The Ruined Potential of ‘Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2’ a Decade Later

Konami tried something new to inject new blood (no pun intended) into the Castlevania series with 2011’s Lords of Shadow, a new series that completely disregarded the established timeline. The result gave fans a cinematic platformer that dipped into the God of War series with its combat (for good and bad), but ultimately lacked that “something” for many that made it a Castlevania game. With Lords of Shadow 2, those hoping that things would get better were ultimately disappointed. It also didn’t help that reports after the game’s release illustrated Lords of Shadow 2‘s troubled development. But with 10 years now gone by, is that disappointment also lessened?

After the events of Lords of Shadow, where protagonist Gabriel Belmont (Robert Carlyle) becomes the vampire known as Dracula, Lords of Shadow 2 sees Gabriel awaken 1000 years after an encounter with his son, Alucard (Richard Madden), weakened and with no memory of why he was dormant in the first place. Gabriel’s only desire is to die, but being immortal prevents this. Zobek (voiced by Patrick Stewart), a member of the Brotherhood of Light from the first game and Gabriel’s foe, promises to grant Gabriel his request with the Vampire Killer whip, but only after aiding Zobek in his mission to stop the resurrection of Satan (Jason Isaacs)  by his acolytes.

Story-wise, developer MercurySteam decided to take Lords of Shadow 2 where no Castlevania game had gone previously by centring on the Prince of Darkness himself. Not only that, but taking the Castlevania series itself into modern times. Granted, it wasn’t the “traditional” story of Dracula, but the possibility of incorporating Gabriel’s own story leading up to his transformation, as well as the exploring of his new role as Dracula, held a lot of potential. Gabriel’s story jumps between the past and present, which if done properly, could have yielded a lot of pathos for a man who had lost his wife and his son, but also had to grapple with his inner conflicts.

Instead, that all turned into a muddled mess that never formed into a cohesive plot. Disjointed and difficult to follow, plot points and devices are conjured up from nothing. Gabriel’s Combat Cross, for example, is now known the Vampire Killer whip, one of the most powerful weapons in existence that is capable of killing Dracula. Even though we are told that Dracula cannot die, since he is God’s Chosen. Likewise, Alucard’s Crissaegrim sword, which was forged with the tip of the Vampire Killer ship—the same whip that is supposed to be able to kill Dracula, by the way—won’t kill Dracula, but instead would put him into a deep sleep until the sword was removed from Dracula’s body. No explanation is given for why Alucard knows this, or why the sword wouldn’t kill Dracula.

The nonsense continues with the plot point regarding one of Satan’s acolytes owning the Bioquimek Corporation, a pharmaceutical company that has come up with a virus that essentially turns humans into demons. Never mind the fact that being asleep for centuries has resulted in Gabriel somehow knowing what a pharmaceutical company is, but when confronting the acolyte, Gabriel remarks about the disease being “manufactured” and that there must be an “antidote”. Again, it’s all a case of a character somehow knowing information when logically they shouldn’t, unless it was explained away at some point unbeknownst to the player.

Nitpicking? Perhaps, but with the amount of cutscenes the game contains, not to mention the calibre of voice actors, you would think they would have presented a story that wouldn’t waste all of that. Contrast this with the story of Lords of Shadow, which in spite of the few plot twists, was clear easy to follow.

If the issues with the plot points weren’t enough, there are the sequences of timeline jumping. Again, what could have been an excellent way in terms of the story to have Gabriel grapple with his past with the now-child version of Trevor is squandered. These sequences as a whole grind the story to a halt, taking away from the main story that’s taking place in the present. On top of that, it’s never explained whether the castle is a dream, or if Gabriel has been physically transported to the past. It very much seems like the teams working on the game never really communicated with one another to balance the length of these segments in the Castle. On the plus side, these Castle sequences do bring back what attracted players to the original Lords of Shadow. The detailed environments, the platforming, and of course, the callback to the Metroidvania exploration. It’s just a shame that it at times feels like there are two separate games here that have been stitched together, with the story to tie it all together being an afterthought.

As alluded to before, one of the positives that jumped out for Lords of Shadow 2 upon its release was its presentation, which even a decade later, still holds up. The game remains graphically impressive, despite coming out at the tail end of the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360’s lifespans. Regardless of the fact that the game jumps between past and present timelines, both show off some gorgeous and varied exteriors, with the obvious focus on Dracula’s castle, which features several areas that echo what MercurySteam pulled off in the first game. Still, much like the first game, despite the graphical quality, Lords of Shadow 2 still doesn’t quite hit that traditional Castlevania vein in terms of its look and feel that fans wanted. It probably didn’t help that the Castle and the modern exteriors in this sequel were the more impressive of the environments, as the interiors (specifically in the city) still look dull and generic as they did back when the game was released.

By far, the biggest disappointment with Lords of Shadow 2 upon its release was its gameplay. Sadly, that ruined chance to play as Dracula in a Castlevania game in an entertaining way still remains a sore spot, made even worse by time. One of the biggest issues when playing the game back when it was released was that you never felt like Dracula, even with all of these powers and abilities at your disposal. You could literally swap in Gabriel as a human, and nothing would change. Sure, you suck blood in order to regain your health, and you have powers such as mist and the ability to turn into rats. But really, the core mechanics from the previous game, with its aping of God of War and Devil May Cry, and the fact that you’re still facing off against a “big evil”, remain unchanged. You’re not hunting civilians or battling “good guys”. You’re still fighting demons and other monsters.

And who could forget about the stealth mechanics? As if you wanted to ensure that the powertrip fantasy as the Prince of Darkness was ruined by grinding the pacing of the gameplay to a halt. It’s understandable the idea that Dracula is weakened when you first start the game, and that it’s a nice callback to Dracula’s powers from the Bram Stoker novel, but really, MercurySteam could’ve gone about it another way. The problem was that the stealth mechanics had a singular solution. It wasn’t something out of Metal Gear that allowed you to play around to find multiple solutions. You didn’t have Dracula disguising himself as a human, or using his power of illusion or hypnotic abilities. Instead, you crawled around as rats in vents. Even when you returned to full strength—which as explained by Zobek, would allow you to defeat Satan and his acolytes—you still had to employ these stealth mechanics to defeat these guards.

Setting aside the stealth mechanics, the rest of the gameplay for Lords of Shadow 2 still holds up, more or less. It’s again still reminiscent of other titles that employ massive combos and requiring you to upgrade your moveset, but there’s still fun to be had. But that’s again if you take out the whole playing as Dracula thing. The boss fights still feel epic (despite the Titan boss fight being an obvious rip-off of God of War 2‘s Titan fight), and the platforming sections remain enjoyable to traverse. It’s just that much like the game itself, there’s a feeling of stitched-together ideas that lack cohesion.

It’s safe to say that Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 still carries a lot of the disappointment that fans felt when it was released. Both as a Castlevania title, and as an action game. Konami did have something going on with Lords of Shadow that scratched a bit of that Castlevania itch, while also opening up possibilities to explore the legendary series in a new light. That potential was ultimately thrown away with Lords of Shadow 2, whether by the internal struggles with development, or by decisions that ultimately seemed like an antithesis to what made the previous game—or a Castlevania title, in general—so interesting and fun. If the rumours are true that Konami is looking to try again with resurrecting Castlevania, one hopes that they remember the pitfalls that caused the Lords of Shadow series to fall so quickly after its promising start.

The post The Ruined Potential of ‘Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2’ a Decade Later appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.