The Average Gamer

Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow 2 Review (360)

Castlevania Lords of Shadow 2 - Chupacabras Return
I went into Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 with a certain amount of trepidation. Having felt like the best bits of the game were already in the demo I was worried how long the whole ‘play as Dracula’ idea would keep people interested. Fortunately, with a mixture of exceptionally strong characters and a tidy storyline which constantly kept me interested throughout, the only downside I found was the graphical quality of some aspects of the game.

Leading on from the closing events of the previous games Resurrection DLC, the game opens with the Brotherhood of Light storming Dracula’s castle. This leads you through a tutorial section but if you’ve played the original Lords of Shadow game you’ll be quite familiar with these. The only major changes are Gabriel’s speed and range of his dodge ability which are greatly increased now that he’s a vampire. The tutorial ends with an enormous man-made titan crashing through the walls of your castle. You climb it and subsequently defeat it.

After this grandiose entrance, Lords of Shadow 2 then slows the pace quite significantly as it settles very much into the action-RPG genre. For those of us (myself included) who didn’t play “Mirror of Fate” for fear that would be an irrelevant spin off, the bad news is that the story in Mirror of Fate actually ties into the story between Lords of Shadow 1 and 2.

The good news is that there is a handy little catch-up cutscene which explains the story behind it. If you’re already familiar with the story of Castlevania from the 16-bit era games then the overarching story is actually the same as the previous titles but with more emphasis on the lineage of the characters. It’s a nice fleshing out of a storyline which was never truly explained in previous games.

Following this opening scene, Gabriel decides to spend the next 1000 years sat in a desolate church, presumably trying to starve himself to death to escape the living hell of immortality having lost the love of his life in the previous game. Eventually Gabriel is found by returning character Zolbek (still voiced by the excellent Patrick Stewart) and to cut an exceptionally long story short, Zolbek offers to end Gabriel’s life in exchange for stopping Satan from seeking revenge on Zolbek. It’s an offer which Gabriel quickly accepts and begins his journey to regain his powers and embark as Dracula.

That scene…

Before even taking out a single enemy however, Dracula must regain his lost strength by drinking the blood of a young kidnapped family in what some people have likened to a trivialisation of sexual assault in a videogame. This scene is played out in first-person perspective for added effect. You see Dracula’s clawed and withered arms reach out, slit the father’s throat, drink from the mother and it’s at this point when the screen fades to black and you simply hear the daughter scream. It’s a very uncomfortable scene and one which took away my initial excitement about playing Castlevania again. I was left with the harrowing realisation that Gabriel as a character, whom I enjoyed playing as throughout the first game, was very much dead and buried. You’re not the good guy in this story anymore.

Castlevania Lords of Shadow 2 - OutnumberedGeneral combat is much smoother this time around with the combo system reminiscent of the previous Devil May Cry games without the sometimes-clunky nature of the previous Lords of Shadow game. The skill tree system betrays the action game genre however and leans heavily on the RPG element. Having an intricate skill tree for each weapon allows you to cherry-pick skills based on experience points rather than progress – want to save up for that ultimate attack instead of buying the jump attack which you’ll never use? Now you can!

You can also master these skills through repetitive use. Once mastered, the accumulated points can go towards improving the overall stats of the weapon itself – it’s an experience skill tree within a skill tree and one that allows you to either play the game in a vanilla state of hack-and-slash or tailor the skill system to suit you.

Unfortunately as soon as combat does kick in it’s painfully clear that certain graphical options like anti-aliasing have been sacrificed to ensure a smooth framerate on consoles. The smooth lines of a character become jagged and blocky when the action starts, leaving you with the feeling that you’re missing out by not owning the PC version and a decent rig to play it on.

Those Stealth Sections…

Castlevania Lords of Shadow 2 - Harryhausen ForeverYes, there are stealth sections throughout Lords of Shadow 2 and some print and online publications appear to have focussed on these as sections which break the game’s overall flow. After all, why be Dracula if you need to sneak around demonic guards?

I didn’t see them like this at all. I honestly believe that the small stealth sections act as a reminder that whilst you are playing as the legendary Dracula, he is not above knowing when he is outmatched, outnumbered and outgunned. He’s not a force of nature as depicted in other stories, he’s a powerful entity in a world full of powerful entities. Also the sections usually force stealth for a specific reason, an early example being that you need to travel whilst hiding your presence to keep the whole ‘Dracula has returned’ thing a secret. Later on in the game you’re hiding from a mythological deity in his own realm so it makes sense that the deity has the advantage. If you’re truly terrible at video games in general then I can see why these sections would annoy you. I’m not great at video games myself but I had no issues with these sections and only felt they broadened the experience.

Has Castlevania still got bite?

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is an excellent sequel, continuing to introduce strong characters and making the original canon of the game series feel fresh again. The game not only kept me entertained for close to 12 hours but has also persuaded me to play Mirror of Fate on 3DS. Introducing the once noble and stalwart Gabriel as the Prince of Darkness alters his character into the most likable anti-hero I’ve played as since Kain from the Legacy of Kain series. Playing the bad guy never normally feels this good.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 will be out out in Europe on 25th February for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC. This review was based on a full playthrough on Normal difficulty.

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