Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2
- Street Date:
- February 25th, 2014
- Reviewed by:
- Nick Hartel
- Review Date:1
- March 4th, 2014
- Game Release Year:
- Xbox 360
- Mercury Steam
360 version reviewed. Review contains some spoilers for the 'Lords of Shadow' series.
Despite the 2 in 'Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2,' this latest 'Castlevania' title is really the third in its series. From Konami and developer Mercury Steam, the first 'Castlevania: Lords of Shadow' brought audiences the first popular 3D take on the series and the first attempt since 'God of War' introduced its own visceral style of third-person action. And yet the game's origins as a new IP and later mid-development conversion to 'Castelvania' left many long-time fans cold, while others found the combat and difficulty to be unsophisticated. Through DLC episodes and the downloadable 'Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate,' the 'Lords of Shadow' franchise has moved ever closer to its 'Castlevania' lineage and 'Lords of Shadow 2' seems to be ready to fully embrace the tropes of the series.
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
Call me a gaming philistine if you must, but my first real personal investment in the Castlevania series came with the recent HD port of 'Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate' a follow-up to the generally well received reboot to the series, 'Castlevania: Lords of Shadow.' While 'Mirror of Fate' in gameplay terms was much akin to the series' original side scrolling origins, it was at the end of the day, a bridge between a full game and its proper sequel, 'Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2.' Frankly, the 'Lords of Shadow' series has been a much needed breath of fresh air and more importantly, new entry point to a nearly three decade old series that has seen ups and downs on multiple platforms and in its wake, left a less than clear story-line. Yet, with a bold step forward comes a few steps backwards in keeping with the times and those willing to see how Gabriel Belmont's story continues to unfold will find themselves treading very familiar ground.
'Lords of Shadow 2' follows your standard third-person 3D action-adventure control scheme, which by and large turns out to be a relatively painless gameplay experience. Movement and camera control is operated via the analog sticks with Gabriel Belmont or to be more accurate, Dracula's movement handled generally fluidly and precisely. Attacks are mostly straightforward, following a familiar control scheme from games past, X is quick attack and Y is strong attack. The game itself is built on a combo system that has the illusion of depth through a standard XP/unlock system. As with the previous games in the series, standard attacks are supplemented with more powerful, special attacks in the form of Void magic and Chaos magic, represented by a sword and claw attacks respectively (as opposed to the trademark whip). It's a novel concept that does add some much needed depth to gameplay that can quickly grow repetitive.
The undeniable truth is 'Lords of Shadow 2' often feels like a B-rate 'God of War' clone or worse yet, something in the vein of 'Devil May Cry.' The core gameplay brings little new to the table and when compared to 'Bayonetta,' a game I frankly found insufferable in most aspects, the combat system is anemic, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. 'Bayonetta,' if I can digress for a quick moment is what a game in this vein should strive towards in game play (sans wonky camera control, which 'Lords of Shadow 2' has no issues with.) Tragically, 'Lords of Shadow 2' asks the gamer to invest quite some time into gaining control of a fully realized Dracula, injecting a tired narrative device of starting off powerless and stretching it to approximately half of the game's length. I can see both sides of the coin: yes there will be newcomers to the series here and need a proper introduction, but on the other side, couldn't you have just made a game three-fourths as long but with intense action from start to finish, instead of saving the biggest challenges for a rushed final act?
The narrative thread holding 'Lords of Shadow 2' together focuses on Dracula awakening after centuries in a modern day world; initially it's an exciting development and when gamers soon realize 'Lords of Shadow 2' takes an open world approach to things, hopes are raised, but just as quickly dashed when you realize that from a pure design standpoint, the environments can be bland and the story is tedious to a fault in its first act, culminating in a mid-story swing that reflects a critical light on the amount of narrative padding employed. To make a long story short Dracula is enlisted by Zobek to investigate a pharmaceutical company unleashing Hell on earth, all while being haunted by the ghostly apparitions of his dead wife and son. That said, if one can forgive hackneyed dialogue and plodding adventure for a few hours, 'Lords of Shadow 2' does exponentially deliver the goods.
The designers do deserve some points in the ambition category for implementing a stealth system wherein Dracula can turn into a rat to sneak past guards and in some cases corporeally reappear in order to possess them. It's far from the most exciting aspect of the game and there are some instances of these stealth sections turning into sheer exercises in frustration, but it's all steps in the right direction to distinguish the game from being written off as a 'God of War' clone with a fancy license. It should go without saying, that the boss fights are a highlight of the game, with a few hearkening back to the old days of precision being the only means to success.
How 'Lords of Shadow 2' fares in terms of placement in its titular trilogy is a tough call; it definitely feels like a decent enough step forward in game play and structure from 'Lords of Shadow,' but whether it's better than 'Mirror of Fate' is entirely subjective given the polar-opposite design (2.5D side-scrolling vs. 3D third-person action). One area where there are little shades of grey is narrative and 'Lords of Shadow 2' does fail to best 'Mirror of Fate' and its rather engaging multi-character interlocking narrative. The ending of the game may polarize some fans of the game but when viewed in the context of pleasing the series faithful and offering something to those who just came on board a few years back, the unpleasant sacrifices that may be perceived are a necessary evil.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
Graphically, 'Lords of Shadow 2' is an acceptable title, but a far cry from pushing the previous generation’s hardware to its limits. Environments and characters are rendered well, but often the expansive setting feels relatively lifeless. The frame rate holds up admirably, even when the action gets most intense. That said, the game has its share of hiccups; a few times the transition from cutscenes to game play were visually jarring and on a few rare occasions the game environment loaded but character models were MIA. Cutscenes definitely suffer from some compression issues and don’t feel up to snuff 100% of the time.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
Aurally, 'Lords of Shadow 2' is a treat due in no small part to Oscar Araujo’s phenomenally atmospheric score. It's well mixed throughout the game offering a melancholy sorrow to Dracula's journey through the massive open world, while knowing just the right moments to come to the center stage bombastically amped up. Effects in a game that heavily features moments of chaos are often lost in the shuffle, but overall, the diversity of the sound design remains noteworthy with a lot of atmospheric flourishes coming through. Voice work from Robert Carlyle as Dracula and Patrick Stewart as Zobek, is often the sole reason the slow pace the game launches with is as bearable as it is. Supporting cast play their roles well and lend to the generally ominous feel of the game.
'Lords of Shadow 2' on a story-centric, initial run-through, clocks in at around the ten-hour mark. Granted there’s a decent share of plot padding in that ten hours, but I’d find it hard to believe a series fan is going to do everything their heart desires in one go. As with previous games in the series, there’s exploring to do if you want to have a fully "kitted out" Dracula. The 'New Game +' option makes revisits to the game a worthy endeavor and rumblings of DLC featuring a series favorite could also see this title have some extended shelf life.
'Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2' will likely end up a polarizing title in the series canon. It's doesn't bring the series' most engaging narrative to the table and in some aspects, the developers really felt like they were phoning it in. Personally, the game strikes the rare balance between casual and hardcore player, offering the former some mindless fun and the latter opportunities to push their play strategy to the test; 'Lords of Shadow 2' may be generally shallow, but those willing to scour those shallow areas are going to find a few hidden secrets and added value.
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