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Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 Review

Castlevania Lords of Shadow 2 Review (1)

A number of news articles revealed that 2010’s Lords of Shadow nearly wasn’t a Castlevania game. Purportedly, an early build veered too far from franchise canon- causing Konami to ask for the removal of their revered intellectual property. Fortunately, Hideo Kojima saw potential in the project, prompting the Metal Gear auteur to champion the game- thereby allowing the development team at MercurySteam to realize their ambitions.

The game’s engaging combat mechanics and striking set pieces resonated with players, leading to critical and commercial success. While the majority of gamers appreciated the direction MercurySteam took, a constituency of Castlevania enthusiasts were disheartened that the game strayed too far from series tradition. Undoubtedly, those gamers will be perplexed by a number of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2’s design decisions. Although the game’s battles and sense of scale are unequivocally indulging, a convoluted plotline and superfluous stealth sections seem poised to draw the ire of players.

Castlevania Lords of Shadow 2 Review (2)

Those that played the Lords of Shadow 2 demo have already seen most of the game’s prologue. Continuing from the events in Mirror of Fate, the introduction tasks players with defeating a siege spearheaded by the Brotherhood of Light, a gigantic mechanized Titan and finally- Roland de Ronceval, a golden paladin. In the moments following his mortal defeat, the gilded knight produces a cross in a last ditch attempt to dispatch Dracula. Instead of having any kind of adverse effect, the vampire belligerently clutches the artifact, triggering an explosion which destroys every adjacent mortal being and jump-cutting the title to the present day.

Following centuries of sedentariness, Dracula is roused, but the cessation has withered the protagonist and stripped him of his formidable strength. It’s articulated that during this hibernation, the once-trounced Prince of Darkness was reborn, and a visit by Zobek deluges the game’s premise- Dracula will finally be grated the serenity of death if he can defeat the devil and his army of Acolytes.  This narrative foundation is certainly ambitious. Dracula is conflicted not just by his past as a vampire slayer, dejected after the murders of his wife and son, and also disheartened by his rejection from Satan, God, and humanity- as well as the losses of his wife and son. But, Lords of Shadow 2 rarely capitalizes on this rich pathos, typically issuing meandering cutscenes which favor long-winded convolution over sharp excitation. That said- while Dracula may not get the poignancy he deserves, a few other plotlines are capable of stirring the emotions of players, such as the tragic story of the Toy Maker.

Castlevania Lords of Shadow 2 Review (4)

Lords of Shadow 2’s other misstep can be found in the inclusion of stealth-based missions. Several stages of the campaign force players to skulk past groups of heavily armed Brutes. While these elements might seem like a welcome reprieve from the game’s combat, in execution they’re soiled by inflexible design. Typically, detection by one of these guards leads to mission failure and replay, instead of pushing players into underhanded conflict. What more, these sections are far too heuristic- requiring trial and error to attain the developer’s single solution. What’s especially strange is that other elements of Lords of Shadow 2 habitually hold the player hand, telegraphing the answer to simple puzzles- or even incessantly reminding players that pieces of art are viewable in the game’s gallery.

Fortunately, these transgressions comprise a small fraction of Lords of Shadow 2’s twenty-five hour playtime. The campaign is set across two milieus- an ethereal model of Dracula castle along with a modern day, industrial context. While these settings aren’t wide-open sandboxes built for interminable exploration, they strike an adept balance between autonomy and a more linear sequence of set pieces. Throughout Lords of Shadows’ journey there are an ample amount of stunning backdrops as well as alcoves awaiting player scrutiny, demonstrating this equilibrium. While the game doesn’t always demonstrate its predecessor’s grand sense of scale and art quality sporadically reveals inconsistency, the majority of Shadow’s visuals are grandiose. On the PC iteration, this graphical grandeur didn’t impact the refresh rate, with the title running at a fluid sixty frames per second on an outdated Radeon 7770 GPU.

Castlevania Lords of Shadow 2 Review (3)

Across these detailed backdrops, gamers will have plenty of opportunities to master and upgrade Dracula’s three main weapon systems. Naturally, the protagonist’s Blood Whip, composed of coagulated streams emanating from Dracula’s severed wrists, is the default weapon, striking a balance between range and strength. Strangely, it’s also the armament with the smallest tech tree. A press of the left bumper activates the Void Sword- which is a relatively weak weapon, but allows the protagonist to leach a bit of health from enemies. The Chaos Claws are used to disarm foes fortified with shields or heavy armor. Beyond a restricted range, these talons are so powerful that they’ll inadvertently annihilate an antagonist that you were banking on for a health-replenishing blood feast. Overreliance on the sword and claws is prohibited by the need for Blood Orbs, which are earned by performing uninterrupted combos. The only problem is that Lords of Shadow 2 occasionally plays dirty- throwing a reckless projectile or attack from an off-screen foe.

