Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2
Release Date: February 28, 2014
RP for Rating Pending: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Language, Nudity
Reviewed on XBox
The groundwork had seemingly been laid in 2010’s surprisingly good Castlevania reboot, Lords of Shadow, for a sequel to propel itself to the heights of the genre’s highest regarded series.
MercurySteam’s debut Castlevania game boasted a gorgeous art style and backed up its looks with solid, weighty fighting mechanics in-between the odd Uncharted-lite platforming section and peppered in increasingly spectacular boss battles.
Even the story was a pleasant surprise, with Hollywood stars Robert Carlyle and Patrick Stewart voicing protagonist Gabriel Belmont and ally-turned-deceiver Zobek, respectively, in a well-paced tale of deceit and masterplans.
It is a shame, then, that in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 developers MercurySteam have squandered all sense of momentum the previous game had built up, and deliver a drawn-out and directionless conclusion to Gabriel’s saga.
The prologue in Lords of Shadow 2 gives an insight into what could have. Thrown straight in at the deep-end, you start the game in the height of your powers as Dracula and find your sprawling gothic castle under siege from legions of your former brothers in arms – the Brotherhood of Light.
After a quick refresh of the game’s mechanics, you are pitted against a skyscraper sized mechanical titan and a flying knight in a spectacular Shadow of the Colossus style set piece. It all adds up to an over the top spectacle which wouldn’t feel out of place in the action-adventure genre’s most esteemed titles.
After the game’s epic introduction, you are given a short recap on the story thus far in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow and the 3DS spin-off, Mirror of Fate, as a weak and decrepit Dracula wakes up having spent almost a century asleep to find that a bland, modern city has been built over your castle’s ruins.
Your old adversary Zobek confesses to you he fears Satan has set in motion plans to destroy the world, but admits he needs you at full strength to stand any chance of thwarting him. If successful, Zobek promises to grant Dracula’s wish for eternal peace.
After a forgettable and ineffective scene which has Dracula feasting on a terrified family, you are sent to a drab industrial facility – a hell of a step down from Dracula’s empire – and are introduced to, by a country mile, the worst and most ill-thought out feature of Lords of Shadow 2: stealth.
During this section you are forced to sneak your way past a series of hulking goons by transforming yourself into a rat and navigating your way through several air vents and tunnels.
When you are finally cut loose and allowed to go head to head with the gruesome demons, steampunk mechs and holy warriors, not much has changed since the last Castlevania outing, though combat feels tighter – more finely-tuned.
You have your standard whip attacks – now called the Blood Whip – as well as light attacks with the Void Sword and heavy attacks with the Chaos Claws.
There are plenty of unlockable attacks to master as well, with each of the three forms of attack having their own extensive skill trees, allowing for a plenty of scope for creativity when it comes to dealing damage.
The only really substantial changes in gameplay come from the form of a controllable camera – which was lacking in the original – and defensive tactics while airborne.
Lords of Shadow’s crowning glory mechanically is undoubtedly its synchronised blocking. Spectacularly knocking back opponents in slow motion with well-timed blocks never stops feeling awesome.
At its core, Lords of Shadow 2’s solid and diverse combat is undoubtedly its strongest feature.
I wanted to like Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2. I really did. I had high hopes that Dracula could stand alongside the likes of Kratos, Dante and Bayonetta. MercurySteam, however, did their best to make what could have been a spectacular hack’n’slash and a rewarding conclusion to Gabriel Belmont’s story, a frustrating mess of wasted potential.
In the end – unlike Dracula – MercurySteam bit off far more than they could chew.
2.5 out of 5 Nerds