BADGP Reviews: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2

270431-C

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 (Konami, Mercury Steam)

Released: February 25, 2014

March 2, 2014

Alex Linna

Review: Trapped Behind the Shadow of Its Predecessor

The approach to a good movie sequel and a good video game sequel is often different.  Both attempt to target what made the first part successful and then largely replicate it.  The difference comes in the nature of video games versus the nature of movies.  A movie’s goals are to entertain and convey a narrative.  Games by their interactive nature are more open to revision and improvement in other areas than story; gameplay being the obvious area of potential enhancement.  This leads to many video game sequels trumping their originals, whereas, movies tend to get worse the further from the source they grow.   Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is a poor case for game sequels being superior to the previous effort.

I greatly enjoyed Castlevania: Lords of ShadowCastlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is weaker in every area of consideration when compared to the first Lords of Shadow, so there is going be a hefty amount of comparison going on in the following paragraphs.

The detail in the environments is beautiful.

Dracula Has Returned

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is oddly enough the third game under the Lords of Shadow title and developed by Mercury Steam.  The original came out in October of 2010. Last year, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate was released for 3DS and later as a digital game for Xbox 360 and PS3. Lords of Shadow 2 begins story-wise where Mirror of Fate left off, chronologically.  There is nice recap of the events from the first two games near the beginning of Lords of Shadow 2 to catch players who might have missed the previous titles up to speed.  In order to properly discuss Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 one must discuss the state of the world at the end of both previous games in the series.  The spoiler I am about to reveal about the ending of Lords of Shadow 1 has been blazed across all the marketing material for LoS2, so I do not feel too bad about it.  *SPOILERS* The main character of the first game, Gabriel Belmont, becomes Dracula at the end of the first Lords of Shadow.  This leaves us to play as Dracula in Lords of Shadow 2.  This fact is critical in the discussion of the game and in properly understanding the disappointment it brings.

The game beings in Dracula’s castle, and I must say that the first hour is very impressive.  One of Lords of Shadow 1’s strongest aspects was its art direction and visual design.  Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 does not disappoint in this regard, both games are beautiful.  After an elongated series of scenes involving an invading army and a Megazord, there is an extended time lapse and players witness a waking Dracula in an extremely frail state.  It turns out that it is “modern times” and Satan is planning a comeback tour, since Dracula or “the prince of darkness” has been presumed dead.  Dracula is informed of the state things by former “friend” Zobek and offers Dracula the eternal peace he so desires in return for the prevention of Satan’s revival.  Yes, you read that correctly, the motivating factor of the main character is to stop Satan so that he may die.  Vampires being immortal and all, life must get unfathomably boring.

There are some wonderful enemy designs.

Audio / Visual

Patrick Stuart stills voices the character of Zobek and adds to the game’s overall striking production value.  The music in Lords of Shadow 2 is good, but not terribly memorable.  The game is a visual feast, but is not as consistently extraordinary as Lords of Shadow 1.  LoS1 reimagined everything that was “medieval” and the results were nothing short of spectacular.  There were many memorable and exciting environments to traverse always accompanied by interesting enemy designs.  Lords of Shadow 2 keeps some fascinating enemy designs (though too few), but the game taking place in the modern world left less room for inspiration and for salient and distinctive environments.  The overall atmosphere of the game suffered greatly from its time setting.  However, there are several portals around the city that allow Dracula to transport back to his castle where the game finds its most remarkable and majestic backdrops.  Although, far too much of the “evil carnival” feel from Mirror of Fate seeps into Lords of Shadow 2, but only for a short section or two.

Gameplay: Platforming

There are three main aspects of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2’s gameplay.  First is the platforming and exploration elements found in the game.  Since the NES original that spawned the genre phrasing “Metroid-vania,” the type of exploration and upgrading has been cemented as a staple of the Castlevania franchise.  Lords of Shadow 2 is full of hidden upgrades to find and there is much backtracking to be done.  Backtracking would be less of problem if the visual language of many the environments were more captivating.  Running and climbing through city streets, broken down buildings, and industrial labs and sewers makes it less than appealing to backtrack for every little upgrade piece.

