|System: PC, PS3, Xbox 360|
|Release: Q4 2013|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Angelo M. D’Argenio
One of my worst experiences at E3 2013 this year was waiting in the poorly managed line for Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2. The exclusive media line rotated players in at a snail’s pace, causing my wait for this one game to last nearly three hours. However, no combination of standing in line for hours trapped between alternating sources of gamer funk and nausea induced by gamer funk could prepare me for the horror that awaited in the demo itself. What was one of the games I was most excited about playing at E3, ended up being one of E3 2013’s biggest disappointments.
In Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2, you get to play as Dracula who, spoiler spoiler, is Gabriel Belmont from the previous Lords of Shadow game. Lords of Shadow 2 picks up where Lords of Shadow left off, with Dracula yearning for his death in the modern day. Or at least, that’s what Konami reps and their trailer said was going to happen. The demo itself picked up in medieval times, with Dracula sitting pretty after a jaunt of terrorizing the countryside and the Brotherhood of Light looking to take his head. I’d like to note here that Dracula trying to fight for his own death is not really a compelling motivation considering all of the enemies in the game also want to see you dead. It makes the Game Over screen feel disingenuous.
Let me say right now that the best part about this game is the voice work. Robert Carlyle makes an absolutely outstanding Dracula and Patrick Stewart is a phenomenal Zobek, the manipulator behind the scenes. Unfortunately, some of the dialogue is more than a little forced. Right at the beginning of the demo, Carlyle, as Dracula, says the famous “What is a man? A miserable little pile of secrets!” line, but it’s written in for no good reason and doesn’t actually refer to anything. It really just feels corny.
However, everything else about the game just doesn’t live up to expectations, starting with the combat. Gabriel’s holy cross and dark and light magics have been removed in favor of a more DmC style weapon-switching system in which Drac changes his weapons mid combo by pressing one of the shoulder triggers. His basic weapon is the Blood Whip, which admittedly has the best range of all of his weapons. It operates very similarly to the holy cross from the first Lords of Shadow, with light and heavy attacks being strung together for a variety of combos.
This would all be well and good, except Drac’s other weapons totally invalidate the Blood Whip from the get go. His right trigger weapon is the Void Sword, which does less damage than the Blood Whip but drains life from his enemies with every hit. His left trigger weapon is the Gauntlets of Chaos, which has less range but does far more damage than the Blood Whip and breaks through enemy guards (yes, even the guards of bosses). They also keep the enemy in far more stun than any other weapon, allowing you to pummel enemies to death easily.
Quite frankly, you will never use anything other than the Gauntlets of Chaos. You’ll pretty much just spam AOE attacks with this weapon and call it a day. Sure, enemies will get a cheap hit on you here or there, but when they do, you just turn around and punch them until they die. If you EVER start running low on life, simply switch to the Void Sword, which will easily max your life in only two to three hits, and then switch right back to the gauntlets. The Void Sword also totally invalidates Drac’s ability to suck the blood of stunned enemies, as blood sucking restores such little life it’s practically a joke. These weapons are governed by two gauges, and when the gauges empty, you can’t use the weapons anymore, but they recharge themselves over time so fast that they did not run out even once during the demo. As a result, combat feels mashy, uninspired, and overpowered.
But wait! There’s more than just combat in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2. There’s platforming! And we all know how fun the platforming is in the first Lords of Shadow. Here’s a hint… it isn’t. The game’s camera constantly works against you, causing you to fall to your death for no good reason. While Lords of Shadow 2’s camera is controllable, it still pulls tricks on you when you least expect it. There was one point in the demo where Drac was swinging from pole to pole, and the camera shifted so much that up on the analog stick changed from “go forward” to “go backward,” and then when I reversed the direction of the analog stick, the controls changed again from “go forward” to “drop off the pole and kill yourself!” Fun…
Lords of Shadow has problems with ambiguous platforms and random jumps causing you to fall to your death. To fix this, Lords of Shadow 2 has a new Vampire Sense mechanic which outlines places you can jump to in red. Unfortunately, these places can still be red herrings, leading you to dead ends and traps! So, Lords of Shadow 2 prevents you from randomly falling to your death by purposefully leading you to places that make you fall to your death instead. Great.
The checkpoint system is also broken, in reference to platforming, at least. If you get hit by anything, and I mean ANYTHING, during a platforming segment, you fall off. While this doesn’t result in your death, it does result in you having to tackle the entire section all over again! There were incredibly long wall-scaling sections in the demo that I traversed, got near the end, and then accidentally went down the wrong path and got hit by a spinning blade or something. Then I realized I had to deal with the entire platforming section from the beginning again, and I nearly threw my controller in disgust.
A final problem with Lords of Shadow 2 is that nothing feels threatening. All of the enemies are pushovers with the “spam Gauntlets of Chaos” strategy I mentioned before. Even bosses were barely a challenge: I purposefully took hits because it was easier than dodging. For example, there was one point in the demo where I was climbing atop a giant colossus while being assailed by a smaller flying-angel boss firing arrows at me. The goal was to have the angel accidentally fire arrows at the colossus’s weak points. This sounds cool, but the angel’s tracking was so good it was nearly impossible to actually avoid the arrow after it was fired. Instead, I just stood on a weak point and took holy arrows to the face, healing with the Void Sword when needed. It took an otherwise thrilling battle and reduced it to boring routine.
Frankly, I don’t understand what Konami was going for with Lords of Shadow 2. Lords of Shadow 1 has its problems, but this game only exacerbates them rather than solving them. It’s a shame, because the stellar voice cast of the game makes me really want to see the story unfold, but the platforming and boring combat are just too much to warrant a purchase. Either Konami shapes up and actually makes the gameplay of LOS 2 compelling, or I’m watching this game’s story on YouTube.
Angelo M. D’Argenio
Date: June 28, 2013