Building on its predecessor’s engrossing action and gothic charms, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 adds nuance to combat as well as non-linear environments. Unfortunately, these virtues are undermined by the inept incorporation of stealth mechanics and a plot which fails to capitalize on its poignant potential. In the end, Lords of Shadow 2 is the unusual sequel that’s worth playing, yet can’t quite match the quality of its precursor.

Castlevania Lords of Shadow 2 Review (5)
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 was played on PC with review code provided by the publisher.

A number of news articles revealed that 2010’s Lords of Shadow nearly wasn’t a Castlevania game. Purportedly, an early build veered too far from franchise canon- causing Konami to ask for the removal of their revered intellectual property. Fortunately, Hideo Kojima saw potential in the project, prompting the Metal Gear auteur to champion the game- thereby allowing the development team at MercurySteam to realize their ambitions. The game’s engaging combat mechanics and striking set pieces resonated with players, leading to critical and commercial success. While the majority of gamers appreciated the direction MercurySteam took, a constituency of Castlevania enthusiasts were…

Review Overview

Gameplay - 80%
Story - 65%
Aesthetics - 85%
Content - 85%
Accessibility - 80%

79%

Good

Summary : The original Castlevania: Lords of Shadow surprised gamers with its direction. The same assessment could be made for this sequel, which ushers in a completely unwarranted stealth mechanic and convoluted storyline.

User Rating: 4.75 ( 1 votes)

About Robert Allen

With over 35 years of gaming experience, Robert ‘DesertEagle’ Allen is Tech-Gaming’s resident worrier/warrior who spends his days teaching at three colleges and his nights devoted to JRPGs.

12 comments

  1. I think the saying is “better late than never”.

  2. I love a review that says nothing but bad things then proceeds to give the game a 79.

    That’s quality work right there!

    • Not quite.

      The reviewer mentions that combat is good and likes a few parts of the story. Maybe read the whole thing instead of skimming over, looking at the score, and trolling.

  3. I thought it was a good review. I played the demo and really liked it, but it didn’t have any of those stealth parts which were supposed to be pretty bad.

  4. I rented this last week. The stealth parts totally took me out of the game. As for the storyline, it’s ok. But you really have to played the first LoS to get all the details. If it’s been 4 years, you might miss a bit.

  5. Did anyone see what the lead developer has been saying?

    MercurySteam co-owner and Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 director Enric Alvarez has blasted critics for scoring the game ‘unfairly’, stating that you have to “be blind or stupid to give [Lords of Shadow 2] a 4/10”.

    Referring to EDGE’s 4/10 review in an interview with Eurogamer Spain (picked up by VG247), Alvarez stated that “there are a few publications that set trends and from here there are other publications that follow and dare not deviate much. The first LOS, which has a 85 on Metacritic, also got bad marks major sites, yet the game was high. It is true that the Edge liked the first and this dislike.”

    However, Alvarez took particular issue with the magazine’s score.

    “But I also find that this has happened is totally unfair,” he said. “One must be blind or stupid to give it a 4/10 for a game of this quality. With a 4/10 people interpret it is a crappy game, badly done, it breaks, with mechanics that do not work with some awful graphics, and if I were an analyst would know this, which I do not think los2 a score of crappy game deserves.”

    He also accused some reviewers of “infinite arrogance”.

    “Any game is a very complex work and I sometimes I find that in specialized gaming press lack professionalism to judge things for what they are and not what they wanted it to be about,” he said earlier in the interview. “I agree that in the end it is an opinion, and opinion is totally respectable, but do not confuse a review and analysis. The analysis will mainly review the object and the subject will primarily reviewer.Can you say, ‘I do really like the rock but I hate the opera’, this is an opinion, not an analysis.

    “If I had to do an analysis of ‘Don Giovanni’ would not even know where to start and this year lack of honesty in the gaming press. Lots of people analyze games and is not up for the game you analyzed. This is a problem because after this influences the decision to buy from people, and then also have an influence at the level of their opportunities for developers, because we are in a world in which the simplification of information is the order of day and if you can classify a developer according to the note on Metacritic for what you do.

