Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 Review

castlevania-lord-of-shadows-2-box-art-xbox-gay-60Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is the latest game in the Castlevania franchise. Castlevania has long been known as a sidescrolling series about hunting vampires and slaying the undead. The Lord of Shadows franchise takes a step away from that premise and instead has you playing as the Vampires in a more modern gameplay environment. Players take control of the character Dracula, in an action-filled adventure with a lot of blood-sucking goodness.

Initially, we had a very poor impression of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2. The opening level started you off by throwing straight into the action, and then from there, it went on to action set-piece to action set-piece. We hadn’t played the first Lord of Shadows, so we weren’t really prepared for an opening segment that was full of action. In fact, because of this first level, we had expected the entirety of Lord of Shadows 2 to be one big, dumb action brawler, which is in contrast to what we know Castlevania games to be. In fact, we really wanted to drop Lord of Shadows 2, and we would have if we didn’t we feel the need to push on. However, we continued on and we are incredibly glad that we did.

This is because, outside of the opening level, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is an amazingly interesting game that picks up the adventuring feel as you progress. While it’s not quite as open as previous Castlevania games, it certainly is a lot more open than we were expecting. Not only that, but there is more to it than just hacking and slashing enemies while traveling the environment, there are plenty of puzzles and challenges to keep you moving in an interesting manner. We’re not sure if we’re just not that clever, or if the game is intelligently made, but there were some more unobvious paths, or areas where we had to think a little bit on how to proceed before we could get anywhere. A challenge that we feel has been missing from recent games, and a challenge most definitely welcome.

Over the course of the story, the player character, Dracula, traverses a few different dimensions, or timelines, or something. It was never actually made all that clear whether or not the progress between one world and another world were through time, or trans-dimensional, or even if they were from the same world.

What added to, or even enabled, this confusion was the cinematic that plays after the opening level where Dracula seems like he’s been asleep or unconscious for thousands of years, or something. This was quite bizarre.

However, this doesn’t mean that we didn’t enjoy the transitions between areas. We quite enjoyed that we could be going from a boring industrial laboratory to an interesting gothic style castle in the middle of somewhere, probably Hellsylvania (judging by all the red). Actually, we found that the game was at it’s most interesting when you were away from the modern day city that the game takes place in, when the game takes place in areas like Dracula’s castle. Which it does, frequently.

For a game where you spend the majority of time traveling alone, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 has a surprising cast of characters that are quite interesting to interact with. Usually these interactions take place within cutscenes, but some characters do have an influence on gameplay.  Fans of the Castlevania franchise will see some familiar faces returning to the game in sections of the title. These are characters such as the popular Arucard, whom makes an early appearance in the game.

What was interesting about the characters within the game was that they seem to have their own motivations and have some control over Dracula and his mission. This is exemplified by that one character that seems to be fine just ordering Dracula around and sending him on quests that seem to last for hours, like finding a cure for a vampire monster girl.

What was also really interesting about some of the characters in Lord of Shadows 2 was how they contribute to the backstory of Dracula as a character. Some of these are characters that you get a sense of history with, such as Arucard and that armoured dude, but others play an almost direct role in making Dracula who he is.

This is exemplified in one particular scene within game pretty far in where you meet a rather important and very influential character that seems to have been a love interest in Dracula’s life before he was Dracula. We’re not going to talk about this too in depth, but it’s really the best sequence to illustrate this point. Not only that, but their relationship directly ties into the gameplay of Lord Of Shadows 2, which is a bonus for the game.

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One thing that we found quickly with Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 was that the gameplay is really quite fluid and fun. What we liked about Castlevania is that Dracula responds to commands smoothly and efficiently, giving combat a nice and fluid feeling to it, similar to, say, DmC. Except with whips and swords, instead of guns.

What we really loved from Castlevania in regards to the combat though, is that the game has retained certain elements that have been a staple since the series first appeared around 20 years ago. Moreso, these elements are some that have been missing from games for a long while now. The best element to illustrate this point is the inclusion of massive boss fights.

Now we’re not saying that Boss fights are entirely missing from gaming, but there has certainly been a massive decline in big boss fights. What’s great about Castlevania, and other games recently, is that they have returned. And they are fun, and interesting. We can recall a few fights testing not only our combat skills, but also our knowledge on the games inner mechanics. The way a true boss fight should be.

Some of these mechanics range from basic combat, to some more DmC-esque abilities like switching between weapons, which are a sword that steals life, a pair of fiery hand to hand weapons and, of course, the series’ signature whips. Players are able to combine these weapons with unlockable and upgradable abilities to perfect their own fighting style with Dracula.

When playing Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2, you’ll notice that the game has a lot of environmental and situational puzzles. For example, players will be required to possess a guard, or fight some enemies in a strange way. We quite enjoyed how the game kind of explains how things work, but it’s up to the player to work out how to utilise those skills to achieve their goals.

Moreso, when you’re traveling along through the game, it doesn’t hold your hand. There are no breadcrumb trails (outside of climbing, where you can hold down a button to show you the next few climbable objects) to assist you in finding the right path. You’re given some vague instructions and a vague map marker to get there. As gamers that love working things out for ourselves, it’s great to have a game that doesn’t play itself for you, but instead gives you the information needed to succeed, but also obfuscating all the middle details to keep it a challenge.

Something we noticed early on is that a lot of the voices used for characters in the game sounded really familiar. And then we saw the opening credits. There were a few big name actors, such as Robert Carlyle, acting characters in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2. This was amazing as we are fans of some of the people acting within the game already, so hearing their voices on some characters was a huge plus. Not only that, but the voices were also really well done for the most part, and it really added to the vampiric and gothic atmosphere that the franchise should be known for.

Overall, we enjoyed Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 a lot more than we initially thought we would. The title is a step back to what made gaming fun for years, which made it quire the enjoyable experience. It was a challenge, an entertainment and also a nice drama. We would definitely recommend picking this game up.

Rating: 9/10

Castlevania: Lord of Shadows 2 is released by Konami and distributed by Mindscape in Australia. It can be found at retail for $80-ish. The review was written based on the Xbox 360 version of the game. For PC players, check out the Steam Store, where it can be found for ~$60.

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