I was having a hard time about where to start with this particular review, then I decided I would open up about reboots. Reboots are a tricky thing to tackle, everyone’s opinion of a reboot is going to be different. Some people will say that the reboot was needed, and some will think the overall franchise didn’t need to be changed. For example, I remember seeing how many people got so angry about how the recent Tomb Raider game was going to look and play. I really loved the reboot to the series, and I honestly don’t agree with people saying that the franchise was doing fine before the reboot. I would argue that while some of the recent reboots are flawed in one way or another, they have been, for the most part, better games. In my opinion, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow was a great reboot-whether they intended it to be a Castlevania game originally or not. I thought it had a better story, a more likable character, and the combat was more satisfying. It might have had some issues with a fixed camera, and, for me, not enough titan fights, but it was one of my favorite games of 2010. The midquel game, Mirror of Fate definitely had more issues, but it had its own charm even with the flaws that came with it. So, where do I stand with Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2? So far, reviews have been mixed. There has been a mostly positive reception to the game, but people seem more split about this game than the first one. What do I think of this game? Well, read on to find out. By the way, minor spoiler warning for those who haven’t played the game.
The story this time revolves around Gabriel Belmont who is now the Prince of Darkness, Dracula, voiced by Robert Carlyle. The story picks up after the first two games, and covers what has happened with Dracula since then. He has basically been living his immortal life within the castle and fighting off the Brotherhood of Light. After another attempted siege of the castle by the Brotherhood, he encounters his vampire son, Alucard, voiced by Richard Madden. Alucard explains his plan to lure Zobek and Satan out of hiding to truly end their lives. Unfortunately, this required Alucard to stab Dracula with his blade, and while not killing him, he put Dracula in a deep slumber. After a thousand years or so, Dracula reawakens during modern day, and after a bit of wandering around, encounters Zobek, voiced by Patrick Stewart. Zobek makes a deal with Dracula that he can offer him a true death if he can find Satan’s acolytes and take Satan, voiced by Jason Issacs, down. While on this journey, he will go a thousand years in the past and back to the present multiple times, meeting a variety of different characters like the Toy Maker, and be reunited with characters, including a child version of Trevor Belmont, and even Dracula’s wife. The story at first begins rather slowly. It doesn’t really pick up until an hour or so into the game. However, when the story starts to pick up, something just clicks and becomes rather entertaining. The characters are well developed, and Dracula is a rather complex character by the end of the game. It might have some issues, but I personally felt pulled into the story from beginning to the end.
Lords of Shadow 2 is an action game that mixes exploration with stealth, and upgradable abilities. A majority of the game will have you running from point A to point B while fighting a multitude of enemies and the occasional boss fight. There are really two locations you will be going through. One is the city that is actually called Castlevania City (I know, it’s stupid), and the other is Dracula’s castle from his past. Your main weapon is the blood whip. This is your standard weapon and pretty much works like the combat cross from the last home console game. The changes to combat come in the form of the two main weapons you will use while fighting enemies. The first weapon you get is the Void Sword. This weapon is used to regain health from enemies. The Chaos Gauntlets are used for slow, but strong close-range attacks, and are able to break shields and armor off of stronger foes. You will also gain a couple of different sub-weapons and items like daggers, a swarm of bats, health potions, a potion that increases the strength of all of your attacks, a potion that refills full magic for almost a minute or so, a room-clearing attack, and you get the idea. The combat this time around is much more versatile and satisfying. The feel of the combat is smoother, and with a controllable camera, feels more fluid. Outside of combat, you will be traversing the landscape and the castle, platforming, and when the time comes for it, you will have to go through stealth missions.
The stealth missions aren’t very long, and there are only a handful of them in the game. You will need to use your vampire powers to get past enemies that you can’t kill. It feels kind of archaic in design, but there are a few things that they do to mix up the stealth missions a bit. You can use your vampire abilities to summon a swarm of bats to distract guards, use the mist ability to sneak past guards and gated doors, take over the body of a horde of rats to sneak past the guards, and even possess said guards or scientists when you are in the modern day city. You can go back and forward from the past and present through portals that are all around the city. You can also access maps where you can teleport to any part of the city or castle you want. Remember that little obnoxious character, the chupacabra from the first game? Well, now he runs a store you can go to and purchase items that are for sale. This is one of the longest action games I have played, as I beat it around the 20 hour mark. The game can be challenging, and it requires you to get good at enemy patterns, and knowing what moves to use. If you play on easy, the quick-time events are taken out, but are there when you play on normal and up. There is also a game-plus mode when you beat the game the first time.
