Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 has a ton of great elements, none of which are connected.

By Daavpuke, Posted 25 Feb 2014

There’s a point in time when franchises have exhausted their creative input to such an extent that its connection start fading, like in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2. Here, the separate trilogy concludes in its own cinematic scope, away from older adventures. A huge world comes with the varying tools to tackle it, but the focus is sadly secondary when it comes to telling players a tale. It’s a story that hinders the elements of what could’ve been.

Castlevania 2,Lords of Shadow,Review,Screenshots,Dracula

With that in mind, at least the packaging should be top notch and it is. From the first second, the shimmering lights within dark, refined cathedrals set the tone. Crumbling walls and rotted wood are the decrepit scene of this universe, later assisted by a modern world in ruin, with flames, broken windows and burnt out cars. Still, several environments try to alter the color scheme to their own somber palette, such as the beautifully maroon forest area or the rundown theater. This title is aware of how its darkness can start to bore through the dozen hours of gameplay. That, at least, is commendable. Equally so, the orchestral soundtrack is a splendid boost to atmosphere, heightening the tension of battles or simply making platform sections more interesting with soft sweeps. Casting Robert Carlyle as the antihero Dracula also keeps the narrative appealing. Carlyle nails the lovable bastard persona, which leans a lot more towards the emotional in the end. Yes, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is pristine in its presentation, from the smooth character animations to the highly detailed buildings and their accompanied sound. It all fits the puzzle nicely.

As an aside, the PC version goes above and beyond what consoles can offer. In trade, consoles lower the sheer excess of post processing hazes and maintain a much cleaner appearance that can help during combat.

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Things can get messy on PC.

Since this final installment serves up an open world, platform sections are only an automated puzzle and the real action is set on huge brawls. As Dracula, it’s possible to unleash powerful blows in a multitude of ways. For starters, the former Belmont retains the use of a ranged whip attack that can be used to focus on one enemy or provide area support and can also be taken to the air. This is also true for other attacks, with a healing sword on one end and damaging claws on the other. As these latter ones are more effective than a simple swipe, they will require syphoning power from enemies or nearby outlets, which fills a certain gauge.

Still, that already expands on simply whacking many enemies and that’s only the start. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 comes out swinging and immediately appends this system with many more combinations, most of which will take several more hours to handle. Each weapon gets a ranged shot, but also its own skill tree that can be unlocked by acquiring experience. Within those branches, many more ways to fight are laid out. Since enemies get even more potent later on, picking up a heavy shield breaker or a wide area attack can really help. And while it doesn’t exactly feel like explaining itself, this highly versatile combat system does make challenging duels a lot more rewarding. Figuring out an enemy’s weakness towards a held attack, instead of an aerial assault has that sort of euphoric feeling of finding the right angle to proceed. It makes giant horned beasts a lot less daunting.

Often times, the pinnacle of this brutal combat will be at the hand of unrelenting boss fights. These singular behemoths unleash literal hell upon Belmont and learning exactly how their pattern works is half the struggle. Even with prompts indicating when an attack is coming, it’s still needed to see whether this will require a dodge or a leap to evade. Evading is important in this adventure, even if Dracula can replenish health from weakened foes. Getting stuck in a series of animations can take away large quantities of life.

Castlevania 2,Lords of Shadow,Review,Screenshots,Dracula

Still, there isn’t just a dual pairing of platform and combat. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 has a ton more to offer. There’s a store with a quirky clerk, separate challenges to test skills, slight puzzle solving elements, additional skills to manipulate the environment and stealth segments.  That is, however, also the game’s undoing. In its attempts to leave its audience impressed at all turns, it forgets itself in one vital aspect: It’s a game first and a cinematic experience second.

Camera angles are constantly locked on presenting the most optimal setting to take in the environments. Sections seem impassable, because the setting completely obfuscates the presence of the continuation. Elongated cutscenes with long load times force players through the same shots every time. It all looks pretty, but it bears no functional purpose.

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This is stupid.

Making matters much worse, all of this is done in silence. That’s the real killer of this game. During almost every set piece, the rules of the game change and lessons learned from previous parts are now wrong, but the alterations aren’t made aware. This results in tons of frustrating retries, sometimes with only seconds to notice what’s going on before an untimely demise, followed by more huge reloads. Immediate death is barely tolerable though. Having to retry sections of a dozen minutes, however, isn’t. Toying with what Dracula can and can’t do to fit the directing approach is dreadful enough as it is, but forcing the same thing over and over, until some chance breaks the mold is just downright gross.

Towards the end, the story spirals quickly into more esoteric nonsense, making matters worse for the inconsistent rules of the game within. Without forethought of knowing what comes next, there’s no playing this story and enjoying it at the same time. That makes several sections, which are already hindered by aforementioned cameras, even more tiresome to go through. It’s a constant push, push, push to get to the next completely ridiculous scene.

If you're bummed: I sound a lot happier in this video.

It may have all the right tools and the gorgeous scenery to go with it, but Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is like a beautiful person with a horrible attitude. Its only appeal is based on the idea of that entity, not the content within itself; that is so woefully disappointing. An amazing playground for combat and versatile gameplay elements alone aren’t enough, when it’s not tied together, in favor of useless aesthetics. Instead, this adventure wants to be seen, not approached.

Daav Valentaten, NoobFeed (@Daavpuke)

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General Information

Platform(s): Xbox 360, PS3
Publisher(s): Konami
Developer(s): MercurySteam
Genres: Action, Adventure
Themes: Action
Release Date: 2014-02-12

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