Sunday, October 16, 2016

Review #351: Castlevania - Lords of Shadow 2

 What is a game? Nothing but a miserable pile of code.
 Lords of Shadow was a bit divisive if anything, but if something about it left a mark, it was the ending, with Gabriel mysteriously turned into Dracula. Why the question as to how was resolved through DLC, Lords of Shadow 2 continues Gabriel's, now Dracula, saga into a somewhat cyberpunk era.

 Followed by quick recap of what happened in the previous games, your thrust on the role of a weakened Dracula on a world unknown to him. It's not too soon when Zobek, the Lord of the Fallen in the previous game, gets a hold of Dracula, nurses him back to health and proposes him a deal he cannot turn down: Defeat Satan and earn his sought-after eternal rest. The story is relatively entertaining and well told, and while not every answer is given straight to the player, with a little logic you can figure out most of the 'whys' yourself. I liked the characterization of the main characters, Dracula, Alucard, Trevor, Victor and Zobek, although I kinda wish some characters, like Victor, could've had more screentime, since they were interesting characters and the designs are fantastic for the most part. If anything, I'm a bit disappointed in Dracula's characterization, from the start of the game you are led to believe that Gabriel is an anti-villain, but eventually it devolves into a more anti-hero-ish personality. It doesn't really hurt the story, but I felt the anti-villain angle was a bit more interesting. As for the overall presentation, I absolutely adored the art direction they took: Heroes look badass and villains look menacing, while most the environments are beautiful, although a few of the city bits could've used more flair.
 Unlike Lords of Shadow 1, which took a linear chapter-based approach to progression, this time around you're free to explore the world as you find more power-ups and skills, something very Metroidvania. There's two different sections, if you will, the Castle and the City, and both are divided into four areas each. Peppered throughout are dozens upon dozens of collectibles that lie out of reach until you get new powers, like turning into mist or double jumping, which will not only allow you to get enhancements to your HP or Chaos/Void gauges, but will also let you go through new shortcuts between areas. That said, I felt like areas were a bit too large and convoluted, while I will admit to doing two major retreading through everything I had access to(Once when I got the Mist power up and another one once I got the double jump) without getting bored or annoyed, once I had fully leveled up all my weapons, having to go through these large areas, and having to deal with enemies that wouldn't let me through, it did become a bit of a drag, luckily, that was just as I was on my way to fight the final boss. Still, I feel like the game could have used with at least two 'teleporters' between areas instead of only one, if only to make round trips easier on the players.

 With exploration out of the way comes the combat, and it's more or less exactly like it was in LoS 1. Square does strong, focus attacks on single targets, while triangle does weaker, but wider attacks that cover more ground. The overall moveset has been reduced somewhat, but now you get two new weapons alongside your whip, with their own unique moves each, the Void Sword, which works like Light magic, allowing you to sap health from your enemies, and the Chaos Claws, which work like Chaos Magic, delivering powerful blows and allowing you to destroy shields. Using these two weapons is restricted to their two gauges, which can be restored by defeating enemies or landing enough hits without receiving damage. As for defense, you've got dodging, block and parrying, all which work relatively well once you get used to the fact that you are not invulnerable when dodging, although once you get the mist power up you can use it as such! If I had to complain about anything it'd be about the fact that there's no lock-on, and that some enemies love coming while offscreen! Lastly, you can turn of QTEs from the main menu, and I cannot stress enough just how amazing this feature is. I don't have to push or mash buttons just because, so I can focus on the damn cutscenes, which are really good by the by, instead of waiting for dumb button prompts.
 Sadly there's not a whole lot enemy variety, and while the combat is fun, it lacks the finesse or potential for creativity other games like DMC or God of War allow. Plus, a lot of enemies have teleports, and there's no lock-on of any kind, so they will usually teleport and shoot or lunge at you from your blind angles, which can get annoying. Don't even let me get started on the fact that they love to get out of 'stunlock', you might've just started attacking them, got two whip attacks-in and then they decide to get out of stunlock and counterattack, so you react accordingly, blocking or dodging, and start your combo again... only for them to decide 'nah, already took two hits in, so it's time to attack again'... It feels as if there's no point to trying to make combos since enemies will just break free of your combos when they feel like it. There's a couple of stealth sections in the game tha have received a lot of flak, and while I don't blame the critics, I didn't really care for them. I didn't like them, but they weren't completely awful and they are usually short enough so that you don't lose much time on them. Being boring is their biggest fault, to be honest.

 Amusingly, the game is a bit of a glitchfest. I encounter at least 4 glitches on my playthrough. One time, the camera glitched out on an in-game cutscene, so I had to reload my last checkpoint. And another time I had to reload the same checkpoint twice since the game decided to spawn invisible walls on two different parts of the same level!! Finally, I got an 'unhandled exception' on the last boss' cutscene. And from I could gather, some people came across a few worse glitches.
 I liked Lords of Shadow 2, I liked it a lot. While I still consider 'Lament of Innocence' the ideal translation of Castlevania into 3D, I believe that Lords of Shadow was great take on the franchise that stand out on it's own two feet. It really feels as if they listened to a lot of players gripes with this sequel, adding a more cohesive world-exploration mechanic instead of having to jump through chapters, adding different weapons, getting rid of QTEs and tightening the parkour mechanics. That said, the game is definitely more than the sum of its parts. Combat can be annoying and the exploration can become tedious, yet, I was entertained by the whole of it all all the way through. If you liked the previous Lords of Shadow games, this game won't disappoint, but if you are part of the 'it's different so it sucks' crowd or come looking for the next Devil May Cry, just stay clear of it.
 8.0 out of 10


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