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Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 Review

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow was a peculiar direction for the series. It dialed back on the hammer-horror influences and anime-style imagery for more Tolkien-esque visuals and language. When players arrived at the ending sequence, they were met with Gabriel (SPOILERS! now turned into Dracula) in a modern-day setting.

Everyone speculated what could happen in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2. When the game finally came out, it was at the tail-end of the eighth console generation. The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles were on the verge of release, so there wasn’t a lot of interest in Gabriel’s new game.

Aside from ports and compilation collections, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 was the last new game in the franchise. It is easy to point at this and say it killed the series, but did it? Why was this the last Castlevania and what worked and what didn’t? Find out in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 review!

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2
Developer: Mercury Steam
Publisher: Konami
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 (reviewed via backwards compatibility)
Release Date: February 25, 2014
Players: 1
Price: $39.99 USD 

After Gabriel became Dracula, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 could have gone anywhere and done anything. MercurySteam established the character very effectively and efficiently with a grounded and creative take on Castlevania.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 sits somewhere in a very underwhelming no-man’s land. Being able to play as Dracula isn’t the rip-roaring wild time one would hope, and he plays not that much differently than his past self in the first game.

If this was the route the developers wanted to go, then Dracula probably should not have been the protagonist. It is so unbecoming of the character to be at street level and battle mechs and soldiers with weapons. They should have created a new Belmont for this scenario.

Dracula is supposed to be the all-powerful anti-Christ. He isn’t a goth Dante from the Devil May Cry® series. Gabriel as Dracula should be above having to run around in back alleys or dodging grenade blasts. He should be summoning massive fire pillars and mind controlling people to kill each other.

Getting over the absurdity and implausibility of Dracula being a street-level video game character shows that the combat in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is consistent with the last game. Dracula has horizontal and vertical sweeping attacks and can alternate fire and ice elemental attacks with the left and right triggers.

Drcaula’s movement feels weighty and vicious, but is more feels more like how Gabriel would control when he was human. As Dracula, he should be more capable of superhuman speed and strength, lifting a car notwithstanding.

The sense of scale and weight is all over the place. Dracula looks and feels so small in the environments, which is exacerbated by the sloppy modeling that makes him appear like he’s three feet tall.

There are too many instances where door handles or window appear far too high above him than they should. Compounded with his floaty jump, Dracula appears more like he is the manlet of shadows, rather than a Lord.

MercurySteam wanted to have a story where Dracula has to get his powers back, but there had to be a better way to go about it. Gabriel becoming Dracula, gaining all the powers of hell, only to lose it from sleeping too long and then having to regain them is not compelling. It’s a tedious copout.

Maybe you could get past all the implausibility and sloppy scale, but nothing can prepare you for slow and boring gameplay. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is a game that drones. There is lots of walking around empty areas or lazily climbing contextual surfaces.

Once in a while there is a very easy puzzle that is instantly solved in your head, but you must go through the motions of having to physically solve it. Dracula’s animations will feel longer and longer as each second feels like minutes and the minutes that go by begin to feel like hours.

The airy ambient music drains energy and your eyes feel heavier and heavier. Breathing slows and then you fall asleep playing Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2, holding the analog stick upwards, making Dracula endlessly run into a corner of some industrial futuristic dungeon.

Maybe you wake up from the ill-placed, Fisher-Price designed puzzle. Shaking off the sandman’s sand and pressing on, finally a fight breaks out. Action at last. Dracula does battle with generic looking shamblers and when its over, you realize you’ve been going the wrong direction.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is boring and generic at is worst, but sometimes it also gets intensely stupid. There are forced stealth sections where these big red Warhammer 40K-looking guys will patrol an area and everything about them highlights Lords of Shadow 2‘s worst qualities.

Golgoth guards can’t ever be fought or killed by Dracula. Even at the end of the game, where players have fully powered up and have every ability, expect to go into rat-form and hide in the shadows when backtracking to old areas.

After making a lot of concessions for Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2‘s shortcomings, gamers might be able to finally appreciate what it has to offer. The visuals are stunning as one would expect from a very late seventh gen game.

Despite the scale inconsistencies, the setting and ambiance is lush with detail. This all came at a cost; the framerate was capped at 30 fps and while this was an understandable limitation on Xbox 360, Xbox One and Series X|S don’t have such restrictions.

Sadly, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is not one of the Xbox 360 backwards compatible games that got a framerate boost. This game really could have used it too. The window for timing perfect blocks is very tight and a few extra frames would’ve been helpful.

MercurySteam really tried to make Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 the “Symphony of the Night” of the seventh gen. The vast city (hilariously named Castlevania City) and the castle setting that Dracula travels back and forth, have “metroidvania” ability-gating and open-endedness.

They almost had it. If it weren’t for the tedious meandering and arbitrary stealth, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 could have been a decent guilty pleasure. For the most part, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is just boring.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2‘s highest highs are during boss battles. The attempt at spectacle is impressive and the developers learned a lot from their bombastic sequences from the first game. The highlight is definitely the battle with Victor Belmont who has a lot of classic moves from old Castlevania.

The narrative was beholden to some of the worst story choices that were introduced in Mirror of Fate. Lords of Shadow 2 is stuck in a thankless position of having to follow up that plot and tie it all together. This was an issue that could’ve been side stepped if it followed a totally different protagonist.

Regretfully, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 came and went like a wet fart in a dark rainy night. It was the last new Castlevania game made, and its not hard to see why. It’s an expensive and bloated mess of ideas that don’t mesh well with trite gameplay.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 was reviewed on Xbox Series S using a copy purchased by Niche Gamer. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is now available for Windows PC (via Steam), PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and playable on Xbox One Xbox Series X|S via backwards compatibility. 

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The Verdict: 5

The Good

  • Mercury Steam's impeccable art direction made this game look a generation ahead of its contemporaries
  • Gabriel has more combat options than ever with sword, whip and gauntlets
  • Environmental puzzles in the Dracula's castle segments help break up the hacking and slashing
  • Thrilling boss battles
  • Once again, Robert Carlyle gets to have a lot of fun as Gabriel

The Bad

  • Inconsistent scaling makes Gabriel look incredibly tiny and sloppy execution of a semi-open world/metroidvania level design
  • Tonal whiplash from overdramatic melodrama to absurd spectacle
  • Golgoth guards and everything about them makes no sense at all
  • Backwards compatibility on Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S is still locked at 30 frames per second
  • The poor reimagining of the Castlevania lore from the prior game is grandfathered into the story

About

A youth destined for damnation.


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