The original Castlevania Lords of Shadow was a game that looked to reinvigorate the Castlevania franchise. For a long time the tale of the Belmonts and their eternal struggle against Dracula was far from being relevant in the public consciousness. Most gamers only really chatted about Castlevania when referring to classics titles in the series like Symphony of the Night or the original NES trilogy of games.
This changed when Lords of Shadow was released and updated the look and feel of Castlevania for a modern gaming audience. Now Castlevania Lords of Shadow 2 looks to expand upon the foundation of its predecessor and bring fans of Castlevania a continuation of the Lords of Shadow saga. Yet what should have been a step forward for the series ends up being more than a few steps in the wrong direction.
The most immediate thing players will notice is the great attention to presentation throughout Lords of Shadow 2. The character and level designs are top notch and really give a whole new perspective that both long time and fresh Castlevania fans will appreciate. Enemies look menacing and larger than life, even classic Castlevania enemies get a nice updated look.
The main musical score heard throughout the game is both dark and gloomy and really sets the tone well for some sections where the action is diffused. Voice acting for all of the characters is amazing and well done, especially dialogue spoken from Patrick Stewart. The menus of the game look interesting in their aged-book style of text, including some small ink-style animations for previewing upgradable moves. But this is as far as the better aspects of Lords of Shadow 2 go, as the rest of the game is a lot less stellar than what gamers may have been hoping for.
The core gameplay of Lords of Shadow 2 borrows a lot of elements from games like God of War, Devil May Cry, and others similar to such. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, the issues arise more in how certain aspects are never fully realized or completely done subpar compared to other titles. Combat is fast paced and can be some of the better time spent playing Lords of Shadow 2, but they are diluted by annoying and un-fun stealth sections that slow the momentum down to a standstill. The open world approach takes a lot of example from past Castlevania titles in the Metroid-Vania exploration style, but the game never fully encourages players to deviate from the main story and revisit past areas until the very end of the game. Yet even with such, there isn’t a lot of side-content to see or extra valuables to search for within the city that Lords of Shadow 2 takes place in. There is an arena style mode similar to Devil May Cry’s Bloody Palace mode, but it really isn’t enough to keep players entertained for a long time.
In the technical department, Lords of Shadow 2 has a fair share of issues that can be quite an annoyance. Some of the menus can get really jumbled and hard to view when upgrading abilities and some of the text gets clearly overlapped in the silliest way possible when navigating through the menus. This is something that is inexcusably annoying and should have been fixed early on in development. During combat sections enemies have a tendency to overly use unblockable attacks that not only constantly knock the player back, but also force players to repeatedly dodge and retreat rather than strategically attack foes. Even enemies that are weaker early on in the game suffer from the same issue and can become an unfair nuisance later on.
The story of Lords of Shadow 2 is the most interesting and yet the most confusing and disappointing aspect of the experience. The tale of Gabriel Belmont becoming Dracula and awakening in the modern day does sound very appealing at first, but is then muddled by a lot of shallow and unrealized events and confusing plot points. Dracula’s famous castle of the series is reinterpreted both in a modern day setting and as a manifestation of Dracula’s mind/memories. The story never fully explores this and instead only faintly explains and uses this to further the plot only when convenient.
There is a lot of references to past Castlevania titles and to the original Lords of Shadow, but they are weakly glanced over and don’t have any real significance to anything happening throughout the game. There are so many confusing aspects about the plot, many of which are rushed or never completely explained, that we never get a chance to truly care about Dracula and the events that happen to him. At the same time we never really get a sense of conclusion at the end of Lords of Shadow 2, as the ending is weak and doesn’t wrap up a lot of questions and issues that were referenced to throughout the beginning and middle of the game.
Castlevania Lords of Shadow 2 is a game that should have been a lot better than what it turned out to be. The foundation from the first game was well established enough to set up what could be a great saga for the series as a whole. But the multitude of problems and confusing story and design choices completely bring down the experience as a whole. Many of the strengths of Lords of Shadow 2 are not enough to outshine the big issues that ruin the experience. Lords of Shadow 2 only brings down a series that has desperately needed a big hit to become relevant again, and only further enforces the argument that Castlevania is a series better served within the realm of 2D gameplay.
This review was done using a digital PS3 review copy of Castlevania Lords of Shadow 2 provided by Konami.