The original Lords of Shadow is one of my favorite games of the past generation. The work developer Mercury Steam did to revitalize the series and bring a new take on the Castlevania lore was both interesting and well-crafted. Sure, the original had its share of problems, most of which have been fixed in the sequel, but it was still one of the few games I would tag with the epic moniker when describing its set pieces, music and boss battles. Lords of Shadow 2 fixes a ton of the mechanical and game play issues of its predecessor, but adds in questionable new ideas and simply doesn’t deliver the epic conclusion to the series I was hoping for.
Full disclosure, I am going to spoil the ending of the first game, as it is impossible to discuss the sequel without doing so. Lords of Shadow 2 once again follows the journey of Gabriel Belmont, who is now known as Dragon, Dracul, or the more popular name, Dracula. Per the ending of the first game, he has been in hiding in a cathedral for centuries, for reasons I began to unravel as the story played out. Our trusty friend Zobek awakens the Prince of Darkness in order to enlist his help in stopping Satan from destroying mankind.
The events that unfold do close out this trilogy, but not in the way I had hoped. There are a few shocker moments, and the voice acting really delivers once again, but the conclusion left me wanting more. It ends abruptly, and definitely without a hint of any sequel. This is the final Mercury Steam Castlevania, and it felt that way when the credits rolled.
As I mentioned, a lot of the issues of the original have been fixed. The camera is no longer static. The right stick now controls the view, which makes some of the combat and platforming more tolerable. The game also switched from the original’s chapter design to an open world, which allows for more exploration and use of the Metroidvania aspects.
In doing all of that though, Mercury Steam also tried to cater to the contemporaries of the genre by tossing in tropes that really drag the experience down. The most criminal of these are the stealth segments, sections of the game where Dracula is forced to sneak in the shadows with his powers and ability to fight crippled. These sections are drab and kill the flow of the game. I find it peculiar that even most of my abilities are crippled during these segments to complement the design. Every time one of these sections cropped up, I rolled my eyes in frustration. They are not needed and drag down the experience.
The combat itself remains fairly similar to the previous entry. Dracula fights similarly to Kratos or even Dante. He has two main attacks that can be strung together in a series of combos. Earning experience allows players to unlock new, more devastating combos and as I used each attack, I also filled up experience in that weapon that I could then transfer to the weapon to make it stronger. It is a smart system. Dracula also has two complementary attacks in the Void Sword and Chaos Claws. The Void sword deals minimal damage, but heals Dracula with every strike, while the Chaos Claws break defense and deal massive damage.
Both are governed by magic meters that must be filled either by fountains, or keeping a combo going without taking a hit. The enemies will then bleed magic that Dracula can siphon for each corresponding power by clicking in on the left or right thumbstick. Combat is definitely deep, although most of the enemies require very little strategy, which makes for some repetition towards the end of the game.
Dracula also has a host of items that he can use, which I rarely even remembered I had. That is because the core three attacks handle most of what I needed to do. It also doesn’t help that outside of the boss battles, standard enemies are more of a roadblock than anything else. Progressing the story at the end was constantly dragged out by monster arenas that I had to clear before moving on.
The world of Lords of Shadow 2 is a mixed bag. The open city is divided into sections, and there are portals that allow Dracula to revisit his castle in the past. The sections in his castle are far more exciting than the present day stuff. Gothic architecture and more interesting puzzles await players there, while the modern day stuff simply falls flat. The city is full of even more drab enemies, including weird ones I would never imagine Dracula to fight, such as mechs and soldiers with machine guns. It all just feels out of place. The stealth sections also litter the present day, so it was just disappointing all around.
The Metroidvania aspects are much more pronounced this time around. There are tons of collectibles, artwork and of course upgrades gated behind areas that I had to revisit. Having to freeze a waterfall or mist through grates kept me coming back to areas to collect shards that upgraded my health and magic meters. There are also challenges that unlock as I progressed through the game that I could take on at my leisure. There is definitely a lot of content here; my first play through clocked in at around 15 hours, and I had only completed 49% of the game. So it is a hefty package.
Visually the game definitely shows its age on the last-gen consoles. Lots of jaggies and an unsteady frame rate were readily apparent. The design of the city is bland, but I really loved the characters and the original castle. As I mentioned earlier the voice acting is superb with Gabriel, voiced by Robert Carlyle, getting more chances to stretch his pipes this time around. There is a lot more dialogue than the original. Also the Chupacabra is hilarious, and I wish there were more segments featuring him.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 has been one of my most anticipated games for a while now. It is sad to see the series end on such a low note. There is still a good action game buried in here, and the storytelling was much more prevalent this time around. Sadly, the need to add in stealth sections and boring environments drag down what made the original so unique and memorable. Lords of Shadow 2 is worth playing through if for nothing more than to get closure to the series, but it is easily the weakest of the three Mercury Steam entries to the franchise.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.