The developers over at MercurySteam surprised critics and users alike when they released Castlevania: Lords of Shadow in 2010. 3D Castlevania games often tended to be very polarizing, dividing fans into love it or hate it categories, but Lords of Shadow turned out to be a solid entry and was seen as a good turn for the franchise, albeit one that needed some improvement. Four years and a 3DS tie in have passed since then, and now we finally see Lords of Shadow 2 complete with all the changes they've made to the core gameplay. Some are definitely for the better, others may not have been wanted but make sense in the story. The question is, how does it fare compared to the first?
The game's story continues after Mirror of Fate and begins with Dracula sitting on his throne drinking a chalice of blood, only to have his silence disturbed by the Brotherhood of Light "“ the organization that Dracula, formerly Gabriel Belmont, was once a part of. This serves as a brief tutorial for much of the game's combat mechanics and after this is over we find Dracula awakening many centuries later in a much weakened state. We see the return of Zobek, offering Dracula a chance to end his eternal suffering of immortality if he would aide him in stopping Satan from returning.
As a whole, the story is quite entertaining, and the voice work from Robert Carlyle and Patrick Stewart continue to be an absolute treat. In this entry, with Carlyle performing as Dracula, we get to see a more animated role compared to his performance as Gabriel, and often reminds me of his portrayal of Rumpelstiltskin from the show Once Upon A Time. Unfortunately it is not wholly perfect as the climax raises more questions than it should for a title that is said to be the finale of MercurySteam's trilogy.
The most controversial moments in the game's story would have to be the selected stealth sections where we find Dracula resorting to sneaking around enemies, or shape-shifting into rats, in order to get to the next objective. I would question the relevance or need for someone as powerful as Dracula to even have to sneak. One thing worth noting is that the character of Dracula is typical a very sneaky, and stealthy character. Another thing to consider is that these moments in the actual game are when he is in his weakened state and isn't at his full power, so contextually it makes sense.
Much of the core gameplay mechanics are still present, but have been refined. The Light/Heavy combo system remains, but now rather than switching between light and shadow magic, Dracula can switch weapons on the fly with either Void or Chaos. Channelling Void mode will give you access to the Void Sword, which allows you to regenerate your health. Chaos mode lets you wield a pair of claws, and offer an attack boost that helps you break through enemy defenses. It is very reminiscent of their previous formula, but the best alteration is being able to use different weapons rather than simply changing the colour for your combat cross. There are skill trees that offer plenty of room for growth, and allow the player to focus on what ability they prefer or wish to prioritize.
The gameplay's design, and sense of progression is perhaps the game's best part. MercurySteam have ditched the linear structure of Lords of Shadow, and have instead brought back the metroidvania structure for Lords of Shadow 2. You can freely traverse in a very large map with sections inaccessible until you get that one item that opens the game up even more.
Despite this freedom, there isn't an actual objective marker other than the Wolf Panels, which is a new feature for the game that allows the player to warp between Dracula's past castle and the modern city.
Your adventure is largely up to you and how you want to navigate through the game. In this sense it does not hold your hand and tell you where to go, which could be deterring for newcomers or people who casually play games. But core gamers should appreciate this organic structure for the game's progression, and much of my time was spent just exploring all that I could explore.
The game's visuals have certainly received a large upgrade, which is surprising considering the first instalment certainly was no slouch in that department. The fixed camera from the first is gone and in its place MercurySteam have offered a full 360-degree camera that truly lets you take in the size and scope of the environments you're in. Playing on PC you may find yourself repeatedly hitting F12 to take in game screenshot after screenshot. Character models are nicely detailed and the artists in charge of the level architecture and creature designs are spectacular. You can fully appreciate Lords of Shadow 2's upgrade when you consider the fact that it not only looks much better than its predecessor, but also does so while having a much larger game world.
Oscar Araujo returns as the series' composer, and once again generates a soundtrack full of intrigue. The OST will come swooping in when you're in battle, and traversing both worlds have a haunting melody to it. "˜Dracula's Theme' is played during the main menu, and you won't want to press start until you hear it a few times "“ it's that good.
Overall, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 acts as a solid improvement over the original game. The story may have its downsides, and the learning curve may not be as friendly to all, but nevertheless, the combat is even more refined, the skill trees and level system offer more upgrades. It's also pleasing to see exploration return to the metroidvania style, and the visuals received a wonderful boost with a much needed full camera that truly lets you appreciate the work MercurySteam have done for this game.
|More refined gameplay|
|Fantastic voice work, and amazing soundtrack|
|Stealth may annoy some people|
|Navigating may confuse some people|
|The story's climax offers more questions than it ought to|