The word Castlevania exists almost separate from the video game industry today – it represents one of those seriously long-lasting series that has been consistently produced for almost thirty years now; yet Microsoft Word still fails to recognise it as an acceptable word, the bastard. As the 35th instalment to the franchise, Lords of Shadow 2’s worth of carrying such a huge name from the past onward through modern gaming is questionable, coming from a first-time-Castelvania-player yet many-time-reviewer. Standalone or part of a huge series, C:LOS2 is a fantastically fun experience, even if it leaves far too much to be desired for in the realms of creative writing and level design.
I’ll go ahead and say that just about every element of the core gameplay in C:LOS2 is very satisfying and rewarding. Three different weapons with distinct skills, techniques and benefits can be upgraded through effective use, and most importantly these weapons and their stronger forms feel impressively ground-shaking, making even the smallest-scale battle an epic, fun experience. Initially relying on button-mashing, very quickly players will learn how to initiate particular attacks and how best to use them. The standard-attack Blood Whip, health-stealing Void Sword and defence-breaking Chaos Claws all prove enjoyable to wield, once one learns to use them with some tact. Until then it is a bit of a shit-show.
Some of the more satisfying fun of C:LOS2 comes when we go out of our way to learn Dracula’s moves and what enemies are most vulnerable to what combination of attacks, and it really is genuine, raw fun. Though the X and Y buttons are both used to attack, there are no attacks that force players to memorise specific combinations of the two – stringed attacks are kept simple, forcing a rapid pace for battles, exactly how it should be. The difficulty level of enemies is spot-on dynamic, offering up enemies that operate essentially as fodder by the endgame alongside enormous and near-overwhelming tanks, and the occasional challenging (see: frustrating) boss battle. Though meeting-and-greeting new enemies tends to not be particularly smooth, learning to overpower each opponent proves an enjoyable challenge and never too ridiculous in difficulty, even if ridiculous in concept. Seriously, fighting demons on the back of a giant space-worm as it flies through (yes,) space, or battling the personification of your own blood; what actually the fuck, and who the fuck why what how is what?
Though the core combat mechanics of C:LOS2 are deservedly praised above, there are seemingly obligatory stealth sections through the campaign that feel entirely inappropriate for such a butt-kicking, bad-ass good-guy as Dracula (or Gabriel; Dracula might just be his nickname, whatever. The story is utterly ignorable, don’t fret). The player’s promised skills are stripped because “I said so”, seemingly. “Why can’t I just slaughter this prick guard?”, one may ask. “Because no”, replies C:LOS2. Fair enough, game; your rules. Similarly, opening doors between maps and defeating bosses requires uninteresting quick-time events just like every other game that exists, apparently. Which is great.
The engine of C:LOS2 seems reasonably well-built even if it isn’t perfect; loading times between map sections are kept short even if they are poorly disguised, considering the huge size of many of the landscapes. While there is minimal room for exploration (“I might go wander there-Oh, never mind, there appears to be a series of invisible walls here… classic.”), the scenery is most often gigantic and highly detailed, set in enormous caverns, city streets and smoke-soaked courtyards. Gabriel’s castle is a great setting for epic, fast-paced battles, despite barely developing beyond a child’s understanding of gothic fiction.
Where we face our biggest issues with C:LOS2 is in its image as a work of fiction. The plot follows trite, pre-defined paths; a very predictable array of stereotypes and similar gothic situations constitute much of the scenery. Dialogue stumbles in circles around itself and breaks no ground for creative writing, even in a consistently under-performing industry – characters fall snugly into tedious moulds and gender roles are so adamantly regulated that each cut-scene almost feels like a parody of itself, except for the sheer, apparent lack of self-understanding. It seems hardly to matter to most gamers how language is utilised in video games (which is a damned shame), but that this piece of popular fiction is perpetuating abysmal and ignoble storytelling techniques out of sheer laziness is tragic. I have a bit of a bone to pick, won’t lie.
This latest addition to the Castlevania series is far less successful than its predecessor but it still is a damned fun game, and the core combat is indeed very good. The lack of innovation or development for female characters, the reliance on out-dated good vs. evil themes and utterly unconvincing writing is a grand disappointment, and what ultimately drove Lords of Shadow 2 into that category of games that I will hardly ever think back to months or even weeks down the track. Lords of Shadow 2 was a blast, but now it really is time I move on.
It’s not me, it’s you.
Select Start Media was provided with a review copy of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 by Mindscape on behalf of Konami.