It’s been years since I had the pleasure of diving into a Castlevania game, so when it was announced that Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 would be gracing consoles, it was the perfect opportunity to catch-up on one of the storied franchises in gaming history. Knowing that the first Lords of Shadow installment was generally well received (despite a few who may have hated it), the anticipation was high. I had assumed that my voyage back into the Belmont bloodline would be exciting, dangerous, and fun.
I was wrong.
em>Lords of Shadow 2 starts off better than expected, with a complete breakdown of the storyline to this point, which was perfect for someone like me, only now revisiting the franchise. Gabriel Belmont, the latest in the storied line of Belmont vampire hunters is Dracula himself. It was jarring playing as Dracula, despite being of the Belmont clan, because Dracula has always been the enemy.
Still, the storyline is exciting: Dracula is pulled out of his near-death slumber to help stave off the invading armies of Satan. There are twists and intrigue along the way, but unfortunately I didn’t get to see it. Of the roughly 20 hour campaign, I played about five hours before casually setting the controller down and backing away.
Castlevania Lords of Shadow 2 is a game that introduces an overwhelming number of ideas and never finishes them before introducing the next. From combat to movement, narrative to puzzle-solving, it’s as if a dozen great ideas were conceived, only to be vomited out all at once. You could rifle through the pile of stench to find some worthwhile morsels, but the sheer act of bringing yourself to be elbow deep in it isn’t worth what you’ll bring away.
Combat I saw wasn’t awful, but suffered from the same spastic nature of the game. The whip combat, a mainstay in the series, is superbly satisfying and as you get into a rhythm, cracking it this way and that, you’ll learn to master the quick attacks, power attacks, and aerial assaults with ease. Immediately introduced in the combat is the use of the Void Sword and Chaos Claws, which act in the same way as the whip, but are implemented as ulterior options to dispatching particular foes. The smoothness of whip combat is often interrupted by the frenzy of swapping from sword to claws to whip on the fly. Though it’s a smooth transition, it’s still jarring in the overall flow of combat.
Locomotion is not awful, and for any who played games like Darksiders, you’ll appreciate the meld of modern-day with the aesthetic of a dark, Victorian age motif. The areas, at least to start, are enclosed and often require some sort of gimmick to move through them, as you’re far too weak to deal with the death dealers that have been placed in your way. It’s at these points that you’re required to use your stealth ability, transforming into a rat, or your distraction ability, throwing a cloud of bats at enemies, to get past them undamaged.
It’s all of these options that seem like they’d work well together, but the implementation of them feels like a splinter in the tip of your finger: uncomfortable at best. Even a boiled down option, such as moving from room to room and engaging in tedious combat seems a better option, as again, the whip combat is the most enjoyable part of the game.
Boss fights are also important and, surprisingly, well done for the most part. There are some gimmicks thrown in, but that’s expected in a game like this. Those that stick to the recipe of, “see the pattern, learn the pattern, counter the pattern,” will have little trouble dispatching enemy bosses, but inevitably will have to wander back into the sub-par overall gameplay.
When you’re not sneaking through rooms as a rat or throwing clouds of minions at your enemies, the rooms are fairly wide open and sprawling. It’s a shame that the map design, in particular directions to your next missions, are as awful as they are. Often times you’ll end up going from room-to-room, jumping and swinging from ledges, only to end up confused and with no sense of where you should be going. More often you’re faced with a collectible or a power-up that you think is reachable, but are unsure if you need an upgrade or if the level is simply designed poorly.
It’s always hard to tell.
While I only completed a handful of boss encounters and spent about 25% of the assumed gameplay in the world, it’s easy to point out the many flaws that the game has. That said, there are a few things done right and any fan of the Castlevania series will probably find enjoyment from their time in the world. Not much, but some.
Due to not finishing the game, I cannot award a score.
DISCLAIMER: A copy of this game was provided for review purposes