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.

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