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A solid game, but a disappointing finale
on 18 March 2014
While I've always been a bigger fan of the 2D Castlevanias, I really enjoyed Lords of Shadow's take on the series' lore with beautiful 3D visuals and solid 3D combat. It was one of the best games I played that year, and it's only my internal conflict with it's effect on the future of the Castlevania series that worried me a little. Nonetheless, I was hugely looking forward to the sequel, especially being able to play as Dracula himself for the first time in a story-driven title. After having played the demo at the Eurogamer expo, I was impressed at what I had seen, and I felt assured that it would be a great game.
However, upon beating the game I am left feeling somewhat disappointed. While the game looks and plays well, the combat mechanics mostly feel recycled from the original game, albeit with visual changes. Many of the combos remain the same, and while Gabriel now has a couple of different weapons that he uses in place of the originals' Light and Dark magic, they don't open up many new combat options (such as seen in Devil May Cry), and I preferred the original game's selection of attacks in the few instances that the two games differ.
Similarly, I felt that Gabriel's platforming changes were for the worse, too. While his improved climbing skills allow him to scale walls with his bare hands, it feels a lot more automated than the satisfying wall-scaling mechanics of the first game that utilized the Combat Cross. The beast-riding mechanics are absent, replaced with other mechanics such as being able to turn into a swarm of rats, which also feel more of a gimmick and less solid than in the original.
The worst new addition is that of stealth segments - these involve having to avoid being seen by invincible opponents that can kill you in one hit. While I'm a fan of stealth, they are more of an irritation than fun, and feel poorly executed. Sadly, things like this only help to make you feel less like the legendary Dracula, more just a regular vampire. We do get a short snippet of him at his full power in the game's intro, but the series seems to have skipped over his legacy, being set a short while in the future. Gabriel is still awesome, but he just doesn't feel like the core villain (or antihero?) that stands at the center of the Castlevania universe.
The game has a non-linear progression style, but while it looks good and works fine, it doesn't feel all that open and if anything just feels somewhat disjointed, lacking the feel of an epic journey that the original had - especially as you regularly swap between modern-day settings and ones similar to those of the first game.
Story wise, it's okay. Not the epic conclusion to the Lords of Shadow saga that I hoped for, and a lot of the key characters have less screen time than I would have liked, while sometimes the less interesting parts drag on longer than necessary. Many of the bosses seem unimportant, with little backstory or fleshing out, and the 'Shadow of the Colossus' style battles from the original are all but missing, save for the tutorial segment.
While it may sound like I'm describing a terrible game, it's not. The combat, beautiful visuals and core mechanics from the original are present, but it really feels like a step back in terms of storytelling and execution. It has some really good moments, including a few particularly fun bosses and story twists, but sadly just as many tedious parts.
It seems that there were problems within the studio developing the game (according to various bits I've read online), and it shows in the final product. The game lacks cohesion, and while it's impressive, it's really not the sequel I hoped for.
The collector's edition is nice, however. The box is solid with nice presentation, and the art book is nice. A little disappointed that the art book lacks the fantastic character art seen in their in-game profile pages, but that's just my personal taste.