco

      The music was bland and generic. It didn’t stick out at all. I didn’t feel the need to mention it.

  • Eric Irving

    Its funny that reviewers have such a distaste for this game so much when almost everyone who isn’t a reviewer is enjoying the hell out of it. I am personally really enjoying the game and the best action title I have played so far this year. Its fast paced and it has the right amount of challenge on it’s normal settings. Overall the combat is a more refined version of LoS1. The exploration factor isn’t as much as the game claims, but I find that a good thing since I just don’t want an open world of nothing. There are enough secrets and just enough exploration to get your curiosity going, which I find makes it well balanced.

    The story is good if you kept up with the previous games. Its simple and tries not to over complicate itself. Dracula himself to me is a really powerful character and you feel the struggles he is handling during the game and the modern era setting is really neat while at the same time not smothering the theme in your face. Not to mention I find the voice acting top notch for this. The music of the game is really well orchestrated and knows the right theme for the right situation.

    I think my one true gripe with this game is that it does in fact have horrid and near unbearable stealth sections. However these don’t come frequent enough that it deters the game as a whole, but I don’t understand why the developers believed this was a thing.

    I think this is one game where I would truly look to user reviews more than a professional review. Not to discredit any professional reviewer, but the user side is heavily on the other side. I would check Amazon reviews and other user based review sites and see if this is the game for you. Its not perfect, but its certainly the best action title I have played in a while, I have a hard time putting the game down.

    • Tony Polanco

      Yeah I’ve noticed that there is a big discrepancy between user reviews and pro reviews of the game. I always find it interesting when this happens. Especially in the last two years where I have been on the “pro” side (it’s still weird to call myself that).

      I’m glad you’re enjoying it, man. Truly. I didn’t like Lords of Shadow and I don’t like this one either. It’s a shame. There are some good elements but none of them ever came together to make an engaging or fun game to me.

      BTW, you should consider doing your own video game blog or maybe join an independent site. Your opinions are well spoken and you definitely have a knowledge of the industry. Something to consider, perhaps?

      Thanks for reading. 🙂

      • Eric Irving

        Its very understandable that Lords of Shadow is a love or hate thing, especially in the Castlevania fan base. If you didn’t like LoS1 its safe to say you won’t enjoy the second one either.

        Thanks for the feedback, I have always wanted to make my own reviews for games, but I never had an audience or was ever thrilled with a numeric rating system.

        • Tony Polanco

          You don’t start out with an audience, you need to build it. Writing for a gaming blog is how I got started in Oct 2010 and now I’m writing for Dualshockers. All it takes is getting yourself out there. You have the chops so I say you should at least start something.

          As for numeric ratings… they’re just numbers. The real heart of any review lies with what is written, not some number attached at the end of it. Numbers are necessary for a few reasons but they’re not really important IMO. The written review is what matters, not a rating.

          • Eric Irving

            The numerical system and my gripes I could write all day about it. Its not the system itself, its how the readers look and perceive it. However that is a topic for another day.

            I agree you do have to start from scratch. I don’t think I would want to full time write material, but I may see if I can get a foot in on contributing in certain areas. I have a huge February of back logged games to play also, crazy month, haha.

    • Matt Dickinson

      Yeah it looks pretty rad actually. Check out this fight, probably one of the last ones:

  • mikeslemonadeFromN4G

    Well deserved because the first one wasn’t even good. Possibly one of the more overrated games of last gen.

  • PrinceHeir

    I was tempted to buy this, but after playing the Demo, eh the game has too limited moves and mostly it takes place in the 21st century, which sucks since it lost what made the series known for in the first place.

    Love the artstyle so i’ll give you that, the OST is boring and unmemorable.

    • Temjin001

      I thought the demo made a solid enough showing for the combat side of things, though, I was worried it would rely too heavily on the weapon swapping mechanic for it’s combat basics. I thought the art design and dramatic set pieces were all highly entertaining. It’s too bad the game as a whole appears to fall short.

  • sedoi

    “Lords of Shadow was one of my least favorite games of last gen” After that, i understood that article isn’t worth reading.

    • Tony Polanco

      That cuts deep, man. I spent all that time writing it and everything. 🙁

      • sedoi

        Why review something that you KNOW you will hate? I can do same with many games i hate, but if i already know I don’t like it. That kinda makes writing pretty pointless.

        • Tony Polanco

          I didn’t know I would end up not liking this game. In the review I clearly said that I was digging it until it went downhill. Given that I didn’t like the previous game I didn’t have high hopes for this but initially I was into it.

          Also, reviewers have to review all sorts of games. We won’t end up liking them all. Nature of the business, man. I can’t get handed a game to review and then go “I don’t like this so I don’t want to review it.” It doesn’t work like that, bro.

          • sedoi

            Well tbh. i think it kinda strange that reviews forced to review sequels to games they hated

          • Tony Polanco

            That’s how things work sometimes. Can’t be helped. We have a job to do at the end of the day.

        • Allisa James

          It wasn’t that Tony knew in advance he would hate the game. He was assigned the game, then he played it and found he didn’t enjoy it. Unfortunately it happens and that doesn’t make a review any less valid, especially when it’s well articulated.

          Also, that would be a terrible reason to give the Reviews Editor (i.e.: me) for not wanting to review a game.

  • Juan Negro

    Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is a very good game for me.

    • Tony Polanco

      I’m glad you digged it bro. BTW, your name is AWESOME! 😀

  • Temjin001

    Too bad. I liked the demo. It would appear there was a lot about the game the demo wasn’t revealing. I thought LoS was a solid reboot for the legendary series but this sequel shows Mercury Steam isn’t quite the team to restore the series to it’s former glory.

    Long live Symphony of the Night!

    • Tony Polanco

      That was a problem with the original LoS. I LOVED the demo to that game. After playing it for a few hours I hated the game. The same thing happened with this game. The demo was dope. The actual game? Well… you’ve read my review.

  • azureknight

    I’ve heard that this may be the last game in the Lord of Shadows saga.

    Would be nice if Konami announced the 1999 Castlevania game as the next one in the series.