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Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 review

Decent
AT A GLANCE
  • Powerfully affecting soundtrack
  • Beautiful medieval sections
  • Sometimes evokes the atmosphere of the first game
  • Combat lacks finesse
  • Too many poor diversions
  • Loss of scale and spectacle

Gabriel Belmont--aka Dracula--is a deeply conflicted character, pulled in multiple directions by the dark and light influences of Castlevania: Lords of Shadows 2’s story. As such, he’s an unfortunate but entirely apt metaphor for the game’s overall problems. At heart, Gabriel knows the right path to take, but the myriad eldritch temptations around him cause a whole mess of trouble.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is a sequel that simply tries to do too much. It fills out its lengthy running time not with deeper explorations of the surgically precise combat, platforming, and cohesive world-building of its predecessor, but with multiple misguided, jarring new elements that all-too often fail to satisfy in their own right. Worse, they make for a diluted, deeply disjointed overall game experience.

It’s frustrating, because the seeds of a great sequel are buried in CLoS2, struggling to emerge through the mire. The game’s greatest successes are its exquisite, atmospheric environments, the majority of which exist within the medieval sections of the game. Housed within the castle in the centre of CLoS2’s modern city, these areas provide the game’s most consistently satisfying experiences. The structure of this location is intriguing, as linear 'levels' are connected via non-linear game hub (think Batman: Arkham Asylum rather than Arkham City). Here, Dracula's past and present clash as supernatural forces make his memories tangible. For all the dream-logic underpinning it, the castle feels like a real, coherent setting, its cavernous interiors and sprawling vistas providing the game’s most accomplished platforming and most satisfying battle arenas. The whole place just holds together beautifully. But unfortunately, holding together beautifully is not, on the whole, what this game does well.

Neverending story

Developer Mercury Steam has been unambiguous about this being the end of the Lords of Shadow series, promising a resounding conclusion to Gabriel's story. A ballsy and respectable move in this era of multitudinous sequels and spiraling franchises. Alas, CLoS2 doesn't deliver the satisfying narrative closure that long-term fans might hope for. Its plot is as muddled as its gameplay, full of seemingly important but ultimately disposable characters and plot-points, with an inconclusive ending that withers when it should resolve. 

After setting hopes high with a barnstorming, cinematic opening sequence interspersing open, flowing combat with the scaling of a colossal medieval mech, CLoS2 systematically fails to emulate that scale or spectacle at any point following. Instead, ironically, the semi-open city serves only to make Castlevania’s world feel small, cramped, and limited in scope. Really a series of interconnected, linear paths, it’s far too concerned with pokey interiors, low-level street settings, and overly contained climbing sections to ever become truly evocative or impressive. The dingy, grimily unappealing visual design is compounded by inconsistent, often scrappy graphical execution and a desperately empty vibe. It all conspires to make the modern-day areas much less fun or inspiring than they could have been.

Aesthetic and tone aside, the constrained, small-scale design also has a detrimental effect on the series’ previously stellar combat. The melee fighting at the core of CLoS2 initially seems to pick up where the first game left off, delivering fast, challenging, evasive combat built on strong principles of spatial control and enemy manipulation. Eschewing the full attack-cancelling malleability of a Bayonetta or a DmC, CLoS provides a different kind of satisfaction, in which largely uninterruptible enemy attacks must be smartly avoided or countered as you progressively manipulate the shape of the fight. With every enemy, it’s all about chipping down their health until you can open up the right opportunity to unleash the appropriate response. If the more fluid fighting of the aforementioned games is akin to picking a lock, this is more like methodically selecting the right keys from a large and varied bunch. When it all comes together, it’s as exhilarating as it cerebrally satisfying. But it doesn’t always come together.

In more practical terms, the city environments are frequently ineffective in supporting the wide, rangey combat model, a problem compounded by the new 3D camera. While this new addition lends an immense tangibility to Castlevania’s more picturesque environments, its viewpoint is often too close to the action during combat, creating awkward obscuration where there needs to be clarity and transparency. Worse, many of the new enemies add to the problem, particularly those with ranged attacks. It’s one thing to be limited to a half-view of a fast-paced, 3D melee fight, but with multiple machine gun-toting goblins and armed troopers thrown into the mix, it’s a recipe for some infuriating situations that no amount of free camera control will get you out of. Enemy tell-animations are also highly variable, sometimes giving enough notice to concoct a tactical response, sometimes barely seeming present at all. And that’s when they actually happen on-screen. The most calamitous element though, is that the game often undermines its key combat tactic.

The ultra-powerful parry move, instigated via a perfectly timed block, is clearly intended to be central to the whole fighting model. In the first game, it works flawlessly, adding immense empowerment through a well-implemented risk-and reward mechanic. CLoS2 puts great emphasis upon it again, but the failings in environmental design, camera, enemy behaviour, and the gross overuse of unblockable enemy attacks frequently makes it unviable. It’s telling that a new shop system provides a plethora of easily affordable health and magic-boosting items not present or required in the first game, almost as if providing a safety net for the sequel’s lack of finesse. Sad to say, but brute-forcing through with buff items is now an acceptable and all-too-tempting tactic.