I know we are in the Wii U, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One generation now, but this game looked beautiful when I was playing on my PlayStation 3. A huge amount of work went into this game’s art direction and you can tell. There are so many little details here and there with the outfits, the textures and the animation of the characters. For a game that runs at 30 frames per second, the game runs very smoothly, with only one or two times where I saw slowdown. The boss fights were amazing. They are probably the best boss fights in a 3D Castlevania game. I think one of my favorite boss fights was with the Toy Maker. First off, when you find out about his origins, it is all done in this mini-game where you control a puppet show. It’s very unique and memorable. Once you actually get to fighting him, he uses three different puppets, and they each have their own attack patterns. It is just one of the most thrilling boss fights in the game. It’s intense and truly satisfying when you use your combat wits against an unusual boss fight. Another favorite of mine was the Gorgon boss. Being able to fight such a gigantic beast, and being able to get up close and personal and punch its face in is really rewarding. I also didn’t feel like there were that many tough puzzles. I love the first game a lot, but some of the puzzles almost drove me up a wall in that game and the two DLC expansions. The music is easily one of the biggest high points. The soundtrack, composed by Òscar Araujo, is just a blast to listen to. The soundtrack is epic, touching, and brings a lot of atmosphere to the levels themselves. I also think one of the best parts of the game is the development of Dracula as a character. I really like the moments where Dracula sees his wife, Marie Belmont, and his son, Trevor Belmont. He feels more human than I think I was expecting.
As much as I would love to praise this game head-to-toe about how great of an experience the overall game is, there are some issues that need to be addressed. One of the first things I am going to talk about is the stealth sections. They almost felt out of place while I was playing them. They also felt a bit old-school, in terms of design. I mean, I am Dracula, why can’t I take down these supposed “invincible” armored enemies? They were kind of cool, but nope! Since 2000 to now, we have had stealth games that offer stealth and combat, like the Assassin’s Creed games, where you can stealth your way past harder enemies, but you at least have tools that you can fight against them with. However, the stealth gameplay really doesn’t become an issue until you face Pan’s brother, Argeus. Every critic I have seen pans (sorry for the pun) Argeus’ level because it is downright brutal in terms of difficulty since you have to evade him while he hunts you down. It also doesn’t help that there are not a whole lot of ways to distract him or evade him differently when he can hear you run on the ground since it’s covered in leaves. Normally, there are always opinions on certain aspects of games and gaming in general that I don’t always agree with other reviewers about, but this is one criticism that I fully agree with them on. This stealth maze section could have been fun, but once I got through the maze, I was more relieved that the hardest level of the game was over, not because I had fun. The boss fight with Argeus almost makes up for it, but man, that part of the game sucked. Personally, I think they need to patch that part and make it less punishing. Thank goodness for the mist ability though. Try using it whenever you can during that level.
My only real other complaint is that I felt like certain characters kind of or did get the short end of the stick. I mean, poor Simon Belmont. Wonder what happened to him after Mirror of Fate? Why couldn’t he be in the story? What about Victor Belmont? He is only in the story for about an hour, and then kicks the bucket. He was an interesting character and had a great boss fight that made me remember the weapon arsenal I had in the first game. I felt like they could have done more with some characters. Now, some of the characters that are in the game still don’t have too much explained about their persona, like the Toy Maker. Despite having his backstory explained, there is a bit of mystery to him and other characters that are worth having. I also felt like the ending, while good, could have been better. If you don’t think about it for a few minutes, it can come off as underwhelming.
Final Verdict: It isn't a terrible night to get this game!
So, where do I stand with this game? I really enjoyed my time with it. I know it might not be the ideal Castlevania experience, but to me, it felt more like a Castlevania experience than the previous couple of games on the DS. I respect that not everyone is going to like the same games I do, but I wouldn’t say Castlevania is dead. You know what the best part of the old games are? They are not going away. They are not going to be replaced or destroyed. They are still going to be the same games that you have loved playing for years. I would recommend picking this game up if you have played the first game, because this game improves on a lot of elements from the previous games. The story is good, the combat is great, the boss fights are well-designed, the music awe-inspiring, and it’s a beautiful looking game. This is one tale of Dracula worth checking out.