    “Do not misunderstand me,” he continued. “There are very good people writing about video games, have the opinion they have. I speak very good people, for example, destroyed the first LOS. It is not about being right or wrong, it’s a matter of talking about what you have to talk. When you say in a review that the textures or the engine of a video game are not high, or that the gameplay is not up to you to know what you say. You can not just say ‘I did not like, and as I do not like is bad’, that is an infinite arrogance.”

    EDGE’s review was one of the first published reviews of Lords of Shadow 2, criticising it for being “clunky, ugly and deeply misguided”. We scored it 6/10.

    The reviews may have also gone some way to determining the game’s placement in this week’s charts, where it just about managed to scrape inside the top 10.

    The game currently holds a Metacritic score of 70 on Xbox 360, 62 on PS3 and 62 on PC.

    • I found this interesting:

      Following the release of the game in February 2014, an anonymous MercurySteam employee/developer sent to several gaming websites the story behind the development of the game.

      In his letter, he explains the development was very chaotic for different reasons. The employee directly blames Enric Alvarez’s behaviour towards his team, as he had total control on everything that developers and artists did.

      Moreover, the art director of the studio left for another project. Little to no communication existed between the different parts of the studio, leading to some differences in the game’s constency, and a 6-month delay in production (changing the release of the game from November 2013 to February 2014).

      Finally, after the end of the develoment, more than 35 employees were fired from MercurySteam.

      Here is the full letter from the employee:

      Well, I would like to shed some light over the development of this game… Working with Mercury Steam and I would like to tell this anonymously- is about an everyday frustration. Here’s to every guy that has experienced hell during the development of this game, but especially to those who have led this to the mess that Lords of Shadows 2 is:

      – Kojima had little to nothing to do with the development of the first game, he came by, set a seal, visited the studio, signed some things and that was it. He had even less to do with Mirror of Fate and LoS2.

      The vast majority of this team is aware that the game we’ve done is a real piece of s*** that has nothing to do with the first one’s quality and production values… Nobody is surprised by the low reviews we’ve got.

      – If there’s someone to blame here, that’s Enric Álvarez. He is the person who has led a broken development based on his personal criteria, completely overlooking programmers, designers and artists. Despite his nice look to the press, often considered as some sort of creative “visionary” in the looks of David Cage and Molyneux, this guy has serious problems. He is a mean and naughty guy, and since the “success Lords of Shadows 1” his ego has grown to the point of not even daring to say ‘hello’ when you meet him in the hallway.

      His distrust to his own workers is enormous. Most of the development team often found out features of the game through press news, rather than from the studio’s head – unbelievable. And there is no corporate culture here at all… this is just a handful of people working blindly and at the disposal of an alleged visionary.

      – Many of the studio founders are people with zero abilities for running a studio. Often here newbie developers know more than their own bosses. This structure only leads to a slow, messy and absurd development process, with the end result of Lords of Shadows 2 being a perfect example of what happens due to that.

      – Absolutely every design idea has to be monitored, taken away and mutilated by Enric Álvarez. Several game designers have grown tired of this and have abandoned the studio.

      – The art direction for this project has been erratic and beheaded. After Enric dismissed every idea and core decission from our main art director for the previous projects, he decided to just leave. It was a battle of egos unleashed by Enric (something that he has carried over with since his times in Rebel Act). Our now former art director is still working in Madrid, now with the Tequila guys making RIME.

      – Many others have just turned to other studios offers, sick of the situation here. Almost every month we see fellow devs packing up and getting out of here looking for a new job abroad that’s sad. It’s amazing how the biggest AAA game developer in Spain is not even willing to make its workers a counteroffer. This company does not think highly of its talented workers and their good work. There has never been any kind of salary bonus or anything that remotely resembles it. Not even a single “Good job team!” acknowledgement.

      – The production management for this project has been terrible, way often the heads of each department dismissed every production deadline and imposed their own criteria. As a result, the development was delayed for six months, and that investment only came out of MercurySteam’s pockets. The QA department is treated like cattle, with shameful wages and almost everyday bullying.

      – After completing Lords of Shadows 2 MercurySteam has fired 35 workers, and it’s embarrassing that no website or journalist is talking about that. More firings are expected to come in the following days.

      Alvarez sounds like a piece of work.

  6. The press is making it sound like this game is another Aliens: Colonial Marines.

    It is not. Its fun, it’s gorgeous and it’s a great sequel to another great game.

  7. A 79% actually seems high. Most outlets have given the game a 5,6, or at tops a 7 out of 10.

  8. Are those PC or console screenshots?

  9. Good review. I’ll pick it up when its $5 on Steam.

  10. Good review Robert. I was really thinking about getting this.