This review was written for my editorial and critical writing class.
The Castlevania franchise dates back to 1986 with its original release on the Nintendo Entertainment System. In the last decade, the series’ popularity started to dwindle until the 2010 reboot Castlevania: Lords of Shadow for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 reinvigorated the franchise. Western developer MercuryStream changed the series’ direction from an exploration-focused dark fantasy game to an action game more in line with traditional fantasy seen in Dungeons and Dragons and Lord of the Rings. It was praised by reviewers for its polished action and more serious approach to a Castlevania story. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 builds off that foundation, but not always in the right ways.
Traditionally, the Castlevania games follow a vampire hunter, usually within the 15th to 18th centuries, who is trying to either destroy or prevent the revival of Dracula. As a series first, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 puts Dracula as the main playable character. A modern-day setting provides fresh locales for the franchise with dark alleyways, laboratories and the city streets to explore. Flashback levels take place in a traditional castle environment, but are a bit dull when put up against the new modern setting.
Despite being the “good guy” in this game, Dracula remains a cruel being. He gives no second thought to drinking the blood of innocent citizens, but Lords of Shadow 2 positions him as the lesser evil compared to Satan, who is trying to take over the world.
Lords of Shadow 2 opens with the back story from the original game and the spin-off Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate and heavily invests in the lore of these titles. Playing at least the original helps with understanding Dracula’s motivations and his seemingly ridiculous role as the hero.
Playing the original game can also harm the player’s experience. The combat remains essentially unchanged in Lords of Shadow 2 from the original. The Lords of Shadow series emphasizes performing combos, evading enemy attacks and timing defensive blocks. Playing well without taking any damage restores energy to fuel special attacks. These attacks either boost the player’s damage output or allows for Dracula to drain health from enemies. The title rewards the ability to react quickly and play skillfully.
Upgrading attacks through experience points generates a high level of satisfaction as these upgrades are often substantial improvements. However, Lords of Shadow 2’s abilities are near identical to the original’s. Worst of all, it actually takes all these abilities away at the beginning of the game, forcing players to rebuild their arsenal of attacks. Taking away these moves after just presenting them all in a tutorial level leaves the combat feeling incomplete during the first few hours of gameplay. For those who have already built their character up in the first game, retreading the same ground hurts the overall sense of progression.
Most of the enemies found in Lords of Shadow 2 are orc-like vampires that rely heavily on close up melee attacks, similar to the original Lords of Shadow. These enemies can perform short smaller strikes that the player can block, or hard hitting single strikes that the player must dodge. Lords of Shadow 2 does introduce modern-day military units who are heavily armored and have a wide variety of weaponry. Soldiers fire on Dracula from a distance, lay mines and use jet packs to distance themselves from Dracula’s ground attacks. These enemies require new strategies to be developed from the standard vampires normally slain, and the change of flow in combat helps freshen up the experience.
Lord of Shadow 2 introduces new mechanics but as separate stealth missions. Players have to avoid conflict with large soldiers who can almost instantly kill Dracula. Dracula can posses rats, soldiers and scientists to navigate from room to room by unlocking doors or traveling through small holes. These section act as a nice side attraction, but become repetitive throughout the experience. Dracula gaining the ability to transform into mist later on is the only significant addition to these sections, and this power still amounts to hunting down holes in a wall to proceed.
These stealth sections limits the player’s actions and removes their ability to fight, which feels like a cheap trick. It’s performed under the guise of Dracula being too weak from his reawakening to combat heavily armed soldiers, but later feels unjustified when Dracula is fighting towering beasts and large mechanized military armor yet is still unable to engage these soldiers.
That being said, Lords of Shadow 2 should be played without taking the game too seriously. While the original Lords of Shadow followed a holy knight’s descent into darkness during service to God, Lords of Shadow 2 has a scene where Satan flies into outer space while riding upon a giant demonic worm. This ridiculous, almost B-movie quality, harkens back to older Castlevania titles and clashes with Dracula’s seriousness carried over from the first game.
Lords of Shadow 2 falls short compared to the original as some of the layers added were left a bit rough. However, the stealth segments and modern-day setting offer refreshing variety that wouldn’t be in a run-of-the-mill sequel that Lords of Shadow 2 could have been.