Despite being around for nearly 20 years, I admit I have never played a Castlevania game and Lords of Shadow 2 was my first foray into the acclaimed Konami series. While I cannot compare just how far the series has come since its inception, what I did play did manage to pique my interest for a good amount of time, even if Lords of Shadow 2 felt like a blatant God of War copy. Despite the great combat and boss battles, Lords of Shadow
s 2 did nothing to perhaps get me hooked on the Castlevania series, because there are too many unusual game designs that leave this title far from being perfect.
What Is It?
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is a sequel to 2010’s rebirth by developer MercurySteam. Dracula, better known as Gabriel Belmont, finds himself stuck in a modern-day gothic setting where he is battling evil entities controlled by Satan. An unlikely ally by the name of Zobek agrees to free Belmont from his immortality if he defeats Satan and places Zobek in his place in the Underworld. The game starts off almost immediately from the end of the first Lords of Shadow game, and if it were not for a well-issued (and incredibly long) video that explained the events of the last game, I admit I would have been extremely lost. The characters that Belmont meets throughout the game are uninteresting to say the least, as some only interrupt your quest to say a few words and then scamper away, making understanding their true intent or their backstory incredibly hard to follow.
The setting itself is very cool, a modern-day gothic style infused with wicked creatures from the Underworld and massive creatures that tower over the buildings and areas in which Belmont traverses. Fighting on top of these locations is fun, especially during battle when buildings are crumbling and you are forced to weave and hold on to sections of falling debris while fending off attackers, but entering these locations outside of battle is a real drag. Lords of Shadows 2 really had a chance to showcase some truly spectacular and lavish surroundings but only got bogged down by the peculiar levels designs that encouraged exploration but were often met by invisible walls and bland chasm-hopping sections.
Why Should I Care?
Belmont’s adventure to help Zobek is fun when it works, and agonizingly brutal when it doesn’t. The combat, although a blatant copy of the same system God of War perfected, works well in the style of Lords of Shadow 2. For starters, Belmont’s wide arsenal of weapons seems appropriate for something a gothic vampire might utilize to ward off evil beings. His whip has both normal and heavy attacks capable of taking on groups of enemies at once, but the real diversity comes in the form of his two special weapons; The Void Sword and Chaos Claws. Both of these weapons have special abilities infused into them that allow Belmont to drain magic and use specific powers. For example, The Void Sword drains health from enemies once defeated, while the Chaos Claws can break through armor and shields of the bigger enemies.
Defeating enemies also nets you experience points which can be used to upgrade the effectiveness of each of these weapons, ranging from magic drain speed to overall attack power. It’s definitely a great way to encourage players to utilize everything in Belmont’s arsenal, and with the ease and accessibility of being able to just press one button to switch between weapons makes it easier and worthwhile to try everything during battle. It’s only a shame that many of the other weapons and tools you find along the way are basically throw-away because they are basically useless when it comes to your main weaponry, as the idea of upgrading everything you come across could have led to hours upon hours of replaying.
For such a diverse assortment of weapons and skills Belmont can use, it is a shame to see the enemies didn’t receive the same treatment. Unlike the bosses, who actually impressed with clever designs and unique ways to dispose of them, the basic enemies all looked the same and possessed no real skill to defeat. Many of them can be dispatched by simply slashing at them with your whip and mixing back and forth between the sword and claws as well. A “mini finisher” that can also be applied to weak enemies allows Belmont to bite at the neck of enemies and drain what remaining life they have left is cool, but ultimately becomes unnecessary when hordes of enemies arrive on screen at once. The move itself is time-wasting and provides no real significant boost in experience or power and just seems to be a flashy added bit of substance that ultimately does nothing.
When you aren’t battling enemies, Belmont is often traversing the gothic landscapes by climbing buildings or jumping over gaps, the usual activities any vampire performs on a typical Sunday afternoon. While these segments are noted for being a break away from the countless battles you will find yourself a part of, they are often clunky and unresponsive and allocate themselves more as being time wasters in-between main story sections. In fact, once the game forces you to do stealth missions, it becomes increasingly frustrating to even explore the locations because the game takes away all of your powers and weapons (for reasons I have still not understood despite playing the sections over and over again), and giving Belmont the inability to kill even the simplest of enemies that he otherwise has slaughtered on his way to this specific spot. It’s an incoherent game design that breaks the steady flow of combat into something that I expect many players found themselves quitting over.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
It is hard to talk about Lords of Shadow 2 without bringing up God of War, because the parallels are far too similar. The basic core gameplay, the platform shimmying and even the large scope of boss battles all borrow heavily from Sony’s popular franchise too much to even suggest much effort went into creating an original title. Even with my unfamiliarity of the franchise and my lack of nostalgic moments, I still barely understood what was going on half the time even with the lengthy introduction I was given. The last quarter of the game was brilliantly executed in terms of level design and boss fights, but there were far too many problems in between to even recommend playing up to that point. The stealth sections alone will cause people to take a step back and examine the bizarre design choice and you will often find better battles and story from other games that execute them better.