During my time reviewing games, there have been a select few that tormented me with indecision, but among them all, none can compare to the likes of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2. In one stroke, I find myself exploring Dracula’s vast and gorgeous castle, climbing high upon monolithic structures, and navigating spectacularly designed Gothic halls, but only minutes later, I am forced to endure horrendously constructed stealth sections in an unappealing modern metropolis. I think the true question becomes: Do the sins of the latter corrupt the triumphs of the former?
After the events of the original Lords of Shadow, Gabriel Belmont, the once holy knight of the Brotherhood of Light, descended into the vampiric creature known as Dracula. After a fairly lengthy and entertaining prologue/tutorial set in Castlevania’s traditional Middle Ages, Dracula awakens from deathlike sleep in modern times. Your former enemy, Zobek, has returned once more, but after helping you to regain your strength, he requests that you aid him in his quest to stop the second coming of Lucifer.
The modern day plot is filled with Resident Evil style conspiracies, where Satan’s acolytes have taken over major corporations and organizations and are using them for nefarious deeds, chief among them the summoning of the Devil. I get that there are supposed to be underlying political messages here, but they are done in such a ham-fisted manner that that they lose any impact they may have had.
It is not the modern setting that causes my frustration, for there are similar spectacle fighters out there that use this time period with great success, Darksiders for example. The difference between Lords of Shadow 2 and Darksiders is that in Darksiders the demonic structures infuse themselves with the urban landscape, thus giving it a visually impressive and distinct look. However in Castlevania, the modern city is void of any supernatural landmarks.
The real enjoyment comes from Dracula’s moments inside his castle. Though I am not exactly sure where the castle portions take place in the timeline of the games, whether it is some alternate reality or Dracula’s memories and emotions personified, it satisfies greatly nonetheless. Not only does the castle yield a massive exploration element, and is the home to the Chupacabra, the single most adorable yet creepy being in all of Castlevania, but the relationship between Dracula and young Trevor is spectacularly done. The father and son bond they have is something I never expected out of Lords of Shadow 2, and it is the one time in all the game where we see Dracula lower his guard to show his limited affection.
When in the castle, it feels like the one true 3D Castlevania game. Unlike its predecessor, the exploration factor is huge. Not only can you reach places that are not required in order to complete the main game, but you want to. The castle stands as a character in itself, and with each room you enter, the more personality and story you unlock. On top of this, the magnificent Gothic inspired architecture and the musical score make every step a pleasure.
Both the modern city and Dracula’s Castle are open world environments, and movement has never been better with the addition of a player controlled camera. This also lends itself phenomenally to combat. As good as I believe the original Lords of Shadow combat to be, this version is vastly more refined and polished. Maybe it is just my preferred play style, but the slow, rolling maneuver of the original just did not cut it. In Lords of Shadow 2, there are a litany of advanced evasive moves, ranging from air dash to somersault, and because of this, even more combat combinations are unlocked.
Many of Gabriel’s skills from the original have been replaced with radically new ones. Abilities like Mist and Vampiric Wings completely alter combat and exploration. The Void Sword and Fury Gauntlets are also a total improvement on the light and shadow magic of its predecessor because they bring alternate side abilities and a whole new combat move list. I truly believe that Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2’s combat is not only the peak of the franchise but also one of the best in the spectacle fighter genre.
Despite this being a spectacle fighter, dungeons of puzzles do not exist. There are occasional environmental puzzles littered throughout, but nothing to the levels of others in the genre. I can’t say I am too upset at this aspect being left out, for I always felt that puzzles break up the flow of this type of game, but I am not ok with what they replaced it with.
I feel as if Konami forgot this was a Castlevania game and thought they were working with Metal Gear Solid. There are actually stealth sections in Lords of Shadow 2. Not only is it a ludicrous mechanic in a game like this, but it isn’t even done well. It is simple pattern memorization. This is one of the most rigid and archaic versions of stealth I have ever seen. There are no branching paths, and while they may serve a limited purpose in the beginning, to have them in the last fourth of the game is unacceptable.
Both the soundtrack and voice work are done spectacularly well. Patrick Stewart’s work as Zobek is just as distinct as it was in the original, though every time I head him speak, my mind directly went to Agent Bullock of American Dad. Robert Carlyle, who lends his voice to Dracula, has an understated Scottish accent that I have grown to love, and who could forget the chilling main theme. So reminiscent of everything I imagine Dracula to be, and almost as good as the theme to Bela Lugosi’s Dracula. It is a track that can easily be listened to on its own.