The original Lords of Shadow was a flawed but refreshing new take on this fan favorite franchise. Something was a little lost in the more linear level progression but the new action focused combat and memorable ending made the original game a worthy play through from beginning to end despite have glaring issues. Years later, Mercurysteam closes out this Lords of Shadow trilogy with an inconsistent game that fails to hit high marks fans expect.
Lords of Shadow 2 puts the player in the role of Dracula, the ultimate badass of the night. The opening moments grab the player by the balls and secretly act as an introductory tutorial sequence. Unfortunately, the rest of the game is hit and miss in terms of entertainment value. Combat remains at the top notch of gameplay whereas the open world environment, unhinged camera, and stealth segments are downright painful and drag the entire experience down. For some players, chewing through the fat in order to get to the good stuff might be too big a burden to bother with.
First is the open world style gameplay. While this might sound like a novel concept for a Castlevania game, the hub world, which is plainly titled Castlevania City, makes navigation difficult and unintuitive. Parts of the world are connected in awkward ways, invisible walls plague most boundaries, and sometimes the player will just have no idea where to go or what to do next. One section early in the game requires the player jump on a chain to cross a gap but without taking a leap of faith there is no indication that this chain is even interactive; I personally had to reference an online FAQ to figure out where to go. There are several spots throughout the entire game that make moving from one location to the next way more challenging than it needs to be. Even the environments are just plain awkward. I understand LoS2 takes place in the future after Dracula has been hiding for many years but fighting armored soldiers one minute and giant robot mechs the next is a jarring transition.
Instead of traversing through dark gothic hallways, finding your way through a bleak futuristic science lab is awkward playing as a powerful vampire. Set pieces also bleed into the inconsistent story (sorry for pun). For example, the player is sent on a multi-hour quest to find the antidote for Satan’s plan… Umm, why would Satan make an antidote in the first place? He is friggin’ Satan! But crater sized plot holes like this don’t even compare to the horrific forced stealth segments. What seems like every 20 minutes, the player has to figure out how to bypass specific portions of the game without being spotted by these giant red mutated thugs with arm cannons. These sections are basically trial-and-error, complete them in the exact way the game needs you to complete them. Without questions, these result with the most frustrating deaths and portions of the game. I mean, you are playing as Dracula, the Prince of F#$%ing Darkness who has the power to turn into a dragon and suck the blood of any living creature! He is willing to fight Satan, entire armies, and countless other demons face-to-face but yet he cowers when facing these mindless mutant guards so he has to turn into a rat and hide in the shadows? Even if the gameplay worked out it still makes no sense whatsoever. And the sneaking segment with Pan’s brother is probably the most poorly designed and frustrating gameplay section I have played in a long time. Even the Achievements/Trophies lack creativity with the majority unlocking after simply grinding through the game.
There are also glaringly absent simple gameplay options: the player cannot save at will, the player cannot quit back to the main menu from the pause menu, and the game just boots up your last save without even asking. And once you start a game, there is no way to select New Game without deleting the save file from your system’s memory. At least the fully orchestrated soundtrack is noteworthy.
Lords of Shadow 2’s saving grace is the buttery smooth combat. Switching between the Void Sword, Blood Whip, and Chaos Claws is fluid and brings depth and variety to combat. Even mixing in the ice/fire aspect in battle is entertaining even though freezing waterfalls and blowing holes in the environment using these weapons is often more confusing and stereotypical than not. One aspect of combat that is particularly impressive is the variety of enemies. While there are always going to be the typical brutes to grind, the game introduces new enemies at every turning point. Players can even read details on each enemy or find hidden clues in the environment to earn more backstory and provide incentive to scout out each nook and cranny, increasing replay value. Boss battles are also varied and usually provide challenge without being too difficult even though most can be beaten with a simple hit-dodge hit-dodge combo.
Combat also leads into a push/pull system. The Void Sword is often weaker but leeches the health of enemies into your own whereas the Claws pack a more powerful armor breaking punch but requires a close proximity. The better the performance in battle, the more opportunities become available to use these magic sucking items. Negatively, many battles might leave you drained of health and magic but require immediate use of ice/fire projectiles to clear a path. Like many other aspects of the game, it is super frustrating to have to backtrack just to find some magic to advance to the next part of the game.
Story-wise, there is enough fan service in LoS2 to please Castlevania veterans as certain characters, items, and even one-liners return from previous games albeit having hideous plot holes. While the ending isn’t as noteworthy as the ending to the original LoS, it closes one door and opens another but future released DLC has been announced. Fans that completed both Lords of Shadow 1 and the 3DS/XBLA/PSN version of Mirror of Fate will get the most out of LoS2 but the opening cutscene does a decent job of summing up the events of the first two games in a short amount of time.
For every great moment in Castlevania Lords of Shadow 2 the player must whittle through two awful ones. Fan’s expectations are high for this beloved series but this Lords of Shadow finale fails to hit all those high notes like Symphony of the Night or Aria/Dawn of Sorrow. But no matter how you look at it, this is still a way better game than the N64 titles.
3/5 – One step forward and two steps back.
Better Than: the Lament of Innocence
Way Better Than: all those teenage vampire movies and tv shows
Also Try: Castlevania Judgment
By: Zachary Gasiorowski, Editor in Chief myGamer.com