Konami and MercurySteam go back into the world of Lords of Shadow for one more go-around with Dracula and company.
Lords of Shadow, Konami’s updating of the Castlevania franchise released back in 2010, was something of a revelation for the aging franchise. It wasn’t too long ago after all, that Castlevania had been relegated to rehashed, oddly anime-flavored, handheld games- and that was about it. I remember the last Castlevania title I had played was Portrait of Ruin on the DS and, which it was a decent enough game, it made the fact that an overhaul was desperately needed very apparent. It was certainly no triple A affair and definitely not a title that could be compared favorably to the true stars of the franchise like Symphony of the Night or the incredible originals from decades long gone by. Speaking of, make sure you check out part one of this double header review before you read on, and take a peek at Jake’s Retro Review of the first and arguably still greatest Castlevania.
Enter Castlevania: Lords of Shadow and MercurySteam. The developer has completely saved the Castlevania name and pretty much returned the series to what it should be- a marquee title and headline release on the calendar for any platform. Now with Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2, the series comes to a close with a title that means to definitively end the trilogy.
I won’t be getting into too many spoilers here, since the storyline is more than half of what makes this series so great, but I think a little recap might be in order… There’s a small opening scene in LoS2 that serves as a tutorial and tells a tale that’s set after the original, but before the events in Mirror of Fate. Here we find Castlevania under attack by a legion of shining knights and one very big golem. They rip into the castle and you’ll have to, as Drac, battle with all your god-like abilities to stop them.
From there, the narrative picks back up after of Mirror of Fate and the destruction of Dracula’s home, and leads the vampire hundreds of years forward and into the modern age. Time has not been kind to Drac and he’s withered into a shell of his former self. It’s here that the former Brotherhood member Zobek makes himself known once again as he brings Dracula back to health, such as it is. It’s also here in the early goings that we’re shown the depths of depravity that the vampire must stoop to to survive. I won’t blow the surprise for you, but it’s an extremely disturbing scene.
After Dracula’s rebirth, we find out that Satan has returned to threaten the world once again and that Zobek needs his former enemy’s aid in defeating him. With no love lost between the two opposing evil forces, Gabriel agrees and things twist and turn into the rest of the game from there. And there are plenty of hard-turns in here too.
The story weaves its way around and throws curveball after curveball at the player. In that way, LoS2 rely doesn’t get ‘old’ till after the credits roll since you have little idea of what’s coming next. Even when, at several points during the lengthy campaign, I found myself getting bored and not wanting to continue I was drawn back into the game’s world if for nothing else than to see what happened next. In that way, LoS2 is a victory. However, that’s not the case throughout.
Unfortunately, the setting is a little bit of a mixed bag. It’s plenty cool to see Gabriel fighting demons in the modern age, but this isn’t really the modern age that you might think it is. Personally, I was under the impression that LoS2 was set within a real-world city, but it’s not. As I mentioned in our preview of the game, this is a fictional city built on the ruins of Castlevania itself and one that carries over much of the architecture and feel of the fictional castle. I enjoyed it in the early goings, but before long I was thinking about what could have been, with an open-world London (for example) to fight across in the way that the Spider-Man games make NYC open and available for play.
The sections still set in the old Castlevania are fun though and have to be mentioned for the gems that they are. These areas are accessible through mystical means as a part of the story itself and can also be return-accessed by way of a time-travelling white wolf (it’ll make sense). It’s really fun to poke around the castle (which is set in the time right after the fall and defeat of Drac by Simon Belmont and Alucard) and is easily a highlight of the game.
Another bright point are the graphics, LoS2 is a pretty game indeed at times and can really make the old ‘last-gen’ hardware shine. Especially later on in the game and in the caste areas, as they’re super-nicely detailed and really imaginative. MercurySteam did a great job on the look and feel of a good chunk of the game and that’s a great thing, especially for longtime fan as there are a number of homages to what’s come before throughout. Likewise, the musical score is excellent and pays tribute to the Castelvania flavor. Oh, and the voice work is incredibly good. Even where the script falters, most of the time Robert Carlyle and Patrick Stewart make it sound great. Excellent casting there on both actors.
As far as the weapons you’ll wield in the game, you’ve got three at your disposal (not counting tertiary goodies like the daggers and hourglass). Used most of all is the blood-whip, which gives magic back off of kills to fuel your other hardware. And those would be the Chaos Claws (which have an alt-fire mode where Drac tosses fireballs), and the very important Void Sword, which can drain life and add it to your own. Overall, the armory can get stagnant after a good while.
There are actually tons of moves that you can learn, but you’ll use precious little of them as you play. Most of the time I couldn’t remember the button presses needed for each and simply hot-swapped between the three weapons till I beat whatever was in front of me. It’s not un-fun, it’s just somewhat meh after a while. Control on the whole is solid though and you’ll encounter few issues in that arena, which is always a good thing.
I liked so much of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 that I find it tough to be hard on it.
The graphics and audio are excellent, the control is terrific, and most of the layouts of the actual levels are pretty great too. But even with all that, there’s just something… off about it. Yes, the weapons are kind of boring at their core, but I think it might be the characterization of Dracula himself that could have been better. The amount of purely uncomfortable things that you have to do while in his boots never really felt worse (from a human perspective) than that one scene at the beginning and that’s a disappointment.
Also, I really can’t help but focus on that city as something of a missed opportunity. I know why MercurySteam created a city instead of using a real-world one (it fits the narrative direction they went), but it would have been so much fun to have rampaged as Dracula through a real burgh, that I can’t get it out of my head.
All in all, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 isn’t a bad game, not by my standards anyway. It just wasn’t the gem that I thought it’d be at first glance. And as a send-off for the series, it’s not quite the tasty morsel for gamers to sink their fangs into that it could have been.