As we play offers the thought strands of the reviewer as they’re going through the game. This offers unique content for the reader so they can come to understand the conflicting feelings of the reviewer as they’re playing a game for the very first time. All feedback on this concept is welcome.
Getting one great game out for release may seem like an incredible accomplishment, but in today’s market it’s not enough. Most major releases are designed to make things open for a follow-up or even a trilogy. If a game is even moderately successful and does more than just break-even, it’s a pretty safe bet you’ll see a product to succeed it.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow was the reboot we all hoped it would be. An action-packed, third person adventure with a gripping narrative, tight mechanics, beautiful graphics, elegant soundtrack and an all-star voice acting cast, featuring Jason Isaacs, Robert Carlylse and Patrick Stewart.
The game also features one of the best endings this generation. Needless to say, Lords of Shadow 2 has been a long-time coming.
It’s just a shame that now it’s here, we can’t give it back.
Picking up the PS3 pad again, I instantly wanted my Dualshock 4 back. Fortunately, a new PS3 update allows me to do that, but unfortunately, the Dualshock 4 didn’t work properly with Castlevania during my time with the game as the analog sticks were completely unusable. Back to the wafer-thin relics of old, I guess.
One of the first things to strike me is an option in the menus to turn off Quick Time Events. I love the team have added that. There have been so many complaints about the over-inclusion of the button-mashing phenomena in the modern day interactive adventure and this should be more of a standard fare.
Anyway, to the game.
Interview with Gabriel Belmont
Lords of Shadow 2 follows on many years after LoS 1. The sequel takes the events of Mirror of Fate into consideration – where Dracula went head-to-head with his blood relative, Trevor Belmont – and now situates players in the modern day, this time casting them as the Prince of Darkness himself. Playing Dracula? In the modern day? Yep. Massive potential.
Unfortunately, LoS 2 is instantly let down by one of the dullest opening sections to a game i’ve seen this generation. It just completely derails the story’s momentum from the word go. You’re fighting outside Dracula’s castle against a series of mech-warriors, jumping between sections, avoiding gun-fire, whipping your way through robotic enemies, all set against a black, dark, dreary setting. The bold, pro-religious statements of a floating Paladin and his accomplices continually draw attention to the fact that you’re Dracula, and it just feels overplayed and cringeworthy, rather than the least bit antagonising. The fighting itself also feels repetitive and uninspired, and frankly, this section felt like one i’ve played several times over in similar type games over the last seven years. I couldn’t wait for it to be over.
After that however, the game gives us the first big hint of what it could and should be: Dracula walking out into a bustling metropolis. Cars driving by, diners offering hot food to late-shift regulars, beggars on street corners holding out their hands for change. For just a moment, you see the game open up before you. The idea of a being the Prince of Darkness in a modern-day setting instantly becomes appealing: you’re reminded of that massive cliff-hanger back in 2010 and all the ideas and dreams you’ve had for LoS 2 since that time come to the forefront. For just a moment, you remember why you’re here.
And then the game shuts you out. You’re forced along a linear path down a side-alley and it’s back to murky backdrops and over-sized tech-driven buildings with zero characterization. It’s like the game wants to tease you for a sequel that is never coming. Even Patrick Stewart seems like he doesn’t want to be in the recording studio. His lively performance enriched the original game, now it feels like he couldn’t care less. Carlysle’s performance, meanwhile, fluctuates between the appropriate amount of sinister and an unwavering sense of cynicism.
Another thing that instantly grabbed me were the blocky graphics. From a distance, the game looks great. The character models are very detailed, the environments are enriching and well designed, but up close, everything is horrendously boxy and grainy. Camera panning is sluggish and creates several blind spots when roving around the scenery and it feels like textures have been recycled and reused throughout the game. Some areas just feel as if they’ve been lazily put together in a rush to get the game out for launch.
There is a texture pack to install on Playstation 3 – which also apparently helps with the loading – weighing in at 2.7gb. While the installation does as it says and slightly improves the loading times, there’s absolutely no improvement in the graphics. As this is one of the last big games to be released exclusively for the last-gen, there is undoubtedly a lot of pressure for the game to see release as soon as possible, and frankly, it shows. LOS 2 could have benefitted from a longer development time or even, dare I say it, been kept back for the new generation of systems. The game feels as if it exists in an uncomfortable place between generations and it suffers for that horrendously.
The game has various modes of attack. To begin with, there’s The Siege Gauntlets which are the most powerful and will eat through armor and shields. The Void Sword drains health from enemies and gives it back to Dracula. Then there’s the good ol’ fashioned whip. It wouldn’t be Castlevania without it. In that regard, the action is versatile enough to keep things interesting, yet attacks usually play out in similar ways and you’ll quickly feel the monotony, even though there are different attack types which can be unlocked and used. This is also partly down to the game’s lazy combat system. You can be physically attacking your enemies, in the midst of a combo and they can just ignore that attack and strike back. Unfortunately, it’s just one of a series of poor development decisions.
For instance, the game doesn’t always like you to just drop down to the ground from a height and occasionally forces you to clamber down a ladder or take a particular route, rather than let you just take a drop. Something I can’t remember complaining about since the PS2 era…
Not the opening we were looking for…
The majority of my problems with the game come once it begins to open up and you gain access to the Travel Book. The open world element just doesn’t work for Castlevania. Things aren’t fully or properly explained, everything feels scattered and poorly implemented, and the environments just don’t seem to offer enough variety when moving between areas, meaning it’s extremely easy to get confused and lost. Missions just seem to blur into one another and there’s no marker system. Bundled together, it’s all pretty underwhelming.
There’s also a horrendous reliance on poorly controlled stealth sections, which create more cursing and frustration than offering a refreshing change of pace. Hiding in the shadows allows you to morph into a rat so you can scurry into sewer networks to gnaw on wires or stay out of view of bazooka wielding bad-guys, but there are also sections which require the precise level of timing. You’ll need to positioned at precisely the right spot behind a crate, or even rely on an element of luck in order to distract guards with a swarm of bats. Move a little bit to the left and you’ll be blown to pieces. Move to the right and you’ll be completely out of range.
It’s the simple things that cause the most frustrations with Castlevania, and sadly there are plenty of them.
Areas for Development
- Dualshock 4 Controller Support
- Improved PS3 Textures
- Travel Book needs an overhaul
- AI needs to respond to your attacks better.
- Less sweet spots for environmental attacks and in-game progression
- Better introduction to open-world element
I can confidently say that Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 will be my disappointment of the year. I had such high hopes for the sequel, and for a moment I thought some of those hopes would get a pay off, yet I find almost every element of the game underwhelming and lacking. From the technical flaws, to the narrative fatigue and open-world insecurity, it seems like the game cannot get itself together and produce even a half-way engaging end-product. Mediocre and unsatisfying, Lords of Shadow 2 is the type of big-budget follow-up we all fear and dread.
Technical Competency – 6/10
Graphical State/Sound Quality – 6/10
Network Stability – N/A
Overall – 6/10
(These grades assess our playthrough, taking into consideration how many (if any) bugs were encountered, whether there were any interruptions in gameplay and the product’s final technical state. These scores, coupled with the Final Analysis and Areas for Development, are suggestions for future patches and updates which the developers could (and in our opinion, should) explore. These scores are separate to our DLC/Expansion Reviews but link into our Patch/Firmware Reviews.)
(These scores are not designed as a grading system to determine the entertainment value of a product and should not be treated as such..)
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