Even gray on gray can be beautiful, though it is less interesting.

The platforming in the game is of the same school as Uncharted or Enslaved, in that if you can press a direction with the controller stick there is no challenge presented.  It is the worst kind of platforming.  Holding down the left trigger will also reveal where the player can move next, but the path never splits, so this brand of mindless platforming is just that, mindless and unengaging.  Lords of Shadow 2 adds in a little more depth with some swinging platforms that the jumping and landing detection on is terribly sketchy and only lead to immense frustration.

Core Action

The core of the Lords of Shadow games is a strong character action game.  Many will criticize that it is a mere God of War rip-off, but Lords of Shadow possesses much more depth than any game Kratos has featured in.  Gabriel/Dracula has the Void Sword, Chaos Claws, and Shadow Whip.  The whip being the primary weapon when used successfully without taking damage will make enemies secrete red magic orbs that Dracula may absorb by pressing the right or left stick.  This system is what made Lords of Shadow 1’s combat unique and impressive.  Pressing the right stick will add to Dracula’s “Chaos” and the left stick to the “Void.”  Storing this magic will enable Dracula to use the Void Sword and the Chaos Claws.

Each weapon has exclusive combos that may be unlocked.  A neat change in Lords of Shadow 2 is that using a specific combo over and over will result in “mastery,” and when so many combos have been mastered then that weapons mastery level rises. This is an intelligent way to encourage players not to stick to one set of combos and diversify their gameplay.

Finishers regain a little of Dracula’s health.

As much as I like this combat system, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is not without its flaws.  The finishers take too long to get back to the action, the game is riddled with too many quick time events, and there were few lines of dialogue recorded for support characters and enemies that repeat far too often and get annoying quickly.  Load times are noticeably long and are required after every death.

Stealth

One common theme permeating the reviews for Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is that the stealth is bad.  Sadly, this is true.  Gone are the impressive boss fights ripped straight out of Shadow of the Colossus, and in their place is a half-baked unenjoyable stealth system that regularly does not make sense and is inconsistent.  Frustration is the name of the game here.  Too often Dracula is tasked with sneaking around stronger enemies.  It is explained narratively by him being weak from being asleep for so long, but stealth sections emerge later in the game and result in Dracula fighting the enemies he is avoiding anyway.  The worst part of the stealth sections is that so much of it is unclear.  The first time Dracula must sneak around it turns out he must turn into rats and somehow know to chomp on some nearby electrical wiring.  The stealth is poorly explained and unengaging even if it was well tutorialized.  Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 also is full of long cut-scenes.  Poor stealth and long drawn out cut-scenes, yes, this is indeed a Konami game.

There are also few puzzle elements to be found scattered throughout Lords of Shadow 2.  Unfortunately, there is nothing like the amazing music box section of Lords of Shadow 1.  The Mirror of Fate makes an appearance as a quest line collect-a-thon and as a puzzle that opens doors.  There is a strange puppet show about two-thirds of the way through the game that feels out of place, especially if one skipped Mirror of Fate, but ends up being somewhat cool.  The player acts a director and must place the correct characters and backdrop of the scene on stage as a narrator tells the story.    

The Recommendation

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is not without merit.  The story of LoS2 strengthens and makes the story in LoS1 make more sense.  For that I am thankful.  Evil Lord Zed from Power Rangers also tags along for a couple of missions in what looks like might have been attempts at a coop game at one point.  The most memorable part of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is no doubt the instance where Satan literally rips a person’s face off.  There are some extra details that make it more disturbing, but one will have to see that for oneself.  The combat is still satisfying, and the game is gorgeous.  However, the game ends on a weak note, especially if compared to its console predecessor.  This is likely Mercury Steam’s last shot at with the Castlevania name, and that is okay.  I will be anxious to see what they do next despite Lords of Shadow 2 not living up to the first game.  As video game sequels go, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is not a good, but that does not mean that it is a bad game.  For fans of the first game or of a good action game, Lords of Shadow 2 can keep a player entertained throughout its 12-15 hour playtime.

Score:

7.0 out of 10

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