Review: Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow 2 Is A Bloody Good Time
"You either die a hero or you live long enough to become a villain." Those were Harvey Dent's words in The Dark Knight and nothing has been truer for Gabriel Belmont, the protagonist of MercurySteam's recent Castlevania: Lords of Shadow games. But does being bad feel good, or will evil never prevail?
- Worth The Time?This game has some twenty hours of gameplay and that's if you don't explore everything, on your first playthrough; at least nineteen of those were great.
- Things LovedThe deep weapons upgrade system; the complicated but rewarding combat; the exploration and platforming is a lot of fun; the story takes a while but really pays off towards the end; Gabriel is the most interesting character in a while.
- Things HatedThe stealth sections are entirely superfluous; the trips between the present and past give you this feeling as if the game was developed by two different studios; you are going to spend a lot of your time woefully confused about what's going on.
- RecommendationThere are a lot of different people who could enjoy this game but just ask yourself: Do you have twenty hours you'd like to spend playing a game? Do you like sprawling adventures that play out in the third person? Can you keep up with a complex story? If so, pick this one up. You can't go wrong.
- Name: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2
- Genre: Adventure
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: None
- Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
- Developer: MercurySteam
- Publisher: Konami
- Price: R 615
- Reviewed On: Xbox 360
There are many reasons for why we play games. Some might be looking for a compelling narrative, whilst others might just be looking for some entertainment value. Within these reasons, there are also subsections such as a tight, linear narrative or a branching, open-ended narrative, and so on. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is one of those unique games that manages to fill more than one of these subsections of gaming. It is tight and linear in places, but can also be quite open-ended at other times. It can be restrictive and frustrating at times, but can also make you feel like quite a badass as well. In all, it’s quite a difficult game to classify.
But that’s getting ahead of ourselves so let’s start at the beginning. Lords of Shadow 2 follows on from not just Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, including epilogue DLC, but also Castlevania: Lords of Shadow — Mirror of Fate. In a nutshell, Gabriel Belmont, a former holy knight of the Brotherhood of Light who defeated the Lords of Shadow and finally Satan, fell to their power and became the Prince of Darkness, an immortal vampire named Dracula (Dracul, the dragon), thereby completing the prophecy that he who destroys the Lords of Shadow must take their place. His quest began after he lost his wife Marie, however she had birthed a son before dying, without telling Gabriel. That son then grew up to join the Brotherhood of Light, and then took on his dad and subsequently failed and was turned into a vampire, but his compassion for humanity stayed with him and he became a vampire hunter called Alucard (Dracula backwards, basically). Meanwhile, many years later, his son teamed up with him and together they finally defeated Dracula. Or so they thought. And that is basically where Lords of Shadow 2 picks up.
If you’re as confused as I was, trust me, it doesn’t get any less confusing for a long, long while. But it’s all explained in due time; it’s just a case of whether you’re willing to accept the story presented to you. In any case, the game does an adequate job of catching you up with the story with a five-minute long introductory video that explains the events leading up to this game.
If I’m being completely honest, Lords of Shadow 2 starts off superbly well by making one of the biggest mistakes of modern gaming; it gives you a fully powered character to play with before subsequently ripping all of that power away and leaving you a powerless husk, a mere shadow of your former self if you’ll excuse the pun, then asking you to slowly regain all of that lost power.
The prologue is actually quite exciting. It really gets you into the swing of things and sets the tone for the rest of the game. It has the deep and complex but not altogether confusing combat system, it has the tricky but not impossible platforming segments and it has the exciting and rewarding boss fights that end in dramatic cutscenes and at least one shot of Gabriel looking like a badass. And that’s basically the entire game…
… at least until the game starts throwing stealth sections at you. See, as the less powerful version of Dracula, Gabriel is weak to various enemy types. This means that there are sections presented to you where you cannot defeat the enemies in an area and must get around them. An interesting addition to the game, you might say. A fresh new mechanic for the series, perhaps. Nope. Just an inconvenience and a frustration that forces you to possess rats and then sneak around through pipes containing obstacles in order to progress. While they were not hated, they were not welcomed either, when I had to endure these sections. Thankfully they weren’t commonplace and most of the rest of the game was Castlevania at its finest, minus a little frustration.
Let’s spend a few hundred words addressing the combat in this game. Lords of Shadow 2 replaces the Combat Cross of the first game with the Shadow Whip, which is basically an outward manifestation of Gabriel’s own blood. More on blood later on. Replacing his light and dark powers are Void and Chaos powers, the former giving him a really cool lifestealing sword that slows enemies (so, Frostmourne, basically) and the latter giving him flaming fists that do bonus damage and break armour.
Together with these are various secondary weapons or abilities including daggers, a bat swarm as well as the ability to turn into mist. There’s also a really sexy double jump that you unlock later on, I just wanted to mention that. Also available to you are usable items including the regular kind of healing potion as well as some that temporarily increase your abilities, help you to find secrets and give you the ability to slow enemies with attacks while gaining bonus experience. Finally, you have a dragon talisman which is basically a ‘one-click-kill-everything’ ability whenever it’s available to you. All of these are either found as combat drops or purchased in an in-game store that is run by a Chupacabras. (Seriously.)
Each of the three primary weapons have various upgrades that you can purchase with experience points, and then can be ‘mastered’ by using those unlocked attacks a certain amount of times. These increase their power, attack speed and so on. It’s quite extensive and will take you many, many hours while also encouraging a variety of attack styles, or that’s the hope anyway. Further, you will also be using the powerups for navigational purposes in true Castlevania style. Speaking of!
