The Castlevania series has been one of the longest-running series in gaming history. It all began in 1986 and has resulted in 35 different games being released from the series. It has certainly had its ups and downs, but it is also home to many games that gamers would refer to as classics. However, one area where the series has struggled the most is with its 3D games. Apart from Castlevania 64 that released in the mid 90’s, the series never really had an out and out great game that belonged in the 3D realm.
Thankfully, Lords of Shadow changed all of that and brought in a new era for the series as it welcomed new styles of gameplay while containing the essence of what made the series fun. So, how does its sequel and the finale to the Lords of Shadow saga fare? To put it simply, it improves upon many aspects of the first game while also re-introducing past concepts that the series is known for. This all makes this game feel much more like the Castlevania series that die-hard fans know and love.
Lords of Shadow 2 takes place many years after the events of the first one, where (SPOILER ALERT) Gabriel’s soul has been consumed by darkness as a result of the events concluding the first game, and he is now Dracula. He is living a cursed life where he is withering away in his castle, and can never die and find eternal peace with his loved ones above. Then, an old “friend” shows up and offers him a chance to end his mortality if he agrees to help him with his current scheme. With no other options in sight, Dracula agrees to help this man called Zobek.
What is most noticeably different about Lords of Shadow 2 compared to the original Lords of Shadow game is that it offers the player an open world that they can discover and traverse at their own pace, much like the Castlevania games of old. In the first game, you were given a much more linear level structure that is common in games like the Devil May Cry series. As you traverse through the main quest in Lords Of Shadow 2 you will always be unlocking new things that will let you traverse new areas that were previously unreachable, and that sense of progression and discovery outside of what the main story offers makes the world of Lords of Shadow 2 feel very immersive.
Another big (and improved) difference is the game’s combat system. In the original Lords of Shadow game you were simply given a long skill list that wasn’t all that user friendly and didn’t really offer an incentive or reason to master each of the game’s various weapon skills. In Lords of Shadow 2, you now have a skill tree for each weapon that unlocks new moves and upgrades as you progress through the skill path. Also, the game has a mastery stat for each skill, which means that you will master the skill after you successfully utilize that skill in combat. This gave me so much more desire and will to actually seek out and learn the game’s many skills, as it showed exactly what you needed to do and what each skill would lead to. To make it even more enticing, when you master a skill you can transfer that mastery to the skill’s related weapon, and when you transfer enough mastered skills you level up your weapon making it more powerful.
Our protagonist also looks and controls differently this time around, due to the fact that Gabriel is now the vampiric Dracula. Throughout the course of the game you will be able to use many different vampiric abilities, such as turning into a swarm of bats to go through grates or fences, sending a swarm of bats to distract guards and even taking possession of other characters to stealthily make your way through crowded rooms undetected. When in a situation where you must sneak around guards, you can go into a dark corner and transform into a swarm of rats to go through vents that allow you access to new areas and objects like wires that you can gnaw through to short-circuit locked doors. Also, when in combat, once an enemy is close to death you have the option to grab them and drink their blood to restore a chunk of your health. I really enjoyed all of these various new abilities at my disposal, as it really made me feel like I was controlling Dracula and had full-reign on all of his sub-human abilities.
In Lords of Shadow 2 you witness the return of light and dark magic, though they now each have their own unique weapons with the Void Sword and Chaos Claws. The Void Sword grants you health replenishment whenever you successfully hit an enemy with it, and the Chaos Claws allow you to do more damage and break through enemy shields when you successfully hit an enemy with them. I liked that they changed each form of magic into a different type of weapon, because in the original Lords of Shadow each type of magic would just be imbued into your whip. In Lords of Shadow 2, you have your whip for standard attacks and the furthest reach, the Void Sword for healing attacks and mid-range reach and the Chaos Claws for bigger damage and close-range reach. This adds much more variety to the actual gameplay, as it is essential that you use all three of these weapons effectively.
Due to the game’s open-world nature, there is naturally many hidden collectibles for you to find. Scattered throughout the game’s world are what are called Pain Boxes, and when you find one of these you will get one of three gems that will go towards upgrading your health meter, Void magic meter or Chaos magic meter. You must collect five of each particular gem to enhance its respective meter, which raises your capacity to take more damage and use magic longer. You also find other things like statues that require dungeon keys that will then reveal a lot of souls to level up your skills and weapons or items that will replenish health or do damage to enemies. Lastly, there are statues that give you summon stones, which allow you to summon massive creatures that deal equally massive damage in combat. These guys are recommended for the game’s many boss fights, as you don’t come across them nearly as often.
One of the biggest criticisms that I have witnessed for the game is its many stealth sections. You will often come across sections of the game where you must sneak past guards or escape areas that boss enemies are searching for you in. In these sections you must use your vampiric abilities to slowly but surely avoid being seen. I honestly didn’t mind them, as they were again more ways that the game made me really feel like Dracula. I could turn into a swarm of bats and fly over leaves to avoid making noise, or possess my enemies to remove them from the battlefield entirely. The game offers a lot of different styles of gameplay that appears to have been a detriment to some, but for me it adds a lot of needed variety and kept things fresh.
Condemn (OR) Condone:
Lords of Shadow 2 is a game that leaves me baffled due to its very lukewarm reception from critics. In this gamers eyes, it improves upon the first game in many ways such as gameplay, exploration and immersion, and serves as a fitting conclusion to the Lords of Shadow saga. Though the ending doesn’t tie up the story as nicely as I would have hoped and the boss battles aren’t *quite* as epic as the first game’s, the overall narrative is very engaging and re-introduces characters from the series that fans know and love. Lords of Shadow 2 gives the player a lot of options and choices throughout its playtime, and its that depth that has been put into its world that makes the whole experience so compelling. If you’re a fan of classic Castlevania games but was put off by Lords of Shadow’s more linear style, I would recommend you give this one a try as it hearkens back to the glory days of the series. However, even if you did enjoy Lords of Shadow, I think you’ll see that Lords of Shadow 2 offers a great deal of refinement and improvement that makes it a worthy sequel and conclusion to the Lords of Shadow saga.
[Note] The judgments are the following:
Condemn – Hate | (O) – Dislike | (OR) – Indifferent | (R) – Like | Condone – Love