By Phil Schipper / March 27th, 2014
|Title||Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2|
|Release Date||February 25, 2014|
|Platform||PlayStation 3, Xbox 360|
|Age Rating||M (ESRB), 18+ (PEGI)|
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow was a major departure from the Castlevania series, for better or for worse. Mirror of Fate, the sequel, moved back towards the gameplay that the series is known for. Now, following both games, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 offers yet another take on MercurySteam’s work in the Castlevania franchise. Where will it take us this time?
Lords of Shadow 2 picks up the story from Mirror of Fate–if you mind MAJOR SPOILERS from that game or the original Lords of Shadow, then you should probably turn back now. In fact, one of the first things you’ll see when you start the game is a summary of what happened back then, most notably, the endings.
The true ending for Lords of Shadow revealed that even after defeating Satan, Gabriel Belmont wasn’t quite satisfied. He kept looking for vengeance and power, and eventually became Dracula himself. In Mirror of Fate, Gabriel’s son, Trevor, who had been hidden from him, came to fight him. Trevor lost the battle, but after finding out his identity, Dracula turned Trevor into a vampire. He, now named Alucard, came back and, teaming up with his own son, Simon, defeated Dracula.
Now, though, Dracula has reawakened–and Satan is about to, as well. Teaming up with his old ally Zobek, Dracula sets out to once again thwart Satan’s followers. They’re in control of many corporations in this new, modern world (probably just a few decades in our future) and Dracula has to infiltrate these sites and defeat their leaders. Meanwhile, his conscience gnaws at him for his past, and his own minions begin turning on him to keep him from leaving the castle. Memories of his son Trevor pull him back into the castle, where visions of people he once knew tug at him from all directions.
No matter who you’re fighting–holy knights from Dracula’s memories, gun-toting soldiers of Satan or Dracula’s old minions–you’ll be equipped with the same set of weapons. The whip returns from Lords of Shadow, and nearly all of its original attacks are unlockable. In addition, the old magic system has been replaced by two new weapons; the Void Sword and the Chaos Claws. They still use the two magic meters, but their fighting styles are different, and you’ll have to unlock new techniques for each one individually. The Void Sword, which saps enemies’ health, is great for quick strikes, and can freeze enemies with some attacks. The Chaos Claws have the shortest range of all, but their heat is able to break through shields–very useful for taking out a single, powerful enemy at a time. All of them can be upgraded with new combos as you gain experience.
The secondary weapon system has been revamped slightly, too. Dracula has his old daggers, which can take on the elements of the Void Sword and Chaos Claws. Another good thing to throw is a swarm of bats, used to distract one enemy while dealing with others. Dracula can also turn into mist, passing through grates and letting fans push him through the air. The last option is an entire category of items–relics, rare items that give Dracula a temporary power boost when he breaks them. Extra health, unending magic power, and the ability to slow your enemies down on hit are just a few of the possibilities.
Of course, combat isn’t everything. Although the whip’s grappling ability is gone, that doesn’t get in the way of extensive platforming and climbing areas. It’s easier to find your path because Dracula’s bats will hover around the next point you have to grab onto. In addition, there are a few areas surrounded by tough armored cyborgs that can kill Dracula almost instantly. You’ll actually have to sneak past them. Using a combination of the bats and mist, you have to get to the right spot, and often possess one of the guards from behind, all without being seen (even if you do possess one, the others sometimes notice and kill you anyway).
As you progress, things will get more and more… strange. It’s hard to tell whether Dracula is just losing his mind from the guilt of things and having visions of his former castle, or if he’s actually traveling back and forth in time somehow. Many of the people who appear in the castle are definitely quite dead and couldn’t be back, but other characters in the city will tell you that Dracula was nowhere to be found during these points. The interactions between him, Zobek, Alucard and the rest of the Belmont family seem confusing–at least, until the twist that makes everything make sense.
The graphics and sound don’t seem like a big jump from the original game. Sure, they’re even more dark and moody now that you’re playing as Dracula himself. That also allows for a new level of violence, as Dracula isn’t exactly clean about his blood-sucking tendencies. The new weapons glow brightly in the (almost always dark) environments. The sounds and voice performances are exactly what you got in the original, and the music is, once again, not terribly memorable, but it suffices.
Forget the chapter and stage system from Lords of Shadow. As mentioned earlier, the play area is split into two maps: Dracula’s Castle and Castlevania City, the latter supposedly being built on the ruins of the former. Each of these, then, has four major areas that you can explore and pass between at virtually any time. The map indicates the number of secrets available to find in each, and the number actually follows what’s available based on Dracula’s current abilities. Thus it lends itself to the major backtracking, exploration and search for hidden areas that Castlevania fans have enjoyed for the bulk of the series. If you’re really stumped, the Dodo Egg relic will mark the nearest secret on your minimap, but odds are you’ll still have to search for a way to reach it.
There is one major trade-off for this type of classic progression, though. Without the ability to jump between chapters, you have no means of reliving the story or replaying major boss battles, which were great because they broke out of a lot of the original’s monotonous patterns. The only way to go back at all is by starting a New Game+, one option after beating the game (you can also keep looking for upgrades on the map). You’ll carry over your experience points and any secrets you found, but then you’re locked on the highest difficulty–and, unless you’re a true master of the game, that brings it to an almost unplayably hard level. Lords of Shadow 2 only has one save file, so the only way to replay it outside of the New Game+ is by playing as a completely separate user on your console.
So, in the end, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2, while a very fun and engaging game to play through, is ultimately crippled by its lack of replay value. Sure, you can try to get 100% by collecting all the upgrades and beating the special Challenge battles, but you won’t really get any extra reward for doing so. It’s essentially your only solace after you’ve finished the 30-hour main storyline. If that’s all you want out of a $60 game, at least it’s a really great time, but just be warned–that’s basically the last of it.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is available on Amazon:
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