“I think those days are gone, yes. I think hardcore gamers would love to play another 2D Castlevania, but the reality is that it’s a very niche market and Konami really want this series to be mainstream again.
We took this direction in order to reach that bigger audience, otherwise we would have carried on with the 2D approach. That’s not to say I don’t think there will ever be another 2D game in the series, it might happen but just not from MercurySteam.
When you look at the future on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, I don’t think people want to play 2D games on those consoles. Core gamers may still want something like that, but there’s an expectation among the wider public for big, epic games.”
David Cox – Producer of the Lords of Shadow Series
Well, if you honestly think that, Mr. Cox, then you shouldn’t have put so much energy into making a bland as hell 3D action game that feels like it was made in 2005!!
Well, until this series is freed with the jaws of life from the icy grip of MercurySteam, I will never ever see the new age Castlevania game that I have been seeking since the 16 bit days. And that smartass comment from Mr. Shit-for-Brains shows how little he cares for the name of Castlevania, a franchise that has had a really hard time trying to establish itself in the 21st century. In my opinion, Symphony of the Night jacked everything up with its Metroid-styled approach, completely eradicating the need for Castlevania’s super-cool gameplay, level design, enemy placement, and challenging boss battles.
Sticking with the series on the non-handheld consoles, both of the PS2 ‘Vania games followed in the footsteps of its predecessor on the PSX, and both were playable, but not very memorable . From a gameplay standpoint, they translated well from two dimensions into three, but there was still leveling up skills, buying items, equipping armor and weapons. All of these extra variables just add a lot of empty calories around the game and deceives you into thinking you are accomplishing a lot. It wasn’t your skill that helped you defeat that ridiculously tough boss, you wailed on the fire-based demon with an ice sword! Never since has Castlevania stepped foot out of the castle and presented itself with a solid linear experience. The first Lords of Shadow game I assumed would be a return to level-based action platforming. It sort of met me halfway, but provided enough hope that I was interested in seeing how they would build on its format in the sequel (Ignoring the fact that playing as Dracula in a Castlevania game is borderline blasphemy and very, very stupid, but I tried to maintain an open mind). And boy howdy, did they screw it up!!!
GRAPHICS: It’s probably a solid second in terms of the things that are noteworthy about Lords of Shadow 2. It does look brilliant, from each freakish foot soldier that attacks to the gigantic bosses. They look pretty cool.
The PS3 version lags a little bit, I don’t know if this is a problem with the 360 version. The game’s setting is an initial problem. Gabriel splits time in between the modern world Transylvania and the old gothic ruins of his former castle. When stuck in the past, the setting is enriched with the familiar haunting and desolate aura of Castlevania lore.
Sure, Lords of Shadow is taking place in the midst of…some kind of apocalypse…so I would be expecting average Joes and Jills to be milling around in the streets, but that is precisely the issue at hand. I’m playing Castlevania and that rustic, 16th century architecture is almost a must! It would be like if Resident Evil had a boss battle that involved helicopters and HMG gatling guns!! It’s out of the element!!
Simply put, the city crap is horribly out-of-place, violently ripping you out of the series’ long-standing haunting lore. SCORE 7/10
STORY & CHARACTERS: This game picks up immediately after the first one, with an aging Dracula coming out of hiding and being approached by Zobek (it’s never made clear why these two are pals after the events in the first game, I’ll chalk it up to Gabriel still being an oblivious buffoon), who tells him that Satan is being resurrected and plans on taking over and these two must work together to stop him and his undead army.
Or it’s more like Gabriel stands around with one facial expression while Zobek orders him around. Gabe never questions anything, doesn’t object or makes any decisions on his own, he’s the same boring block of wood he was in the first game, he just has a 5 O’clock shadow this time around. Intertwined with Dracula’s modern-day misadventures in the most boring destroyed city in video game history are moments where Gabriel interacts with his son and wife from the past.
And they do about as much for Gabriel establishing any kind of personality as watching an episode of Phineas & Ferb in hopes that it teaches you about the Korean War. Tis is the worst thing to happen to a Belmont since Takeshi Obata drew Simon in that horrible S&M outfit from Castlevania Judgement. The game just gives you no reason to care at all about any of these people. The game’s tagline is “Blood is Everything”, since Satan’s blood is controlling everything, but it bites that we barely get a chance to interact with anything before it’s time to fight again. Characters are dispatched the moment they’re introduced, all development and emotional bonds are merely blurted out in clunky, half-baked exposition and we’re just supposed to accept that, and Gabriel just keeps that vaguely disinterested look on his face the whole time!
