2010’s reboot of the Castlevania franchise was met with both significant critical acclaim and commercial success. MercurySteam’s reboot may have raised many eyebrows – most notably for the fact that Castlevania had not previously benefited from the transition to three-dimensional gameplay – but its eventual release was largely considered to be the refresher that the franchisee needed. Now, in 2014, we come to the sequel, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2; an expansion of the formula that borrows heavily from its peers.
The original Castlevania: Lords of Shadow was considered to have combined its heritage with the lessons taught by God of War. This may have been simplifying the situation somewhat but in essence was true. Darksiders, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Bayonetta, Tomb Raider and Batman: Arkham Asylum have all been since, and the hallmarks of each can be seen in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2. A brief encounter leads to an epic opening; a sequential series of item unlocks trains you in the correct use of each piece; your ability to avoid confrontation with distraction techniques is woven into your repertoire; your leaps and bounds are a far more effective manner of transport than simply walking: these and other mechanics prove Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 to be a sometimes muddled experience, but one in which the pacing is constantly propelling you forward.
Some might suggest that Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is a jack of all trades but a master of none. This isn’t entirely true as its disparate mechanics, when taken as an individual are very well crafted. However, it’s the bonds between them that are cause for concern. The videogame relies very heavily on the idea that all enemies in an area should be killed before the player is given a set of platform challenges. This would normally be an acceptable execution of the established convention, but the flat design of many of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2’s areas often makes you wish you could simply move on quicker.
The combat itself is swift and brutal. Heavy hits or area attacks are available with all three of your standard weapons, and the player can buy an extensive list if new manoeuvres for each as they progress through the campaign. When fighting against multiple standard enemies Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 provides a fun engagement, but many of the boss fights are much less interesting. This is a shame, as Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 relies on boss encounters to punctuate its pacing, and more often than not they break the established rules in a fashion that may have seemed fun on paper but most certainly is not in practice.
Though it won’t be misguided to call Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 ‘broken’ or ‘glitchy’ there are many areas in which the videogame feels lacking. Misplaced sound effects and a frequent lack of direction are one thing, but the puzzle design and progression system are positively archaic. It’s hard not to think of the likes of Evil Dead: Regeneration or Rogue Trooper when playing Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2, and considering both these titles are nearly a decade old it’s hard to suggest that this is a compliment to MercurySteam’s efforts.
The visual quality of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is arguably its strongest aspect, with character models that would have astounded had we not been privy to a new generation of hardware prior to its release. The environment design is more hit-and-miss, with boring industrialisation and repetitive gothic overtone blended to form sparsely populated environments. The sound quality is similarly uneven, proven that fantastic voice talent won’t provide highly regarded production values when there’s simply no demand for them.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is an enjoyable progression of the formula present in its predecessor, but seemingly a very confused one also. The videogame tries to follow the path of more cinematic presentations but stutters with its lack of animated sequences or interesting plot establishment. It’s an action-adventure videogame to it’s very core, but one that still resides in an era where ‘linear’ often means ‘trudge’. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow was only a stride short of greatness, and sadly you can’t help but feel that for every step forward Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 has made it’s taken three backwards.