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Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 Review

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Ben-Dutka
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Graphics:
7.5
Gameplay:
5.8
Sound:
8.0
Control:
6.3
Replay Value:
5.5
Overall Rating:
6.6
Online Gameplay:
Not Rated
Publisher:
Konami
Developer:
Mercury Steam
Number Of Players:
1
Genre:
Action
Release Date:
February 25, 2014


When producing an anticipated sequel, a developer must always walk that fine line between “too familiar” and “too different.” If it’s too much like the original, it will be accused of being a rehash that didn’t require much effort. If it tries to do too many new things, it will invariably annoy fans of the first title. The problem with Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is that it falls into the “too different” category; while I always encourage fresh ideas from designers, if those ideas don’t work out, the result is somewhat disappointing.

The atmosphere is a perfect example of an unwanted change, in my opinion. Best known for a dark, gothic environment, this franchise thrives in the mythical, shadowy alleys of fantasy. When you implement a futuristic 21st-century setting, you’re not staying true to the franchise’s exalted core. The graphics have the benefit of a great sense of style and flair, and the animations and special effects are solid. Some are even fantastic. You can also travel back and forth between past and present, but at no point did I feel like I’m playing a Castlevania game.

As for the audio, we’re treated to a few excellent voice performances from a talented cast, and the soundtrack has that epic, sweeping quality I would’ve expected. The strange part is that it sort of clashes with the visual presentation; the music and effects – for the most part – do give me that familiar Castlevania feel. They tossed in a few more modern-sounding tracks, which don’t really do it for me, but the sound is a definite highlight throughout. Combat especially benefits from some wonderfully effective in-your-face effects that drag you into the experience.

Change. It’s welcome…but not. It’s ambitious…but unnecessary. This is how I’d summarize most of the newer gameplay elements I find in Lords of Shadow 2 . Let’s start with the more open-ended structure, which is drastically different from the extremely linear setup in the first title. Thing is, I’m all about striking a happy medium; finding a balance that doesn’t feel forced. This, unfortunately, feels forced. I would agree that the original game felt too constricted, but despite the increased diversity and size of the environments, the sequel seems to lack a soul. I’d rather be somewhat restricted and still have a soul.

The other problem is that while the first title gave gamers a relatively interesting, twisting storyline, the plot here fails to impress. It has its fair share of surprises, yeah, but the writers make a critical mistake: They don’t make the protagonist interesting enough. He’s not exactly sympathetic and he’s not exactly heroic; he’s fighting for a specific reason but sometimes that reason gets lost amid the muddled storytelling. He’s not the only character that’s ill-defined and under-developed, though, which is unfortunate. This story just doesn’t have it where it counts, but it thinks it does. Sadly, the more ponderous, thoughtful elements just don’t mean much.

On the plus side, the game is quite fun to play. The combat is really cool and action aficionados will appreciate the added complexity and intricacy. Gabriel has light and heavy attacks at his disposal (ala Kratos in God of War ) and the control feels light and responsive. This protagonist is appropriately powerful and the depth rewards those who experiment with Gabriel’s entire arsenal. The new experience system open up a myriad of new abilities, each of which is flashier and more devastating than the last. Between the basic whip attack (hey, that feels like Castlevania !), Chaos Claws and Void Sword, you can dish out some serious pain.

Strategy plays a role as well, as each weapon has its own strengths and weaknesses, which the game forces us to understand and acknowledge. But as is the case with just about everything in this game, it’s another good news-bad news situation: While you have great weapons and super fun skills, the enemy roster is uninspired and ultimately underwhelming. Granted, there are several wicked boss encounters but in general, the foes you face are generic. The ones that aren’t generic seem very much out of place; I have yet to determine the origin – or necessity – of those weird, alien-like creatures that carry automatic weapons.

Still, I won’t harp on that too much. I always say I like heroes that feel powerful and I’ve never really minded faceless, bland enemies before, so I’m not about to be hypocritical here. I had plenty of fun learning the combat system and employing Gabriel’s wide array of damaging abilities. Yes, I did. What I did not like was struggling through the poorly implemented stealth segments. They’re not well designed and they never even bother to tell you why you can’t just smash everything in sight. What’s so special about this particular area and these particular enemies? This just screams “tacked-on” and that’s very frustrating.

It’s one of those nonsensical additions that do nothing for the game; in fact, it detracts from the fun factor. The open-world element, on the other hand, is destined to be controversial. Purists may hate it but the various environments are quite attractive. I liked that we didn’t feel as bottled up as before, and earning new skills that open up more of the map (double-jump, mist transformation, etc.) reminded me of the good ol’ days of Symphony of the Night . I have no problem with utilizing a sandbox-style when you also have an adventure-like mechanic that really encourages you to keep playing. Locate upgrades, documents, hidden areas, and get stronger in the process. Fine by me.

