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Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2

Score: 80%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Konami
Developer: MercurySteam
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ Platformer (3D)/ Stealth

Graphics & Sound:

I almost loved Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. It was a gorgeous game, full of atmosphere and natural beauty, and the sound design was nigh impeccable. But it severely bungled its story by not only leaving an incredible gap between the end credits of the core game and the astonishing epilogue, but by only offering an explanation to those who were willing to purchase downloadable content. On top of that, someone at developer MercurySteam thought it'd be a clever idea to shoehorn an incredibly ill-conceived reference to Portal (a game that was, at the time, over three years old). Overall, the game just left a sour taste in my mouth. Not having played the 3DS midquel Mirror of Fate, I didn't really know what to expect from Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2. Maybe that's why I ended up enjoying it as much as I did.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is not as attractive as its console predecessor. Technically, it's on par, which is a very good thing; the folks at MercurySteam are talented artists. But there's the rub: artistically, this game just isn't up to snuff. I get that the franchise has been taken far into the future (possibly the present, even), but does that mean everything has to be made of metal, rubble, and garbage? The Industrial Revolution may have been the ruination of some of our most treasured natural elements, but this is fiction -- we don't need any reminders here. Character design is stunning as usual; Gabriel Belmont's transformation was not a subtle one, from his crimson irises to his pale skin, he's now a figure of menace. The loading screens in particular are good at emphasizing that; I'll let you discover exactly how for yourself.

Again, the single best part of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is its sound design, which is perfection. The star of the show is Óscar Araujo, whose stunning composition work might be one of the greatest of all time. It's epic in scope (a description I don't use lightly), and runs the emotional gamut. There's always been an underlying thread of hope in the soundtrack for this series. Most of it has since been devoured by the sense of overwhelming loss that torments our protagonist-turned-antihero. And it's great to see A-list voice talent that obviously cares about what they're doing: from Robert Carlyle's haunted performance as Gabriel to Patrick Stewart's Machiavellian turn as Zobek, it's excellent. Even Richard Madden (Game of Thrones's Robb Stark) shows up in a not altogether unexpected appearance...


In this telling of the Castlevania mythos (which has since been accepted as canon, for what it's worth), the Belmont clan has more in common with Dracula than most might have originally thought. Indeed, the epilogue of Lords of Shadow revealed that Brotherhood of Light crusader Gabriel Belmont ultimately became Dracula, the Dragon, the Prince of Darkness. Mirror of Fate went beyond that; a fateful encounter resulted in the death of his son Trevor, in turn resulting in the birth of longtime series vampire good guy Alucard. But Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 has us reunited with Dracula in the far-flung future; a dark, plague-ridden cityscape full of monsters and holy warriors spoiling for a fight. For some reason, he has been reawakened. His old accomplice Zobek foretells the arrival of Satan's four acolytes, who plan to resurrect their old master. Though Dracula is no friend of Satan, he agrees to hunt down the acolytes, in the hopes that Zobek will fulfill his end of the bargain and bring his anguished existence to a permanent end. It sputters in the beginning, but once the narrative gets going, it doesn't let up, and culminates in a satisfying conclusion to Gabriel's story.

But is Lords of Shadow 2 fun to play? Yes, more often than not, it is. Most of your time will be spent exploring the gothic environments, navigating and solving light puzzles from time to time. Exploration invariably leads to encounters with the forces of Heaven and Hell. The combat is fast-paced, impactful, and extremely gory.

All too often, though, Lords of Shadow 2 takes its eye off the ball and diverges into stealth sequences that are unpleasant at best and offensive at worst. None of these are particularly well-designed and the mechanics that facilitate them aren't developed well-enough. Though they cripple the pace of what's otherwise an engaging action experience, there aren't enough of them to merit thumbing your nose at the entire package.


Progressing through Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2's twelve-or-so-hour length is generally easy; environmental indicators and a helpful mini-map show the way when you might otherwise be stumped, and if you ever get stumped in combat or stealth encounters, the game will often come up with a strategy for you to try out. Personally, I found these intrusive, but more frustration-prone gamers might find them welcome.

One stealth segment in particular constitutes the game's only major difficulty spike, and it's easily the most frustrated I've been thus far this year. It forces you to navigate a poorly-designed labyrinth while overpowering the one who hunts you. It's an exercise in trial-and-error that quickly devolves into an exercise in sheer futility. It's bad game design, and thankfully there's not much of it elsewhere.

Game Mechanics:

Dracula's always been a powerful figure in this series, and it's fun to finally take control of him. Gabriel's Combat Cross was destroyed in the DLC for the first game, so now he has the Shadow Whip, which is made of his own blood. And that, my friends, is pretty awesome. His other two weapons are the Void Sword and the Chaos Claws. These weapons are powered by Blood Orbs, which operate identically to how the Orbs operated in the first game. By clicking in the corresponding analog stick, Dracula can absorb the Blood Orbs into the meter that powers a particular weapon.

The weapons have a unique dichotomy to them: the Void Sword siphons health away from every enemy you strike, while the Chaos Claws are a destructive force capable of tearing away armor and shields. And of course, each of them has its own ability trees, which can be progressed through using earned experience. And if all else fails, you can simply feed off of weakened enemies. Which, again, is awesome.

The stealth in this game, as mentioned before, is not awesome. Dracula will periodically find himself in an industrial setting guarded by hulking Golgoth Guards. These behemoths are armed to the teeth and extremely dangerous. If they spot you, you might as well reload your last checkpoint, because you aren't going anywhere. Your only hope is to distract them using clouds of bats, morphing into one of a mischief of rats to sneak by. Less frequently, Dracula is faced with the opportunity to possess these big jerks, but doing so is merely a means to an end. What could have been a puppeteer's sadistic fantasy is rendered into nothing more than a boring slog to the next area.

It's been a long time since vampires were cool. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 comes as close as it possibly can to bringing them back to legitimacy. It's been a decent but flawed run for MercurySteam, but overall I'd say it's been a success. While Lords of Shadow 2 is definitely a "one-and-done" action game, it's worth playing through.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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