Developers: Mercury Steam
Hundreds of years after Gabriel Belmont’s journey began; we’re here to witness the grand finale as we see him return as Dracula, to take on Satan and his acolytes one last time in the hope of finally finding peace and an escape from his immortal torment.
If the events of the original Lords of Shadow, the expansion DLC and Mirror of Fate are a little faded in your memory, there’s a summative cutscene early on to bring you back up to speed. Robert Carlyle and Patrick Stewart reprise their roles from the first game, attempting to add as much brooding and grandiosity respectively as possible. And lots of hammy dialogue so cringe worthy, it’ll give you a sore neck.
There’s also a recurring theme of Gabriel’s humanity trying to break through the darkness, aided by some touching scenes with spectres of his loved ones. Bosses are well characterised too, with one in particular haunting my thoughts long after with the echoes of gentle sobbing receding through the corridors of the castle as I left them with their shattered realisation of what they had been become.
A notable change for this sequel is the modern setting, which adds so little to the experience, but loses so much. Expect gritty streets, grey concrete corridors, factories and sewers galore. These settings are as dull as they sound and it’s a real relief when the Castlevania of old turns up and we get to see some castles. That said, even the gothic locales lack the impressive scale of the original LOS. With the whole game set indoors, or during overcast/nigh time conditions, it’s a gloomy affair throughout and detail seems left to to hide in the shadows.
The lack of detail could be the result of the new movable camera. You can now pan around environments in a full 360-degree arc and I feel this has meant more environment real estate for the developers to create, meaning there has been less time to create some of the beautiful scenes seen in the first game, which had a fixed camera perspective. The game’s far from ugly; but it’s notably less impressive than its predecessor. Although, I did enjoy spinning the camera around the first time I returned to the gothic castle amidst a snowstorm. On the plus side, the new camera does make for fewer issues during combat.
I played through the first game a few months ago and during CLOS2’s tutorial, I was delighted to find that most of the combos were still in place, with my thumb’s muscle memory allowing me to get into the swing of things straight away.
But surprise, surprise, when the game skips forward a few hundred years to the modern day, Gabriel/Drac has a touch of amnesia and has forgotten most of his skills and combos. No worries, I thought, I’m used to seeing Ratchet & Clank lose all their gear on an annual basis, but there’s always something new to replace them.
Sadly, back in Castlevania’s world, you spend most of the game re-purchasing old combos or slight variations, meaning that by the finale, it’s clear you’ve not really seen anything new. Being a bit averse to crucifixes, Drac’s new weapon is a fearsome whip and he can power-up two sub weapons in the form of the Void Sword, which has terrible reach, but restores health with successful hits and the Chaos Claws for breaking through armour.
Ok, the fiery fists of the claws are a lot of fun to bash about, especially seeing as the game throws shielded knights at you from the off and then jetpack-wearing infantry and armoured mechs later on – another pitfall of a modern setting. Each hit shows their armour growing weaker and the sound alone does a fantastic job of emphasising you’re breaking through.
For all weapons, Square dishes out direct attacks, while Triangle sweeps out wider swirling efforts so other members of the enemy team don’t feel left out. Oddly, there aren’t any dedicated combos where the two blend. Combos involve multiple taps of the same button, or holding the button for the first strike then tapping away and aerial moves come in with launchers activated by tapping jump after either strike button. The same combos can also be unlocked (by paying again) for the sub weapons, meaning there’s not an overly extensive move list to learn. Later on, more expensive and powerful moves can be unlocked that involve L2/R2, but at the end of the day, it all feels rather limited and disappointing due to the lack of new material for this so-called finale. In various interviews I read about the developers being sick of the (usually favourable) comparisons to God of War. Well, they have another one now as we’ve noticed Kratos has stubbornly refused to enhance his skillset much over the last few games either. To be fair, both series haven’t fallen as far as Ninja Gaiden yet.
In addition to buying combos, you can Master them (level them up once) simply by using them. You can also track how close you are to completing each one via an optional on-screen tracker. I really liked this idea and it was great to show which combos I was favouring and encouraged me to avoid over-relying on the same handful.
A lack of new ideas for combat would be more forgivable if it wasn’t for the introduction of forced stealth scenes. These clunky abominations see Dracula turning into a rat to move through vents or using swarms of bats to distract guards. The lengthy reload times and tedious sessions of trial and error will test your patience to the limit. The worst stage involved sneaking around an area and clambering on rails to avoid treading on noisy leaves, as being caught by your foe meant an instant death. To add insult to injury, this terrible section was followed by a boss fight with him and he was a complete pushover in comparison.
It’s such an unbelievable example of poor judgment including stealth in the game in the first place. But to do it so poorly is unforgivable. I mean, weren’t the platforming sections bad enough? Since you’re probably wondering, the platforming is better than before, but still a bit jerky and unpredictable. And Mercury Steam, don’t think we don’t know what you’re up to, highlighting every climbable ledge with a bats that sound exactly like the ones for the menus/discoveries of the Arkham games. Going for favourable associative sounds from a better game? Just makes us want to play that instead.
Apparently, this game has gone open-world, but you’d struggle to notice. You can go back to previously visited areas with new skills to find hidden items but your movement and exploration opportunities are severely limited. It’s less open-world and more like a series of areas connected by the tiniest hard to reach corridors. Towards the end, I had to do some backtracking as a part of the story and the navigation arrows on the map sent me on nearly two laps of the entire game world before I realised it just wasn’t pointed towards the correct area at all. This left me wandering around, trying to find my way back to the next jumping off point for the story.
Thankfully, the boss fights are worth the effort. While some are your standard cases of dodge a large brute’s attacks and move in afterwards, there are some absolute corkers. My favourite being a fantastically-woven piece in a theatre, starting with a puzzle involving moving stage pieces and characters around in accordance with the narration to introduce the Toy Maker to the scene with a wonderful collection of mini-boss puppets and a looming bug-eyed one to finish with. There’s also the castle-smashing clash against a huge a huge war machine. It’s such a shame so much of the rest of the game feels so half-hearted.
In the 15 hours it took me to finish Lords of Shadow 2, I came close to breaching boiling point at times thanks to the incredibly bad stealth sections and the merry-go-f**k-yourself-round provided by the navigational arrow. Despite this, I still found myself keen to hammer through to see the fate of Dracula and the Belmont clan. For those of you keen to spend a little bit longer in the game’s world, there are challenge modes, collectibles and a New Game + to throw yourself into. Sadly, for me though, this was a onetime visit.
- Love those Chaos Claws
- Boss fights mix things up well
- Combat is solid and satisfying...
- ...But lazily recycled from the first game
- Modern day setting never sits right
- Abysmal stealth sections
The Short Version: Despite the transformation from Belmont to Dracula, combat feels is largely the same and buying your combos over again feels like a cheap excuse for not bothering to come up with anything new. Some design choices seem to have disrupted other core elements too; gone are the beautiful crisp visuals and varied fantasy/gothic settings, replaced by stealth sections and modern day concrete. This is not the ending I was expecting for the Lords of Shadow series and it’s certainly not the one it deserves.