I just wish they hadn’t tried so hard. That’s odd to say, but it really seems as if the team desperately wanted to avoid the “oh, we’ve played this before” accusation, so they decided on a few fresh components. Unfortunately, those components had no place in the game and just left us scratching our heads. When it makes sense, I say give it a try. When it goes against the very spirit of an entire series – especially one with such an amazing history – and it simply doesn’t fit the gameplay structure, it feels like a lame attempt. At the same time, I can’t deny that the deeper, more rewarding combat and larger environments does make this game quite entertaining…at least for a while.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 isn’t the sequel the fans wanted. It seems somewhat disjointed in that it lacks focus; in short, it tries to be something it’s not far too often. The modern-day theme simply doesn’t work, the story is muddy and hardly involving, and the stealth segments were just a mistake. However, the combat might be good enough to keep you playing, and the open environments are packed with secrets and other hidden goodies. Plus, I always love the Zelda -like structure that involves earning new abilities/equipment that ultimately let you open up more of the map. The question for you will be— “do the positives outweigh the negatives?”

The Good: Very pretty effects and animations. Excellent soundtrack. In-depth, engaging combat system. Open-world setup adds more content and an appreciated dynamic.

The Bad: Modern setting doesn’t feel right. Story is ill-formed and the protagonist isn’t interesting enough. Stealth sections are poorly designed.

The Ugly: “Somebody needs to explain why I have to sneak around here.”

 
Posted : 27/02/2014 12:00 am
MrAnonymity
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Hm... I may have to pass on this one. With the exception of the two on PS2, I really only care for the classic-feeling titles (such as SOTN and the DS titles). I played Lords of Shadow, but never got around to beating it and really don't feel as though I am necessarily missing out on something amazing. I've no problem contenting myself with the awesome Harmony of Despair until a SOTN-caliber release drops.

 
Posted : 27/02/2014 12:00 am
Ben Dutka PSXE
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"...until a SOTN-caliber release drops."

YES. I'd adore that but...don't hold your breath.

 
Posted : 27/02/2014 12:00 am
Draguss
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Isn't classic castlevania actually quite different from SotN or any other metroidvania titles?

 
Posted : 27/02/2014 12:00 am
Ben Dutka PSXE
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Sort of. Games like SotN and HoD are still 2D side-scrolling but they have deeper role-playing and exploration elements. Personally, I always thought of such games as the logical advancement of the Castlevania series.


Last edited by Ben Dutka PSXE on 2/27/2014 10:31:42 PM

 
Posted : 27/02/2014 12:00 am
LimitedVertigo
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Yeah, I never finished the first game either. SOTN is such a perfect game and I know it will never be topped but is it too much to ask for something similar?

 
Posted : 27/02/2014 12:00 am
Draguss
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I see. I never actually played the classic ones (SotN was my first), but I remember running into a forum once with a lot of people wishing the series would go back to pre-metroidvania gameplay. I may have to try one out just to see how different they really are.

@LV Well, it's not like it's completely unmatched in the whole series. Dawn of Sorrow didn't really surpass it, but it came pretty damn close.


Last edited by Draguss on 2/27/2014 10:50:00 PM

 
Posted : 27/02/2014 12:00 am
LimitedVertigo
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True, it is an excellent game but that was nearly a decade ago. 🙁

 
Posted : 27/02/2014 12:00 am
LimitedVertigo
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Leave it to the Castlevania series to follow up a decent game with a mediocre sequel.

 
Posted : 27/02/2014 12:00 am
BikerSaint
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Sounds like they could've really used Kojima's help once again on this one too.

 
Posted : 27/02/2014 12:00 am
WorldEndsWithMe
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Sadness. Mercury Steam's vision never was quite right for this franchise. I look forward to it going to someone else like Ninja Theory.

 
Posted : 27/02/2014 12:00 am
Lawless SXE
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I agree on NT, but I don't think too many others will. 😉

 
Posted : 27/02/2014 12:00 am
LimitedVertigo
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I'd love to see what NT can do. I've enjoyed all of their games so far.

 
Posted : 27/02/2014 12:00 am
Lawless SXE
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Sounds like a fundamentally confused game, which is a shame. The demo I played at the EB Expo last year was wicked fun and prompted me to pick up the original, of which I've played about five hours - I was interrupted. Sad that this is of a lower general quality than its predecessor. Be good to see what Mercury Steam does next, now that they're moving away from Castlevania.

 
Posted : 27/02/2014 12:00 am
cLoudou
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Was really look forward to this especially with it's modern day setting, kinda had a feeling it was not going to be good. Lucky for me I waited for reviews on this and Thief rather than buying on impulse.

 
Posted : 27/02/2014 12:00 am
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