Navigation in this game is so much better than it has ever been. It still needs some work because for the life of me there were times when I had absolutely no idea where I was going, and it is quite easy to get lost on your way to your next objective anyway, but with Lords of Shadow 2, MercurySteam have really refined the experience and eliminated a lot of the frustration of platforming in the previous game.
For one, you have complete freedom of camera control, which means no more walking in and immediately out of an area because the camera switches over and your character turns around automatically. Apart from a few points in the game, the worst the camera will do is pan outwards but otherwise, you have control of it. Better still, this time around you actually have a mini-map, with an objective marker. Believe it or not, in Lords of Shadow 2, you can actually know where you’re going at all times. Further, the option of fast-travelling is now available but you will need to find the necessary map rooms which allow you to travel.
And you’ll likely need them because this game is massive. As far as open worlds go, I’d say this game is about as large as that of Darksiders II, with a lot of areas that are only available to you later on after you’ve unlocked some ability or the other. It’s clever as well, levels are designed superbly with a lot of exploration on offer if you use your head about where you’re going to next. Oftentimes you’ll look at a particular area and go, “Can I get there?” And the answer is typically yes, if you know how to. I love it.
Most of the game is a mix of the modern day setting of the story, mixed with a healthy amount of exploration of the castle that Gabriel inhabited for so many years of his life, while it was still in its glory days. Yes, that’s right, you are moving between the past and present day. The contrast is quite something as you go from breathtakingly majestic medieval times to the dreary urban environments of the present. The only upsetting part is that your castle, get this, is trying to kill you. Go figure.
If there is a complaint that I do have about the level design, it’s that it feels quite disjointed at times, especially when you consider the game’s story. Now the Castlevania games have always taken certain liberties with mythology and this game presents an equally unique perspective on the eternal battle between the forces of good and evil. There is a healthy dose of blasphemy in this game as Gabriel constantly questions the actions of a God who condemned him to eternal life as his ‘Chosen One’ and it’s all really interesting, it’s just that the game then decides it’s time to bore you to death with some non-consequential bullshit about the actions of some acolyte of Satan whom nobody even actually cares about.
Most of the present day story occurs as part of Gabriel’s reawakening by his old ‘friend’ Zobek, who wishes to quell the rising forces of Satan as they seek to resurrect him. Now, the only person in history who has ever defeated Satan is Gabriel, in the first game, so Zobek brings Gabriel back from what is a sort of resting state in order to ask his help in return for the eternal peace that Gabriel desires — see, Gabriel can only be killed by his old weapon, the Vampire Killer, which was lost to history and presumed destroyed.
Meanwhile, on his quest to help Zobek he experiences flashbacks that deliver him back to his past and allow him to interact with his family and explore his castle back when it was still around, and subsequently regain all of his powers, one at a time, after each visit. The result of this dichotomy is that you end up getting lost in the spiraling beauty of the medieval castle and then unlock something new and are snapped back to the present day in order to continue the story, but the past has a story of its own and so it becomes really tricky to keep up with all of it. It’s one of those ‘just go with it’ stories where once everything is explained, as it inevitably is, you sit back and smile at how silly you were for not figuring it out earlier. Or perhaps you did and you just feel like a smartass instead.
The dissonant, disjointed feel of the story isn’t helped by how much it feels as if it’s just trying to drag on at times. You could have compressed the story a bit and easily cut out five hours from the game. Am I complaining about a lengthier experience if I get to have fun through it? Of course not. But a few less stealth sections would be great. Still, I can at least say that these awkward breaks in the fun are what make the fun feel that much more fun and so, fair enough.
Plus I really can’t fault the story for dragging on as much as it does if it inevitably does have a payoff. And quite a great one as well. Meanwhile all through it, it’s really interesting to see how full of himself Gabriel is, but not in a cocky way, more as if he’s become resolved to his fate. He’s accepted that as an immortal, he cannot be killed. He’s angry at God for how his life has ended up, and as a result he wants to take it out on God’s children. But he has no love for Satan either, in fact he despises the dude. In that way, Gabriel stands alone, almost as if a third entity; on nobody’s side but his own. Just trying to find eternal rest. I can respect that about his character.
The way the game plays out also goes a long way to emphasising this tone of self-harm and desolation. Almost every interaction with levels involves Gabriel bleeding his blood onto things, and there are entire sequences where Gabriel paints the walls with either the blood of his enemies or his own blood, which has so much power that it eventually begins to manifest itself into its own entity. Be certain of one thing when you come into this game: There is a lot of blood involved.
Something I’d like to note about the game is that you can turn off quick time events, which is just the most amazing thing in the world. Don’t get me wrong, I love QTEs and will rarely ever forgo them but the ones in Castlevania games are really tough and to save a broken controller and increase your cinematic experience, just do yourself a favour and turn them off.
Attempting to classify Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is really difficult. It is a third person action adventure with elements of stealth, it has many hours worth of exploration, is littered with boss fights, has a deep and complex weapon upgrade system, an equally deep ‘spectacle fighter’ combat mechanic that is also incorporated into platforming, and throws in a convoluted and ridiculous yet immersive and engaging story. It is a lot of things, basically. It’s a Castlevania game, minus all of the frustrations, which means it’s not a Castlevania game at all.
But at its core, what it is, is a great time that will last you upwards of twenty hours. And then you’ll want to play it again.