This is Gabe’s face at the beginning of the game. And this is him when talking with his son that he hasn’t seen in centuries…
He has, at all times, the look of a man who’s been hit with a fish. This might be the most boring video game character I’ve ever controlled in my life. The Pong bar is more expressive. In the first LoS, he at least seemed focused and angst-ridden. I wasn’t expecting crappy Dante-esque one-liners, but when a 20 story monster rises out of a frozen lake, you could at least blink!!! SCORE 3.5/10
GAMEPLAY: So MercurySteam actually improved the combat over the first game, which was an inane button masher, by adding the Void Sword and the Chaos Claws. The Void Sword, does less damage than your Vampire Killer but restores health with successive hits. The Chaos Claws do more damage and can break through enemy defenses. This lets you approach combat more carefully instead of hoping to just beat enemies into a pulp and you can actually string together some cool combos. An interesting dynamic, only slightly ruined by the damn sphere grid-like skill book you can fill out.
This is one of my biggest caveats with new game devs thinking I feel like sitting here and racking up EXP or cash to unlock a whole bunch of extracurricular techniques that I will never actually use in some sense of making me feel better about striving for 100% completion! Bells and whistles are bells and whistles and no substitute for creative balance and design. Essential necessities like a double jump or Mist form that helps get through walls are fine, but why in the ever-living hell would I ever need a move that takes nearly three seconds to charge (which is more than enough time for a skeleton to knock me on my ass), drains my magic, and doesn’t knock down slightly larger enemies? You already added a healthy dimension to the combat system, this skill chart for all three weapons is just overkill! You should have put that focus into some kind of structured level design!
Which brings me to my biggest problem with Lords of Shadow 2; because this is now an open world environment, that means lots of running. Back and forth, up and down, past and present, it doesn’t matter, because there will always be plenty of time for running!!!
Follow a dog through a tedious loading screen when alternating timelines!
And when you get there, run to another location that’s pretty far away!
Run to a glowing pedestal!!
Press the switch on the glowing pedestal!!!
Get an item!!!
It looks like you were getting bored, so here’s a boss fight!!!
Zobek isn’t around, so now your bland son, Trevor, is telling you to do things!! Oh shit! You know what that means…?
Well Gabriel first visits the Senate floors, addressing the policies with his fellow hordes of the damned on a cost-efficient way to retrieve the shards of the Mirror of Fate. After verification on said plan is properly laid out in fine detail…
You run around to collect crap!!!! There is so much running around in this game it made my head spin!! It sucks that now developers can make these visually vast and minutely detailed locations that they forget us poor saps have to run through them. It totally doesn’t help matters that each location, even the ones that look good, are laid out in such a sloppy, overlong, forgettable manner that even when backtracking to a place that you may have just recently visited, you need a good five minutes to get your bearings together before even moving! The benefit of linear design is that when a path is laid out for you with obstacles, you can map in your head what you need to do and where you have to go. This series used to know this, but Mr. Cox and his peanut gallery will just try to emulate what’s popular. Like the incredibly contrived stealth portions of the game, which feel more like a horrible side quest than an integral part of the play. It feels like they knew they screwed this up and kept it to as bare a minimum as possible. They involve mostly turning into a rat to climb through cracks and grates or possessing these giant, lumbering slow guys that look like some poor Mass Effect design, and slowly walking toward a door. The NES Metal Gear was more stealth-based than this and always feeled asleep whenever I had to do it!! SCORE (Combat 8.5/10) Everything else: 5/10
IN CLOSING: If MercurySteam stays behind Castlevania development for the foreseeable future, I have a hard time believing the series will make any leaps and bounds in showing any kind of transition to show it can strive in today’s gaming market. The Lords of Shadow story wasn’t an interesting reboot in the first place, just revisionist history for the sake of doing it. A really solid combat system is mired in bland level design, forgettable characters, a lousy script (what a waste of Patrick Stewart), a more than useless stealth element introduced for no reason, worthless DLC, and an overall poor attempt to Westernize a Castlevania game into something it never supposed to be in the first place! If you really want to play a stylized 3D reimagining of a storied 2D franchise that doesn’t piss all over the source, go even further back into the past and play Mega Man Legends.
FINAL SCORE 4/10