In addition to combat annoyances, incongruous stealth sections both roadblock the game-flow and fail to be interesting. Utilising Dracula’s ability to throw diversionary bat-swarms and transform into a rat, these sections initially seem like a smart change of pace, but ultimately never evolve beyond simple, rigid, self-contained trial-and-error puzzle rooms that fail to gel with the world as a whole. They also provide the basis for what is easily the game’s lowest point: a screamingly annoying, and narratively illogical, boss encounter. One that forces you into CLoS2’s awkward stealth system. And insta-kills you if you make a mistake.

Elsewhere, Dracula’s new ability to throw ice and fire projectiles with the magic stock that powers his Void and Chaos weapons (which steal enemy health and break armour, respectively) show initial promise during puzzling sections, but like the stealth, their limited implementation eventually disappoints, largely reduced to basic ‘throw projectile to remove obstacle’ tasks. These powers do become slightly more relevant in boss fights. But here, again, over-use of unblockable hits takes its toll on the action. Additionally, some bosses and larger enemies actively require ranged combat, which would be fine if it wasn’t for inconsistencies in feedback often masking that fact for far too long.

It’s all very frustrating, because CLoS2’s overall approach to more physical environmental puzzles, while a mixed bag, can throw up some interesting stuff. A clever set-piece, requiring Dracula to correctly assemble theatrical stage furniture in order to retell the heartbreaking history of an NPC, is a beautiful sequence, both visually and narratively. It really emphasises what this game could have been with more care and focus.

CLoS2 is a resoundingly muddled game, disjointed and unclear of vision. It feels like a collection of disparate, part-formed game elements in search of coherent structure, pace, and polish. It’s perhaps an egregious extension of my opening metaphor to point out that in combat, Dracula fuels his magic stock by struggling to fill a Focus meter... but in light of how badly CLoS2’s lack of focus fuels its difficulties in recapturing the series’ own magic, it feels entirely fitting to do so.

More Info

Release date: Feb 25 2014 - Xbox 360, PS3 (US)
Available Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3
Genre: Action
Published by: Konami
Developed by: MercurySteam
Franchise: Castlevania
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Language, Nudity

Lacking the focus, clarity and coherence of its precursor, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 fails to satisfy as a sequel or as a game in its own right, delivering muddled game design and little narrative resolution.

This game was reviewed on PS3.

111 comments

  • theblightsun - March 8, 2014 4:49 a.m.

    This review was totally lame. Ill bet this guys reviews if God of war were kissass. Los2 is a beautiful game. Im sure if konami wanted a free run assasin creed type world they would have done that. The combat is excellent, visuals are stunning, difficulty demands skill too. The story is great as well. Im a die hard castlevania fan. Los2 jerked smiles and butterflies outa me within the furst 2 minutes just like los1 did. Instant nostalgia hit with the line "What is a man? A miserable pile of secrets!" Reintroducing alucard seems promising but ill have to wait and see. Compared to god of war, los2 is no different in mechanics. The platforming is a bit deeper and the character story is better than the usual repeat kratos tale. Environments are nicer to look at too. The cramped "linear" tunnel areas mentioned in the review are the same as the load screens in Symphony of the night. A corridor that connects one area to another. Nothing more. None of the actual environments are small. Enemies dont abuse unblockables at all either. As for projectiles.....learn to dodge. Nit all games are made to be super easy u know. Climbing and platforming: nothing spectacular but it gets the job done. dome platforming sections are simply to get to another area while others seem to serve tge purpise of showcasing an environment and perhaps a mini puzxke at the same time. If you want constant platforming iff every surface, go play assasins creed. Los 2 easily delivers a great castlevania experience. I havent soent 59 dollars fir a game in years, largely due to dissapointment. Los 2 was an exception. I waited long for it and it does not dissapoint at all. My I nly beef with this game is 1: it has an end and 2: a weird glitch in the audio when dealing w I th the gorgon sisters made the game crash twice. Im syre that will be patched though. Dont trust this guys review. Its very wrong.
  • vergildmc007 - March 7, 2014 8:17 a.m.

    Combat lacks finesse Too many poor diversions Loss of scale and spectacle I don't think you actually played the game or you need to learn how to do a review, eitherway it's a fantastic game who deserves a 10/10. The combat system is absolutely great and it puts really a challenge when it comes to bosses. The soundtracks... these just makes you concentrate more and more and makes you feel like you're in the game, the cutscenes just want to keep you watching playing all over. A beautiful history. The game is made the old fashioned way, hard combat system, awesome history, awesome soundtrack, a lot of puzzles(and hard ones) feels like and old good game. So whoever did this review knows NOTHING about videogames.
  • MrJP - February 26, 2014 2:49 p.m.

    I find it a real shame that both Thief and this have reviewed as being average or decent. I was hoping for more as I only play a handful of games a year (usually half a dozenish) so doubt now that I will get round to either. I ruddy loved Dishonoured and was hoping for Thief to be more of the same (or very close). Castlevania just needed to live up to the hype, as I was really excited and thought LOS was a solid 8.5
  • Untamed - February 26, 2014 6:14 a.m.

