Honestly, I’m not quite sure what to make of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2. Everything I’ve seen indicates it’s going to be just fine – but I mean that in both senses of the phrase. It’ll do well, but I doubt it’ll be spectacular. It’ll likely be a pretty good action-adventure with a pretty good story and pretty good mechanics tying it all together. I’m a big enough fan of the Castlevania series that I hope it’s better than I’m expecting, but… time will tell.
There’s one rather large vampire elephant in the room right now, though, and that’s this: by necessity, just about any talk of Lords of Shadow 2 will spoil the original game. Seriously. Even looking at screenshots can and will spoil a few bits and bobs from the first game. This is even more of a problem because, um, the original Lords of Shadow is due to hit PC in a few months, and as we’re a PC only site I’m sort of assuming you haven’t played it.
So I’ll say this. If you’re planning on playing Lords of Shadow when it hits PC, or you have it on console and haven’t finished it yet, or you really want to remain unspoiled about the original game for some other reason, do not read any further. This article contains spoilers for the original game.
I am not kidding. Do not read any further if you don’t want to know about some of the major plot twists that are in the original Castlevania: Lords of Shadow.
This is your last warning.
Seriously. The second game follows on directly from the first. Talking about the second in any detail means telling you about some of the stuff that happens right at the end of the first, and it’s major stuff. I’m not kidding. Here be serious spoilers.
Okay, let’s talk Lords of Shadow 2. And I’m going to assume you’re familiar with the first game, here.
Lords of Shadow 2 is set directly after the events of the first game, with the opening appearing to take place with our protagonist – now known and feared as Dracula – at the height of his vampiric powers, back in the medieval era. The Brotherhood of Light are most displeased about this turn of events, so they’ve put on their biggest, most hob-nailed monster-stomping boots and have invaded his castle to give him a good kicking, apparently not realising that the only way to get rid of someone called Dracula for any length of time is with a single, named character and a mystery of some sort. Seriously, it’s like they’ve never watched any Hammer Horror.
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You know, I really miss Hammer Horror. I’m not even talking about their Dracula films (although, yes, they’re all great, even The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, although that’s “great” for entirely different reasons to the early ones). I miss the slightly less famous, more oddball ones, like the Quatermass films or The Devil Rides Out. Man, that film was great. One of the best giant spiders ever, too, and I’m saying that as an arachnophobe. Or Hammer House of Horror! Anyone else remember Hammer House of Horror?
Anyway, the game! As you’d therefore expect, Dracula kicks the everliving shit out of them. From what I can gather, the game then moves forward to a fictional-but-gothic city in the modern era, where Zobek seeks out Dracula in the hopes of forging an unsteady alliance to prevent the resurrection of Satan, who has very good reason to want them both dead.
If none of that makes any sense: really, go play the original game. There’s a fair bit of the plot spoiled in the paragraphs above, but it’s done well enough that it’s worth a play regardless.
The demo on show at E3 takes place in the earlier segment of the game, with Dracula being monstrously powerful. This appears to be the oft-used and inevitably annoying videogame trope of “look at all the powers you’ll have later on,” with the implication that you’ll have to re-earn all of this stuff once the game proceeds to the modern age.
Obviously, since we’re now controlling Dracula instead of Gabriel Belmont, he can’t use a lot of the holy weapons he had before. The Combat Cross – his former whip-like weapon, because this is Castlevania – has been replaced with the similar-in-function Blood Whip. The Light Magic and Shadow Magic abilities have been replaced with Chaos and Void modifiers that function rather similarly to the Angelic/Demonic weapons of the recent DmC Devil May Cry. And, of course, he can now saaaahk your blaaaahd.
Biting can be initiated on stunned enemies by tapping a button when near them, and the drained blood can be channelled into either Void or Chaos, which can then be used to transform Drac’s weapon into the Void Sword or the Chaos Claws. The Void Sword drains the health of enemies and gives it directly to Drac. The Chaos Claws let Drac break through the defences of heavier enemies. Both, obviously, will have to be employed sensibly to survive the God of War/DmC-styled combat.
Those comparisons become all the more apparent when the game transitions over to fighting gigantic enemies that must be clambered on to take them down. These bits are a little more reminiscent of Shadow of the Colossus, but one difference here is that you will occasionally fight on these enemies. Nothing we haven’t seen before, but spectacular nonetheless.
It’s not all whipping and biting, though, because that would probably be a bit kinky for a mainstream game. Although wouldn’t it be great if Konami had lost it and this was just a game about whipping and biting people? I mean… oh hell, I’ve digressed again. Okay, so the kinkiness is broken up with some light puzzle solving and some light platforming and some light bondage, none of which look to be particularly irritating, particularly now that the game has transitioned from fixed-camera views to one that’s fully controllable by the player. Also, I made up the “light bondage” bit.
This controllable camera has also let the dev team significantly expand on the non-linearity. One major criticism of the first game was that it was extremely linear, and while that wasn’t entirely a surprise – not all of the Castlevania games are Metroidvania explore-a-thons packed with backtracking and secrets and unlocks – this is, to my mind, a welcome change. There wasn’t much of this on show in the demo, but the dev team are making the right noises about the game opening up a lot and becoming fairly open once you reach the modern day. I suppose I’m expecting something like Darksiders rather than Saints Row, but considering the first game had rigidly enforced levels with a few secrets tucked away, it’s still a big step in the right direction.
And… that’s sort of it. I’m finding it hard to get truly excited about Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2, if only because it looks decent rather than fantastic. What I’m hoping is that it’ll wind up a lot like the first game, and I’ll adore it for the story while enjoying the well-made-but-not-spectacular combat. There’s a lot more to it than I’ve covered here – there are all sorts of vampiric powers, and the exploration element might free things up a lot and take the game in directions I’m not expecting – but based on the 20 minutes on show at E3, it’s sort of hard to say.
I’m damning with faint praise, and that’s a shame, because Lords of Shadow 2 looks like it’ll be an enjoyable romp underpinned by a solid setting. I’m just not yet convinced it’ll be anything more than that, and at a time as hyperbole-laden as E3, that makes it look a bit worse by comparison to games that are far more likely to fall flat on their faces.
I’m optimistic, but cautiously so. I’m looking forward to it, but I’m no great hurry to play it. It’s unlikely to be bad, but I doubt it’ll be mind-blowing. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 will, I suspect, be just fine – and I mean that in both senses of the phrase.