    On metacritic the user base gave it 8.5 now that is the true review done by 69 people and with the typical 4 and 5 reviews it still gets an 8.5 from the players
  • pl4y4h - February 26, 2014 7:34 a.m.

    Granted, a good chunk of those reviews are purely (and irrationally) reactionary to ones like these (also you seem to be trying to do some damage control in the comments, solidifying my point). Round it out to 7.5-8 and that would probably be more accurate
  • ThundaGawd - February 25, 2014 7:36 p.m.

    Just tell me there's no Chupacabra's in this one and it'll instantaneously be exponentially better than the first in my books. Those motherfucking chupacabras were the single most annoying thing I've ever experienced in a fucking videogame in the last few years. Every single fucking time one of them showed up in the first LoS I wanted to slam my fist through the screen and fucking strangle the little shits to death and then stomp what was left into a meat grinder.
  • Vonter - February 25, 2014 8:06 p.m.

    I think he is a merchant now.
  • GR_DavidHoughton - February 26, 2014 3:21 a.m.

    Yeah, Vonter's right. There's one Chupacabra, who you need to rescue via a puzzle early on. After that he sets up shop in the castle.
  • HeartlessandSoulless - March 5, 2014 10:08 p.m.

    OHOHO!!! You think the Chupacabra's were annoying? Just wait for when you're playing the stealth sections! In special the section against [SPOILER]Pan's Brother[/SPOILER].
  • Untamed - February 25, 2014 6:42 p.m.

    Smooth combat and great skill tree. A ton of great boss battles. Lots of puzzles. ( stealth parts are like puzzles more than Hitman). 90% of the environment's are beautiful. Strange trippy story a little like wtf but great. Nice and long thank God, so sick of waiting forever for a game and finishing it in one night. Lots of hidden goodies to find ( make you enjoy exploring . Nice platforming though I wish some jump points weren't marked. If you like 3rd person action platforming puzzle games ( plus it set in Castlevania) you will enjoy this ride 8.5
  • Outofmanyone - February 25, 2014 4 p.m.

    Oh well. I already have it installed so, I'm about to start on it. I did see a few reviewer's refer to--of course--Symphony of the Night when describing their experience with the game and commenters wishing Castlevania would just return to a 2D side-scroller but even then I can see people complaining that they don't like it but oh well. I like when developers try bringing a franchise into new territory. It keeps things fresh. That was a good review, I always appreciate when the reviewer has good points to add to a game that may be considered mediocre, rather than just a long list of negative aspects. One thing though, why no mention of Óscar Araujo's musical score? From what I heard it sounds brilliant.
  • GR_DavidHoughton - February 26, 2014 3:22 a.m.

    I mentioned it in the positives/negatives box-out. It's stunning, probably the best part of the game actually, particularly the main theme.
  • Outofmanyone - February 26, 2014 3:34 p.m.

    Ah, I see it. My fault. That's good to hear, I just started the game but It sounds great so far.
  • gilgamesh310 - February 25, 2014 11:23 a.m.

    This is very disappointing indeed. I was all set to buy this game, but it seems almost all reviews come to the consensus ghost it's fairly average. I knew Thief would be shit but I expected more from this.
  • Untamed - February 25, 2014 6:31 p.m.

    Don't listen to these reviews maybe there written by 20 year olds who think ps2 is old school . I'm about 4 hours in. Yes the factory is ok, but the story, environments, and puzzles are great. The stealth parts are more a puzzle then Hitman. It's awesome you play and enjoy it trust me. I love how people complain it's to long wtf . GoW was a joke all of them ( great games) but come on you wait years then 8 hours later your done. Now that's disappointing. I loved the first one and this adds to a great foundation. I few hiccups ya but all and all a solid 8.5
  • shawksta - February 25, 2014 10:34 a.m.

    Its a shame, but its definitely an interesting experience.
  • R_U_Guys_From_British - February 25, 2014 10:08 a.m.

    Wow, these reviews are a surprise. Really disappointing, I was going to buy this over thief but I don't think so now.
  • pl4y4h - February 25, 2014 9:12 a.m.

    Having seen people talk this game up and down, a 3 will definitely hurt a lot of people
  • Clovin64 - February 25, 2014 7:44 a.m.

    All these reviews have left me feeling pretty dissapointed and have dampened my excitement for the game. Those stealth sections in particular sound terrible to me. You're freakin' Dracula! Why should you be hiding in rat form half the time? Oh well, I slogged through Mirrors of Fate HD just to catch up on the story in prep for LoS2, so I kinda have to play it myself anyway.
  • EmiyaLightbringer - February 25, 2014 6:04 a.m.

    This kind of reviews make me double think getting/play a game but like many have said so far it's a matter of opinions and even a game with a half note can shine. I love Castlevania and even with all this opinions I'll tear this game limb by limb...

Showing 1-20 of 111 comments

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