MercurySteam's Lords of Shadow trilogy has long been subject to “love it or hate it” syndrome. The first installment rebooted the Castlevania franchise four years ago to mixed reception from fans. Many would claim that it was Castlevania in name only, but I would argue that Lords of Shadow was truer to its name than it could handle. Nowadays when most people think of Castlevania their minds harken back to Symphony of the Night, as well they should as it was an utterly fantastic game, but before SotN used the Metroid formula to bring to life the Metroidvania subgenre the series was very much a two dimensional version of what you're given in Lords of Shadow. Generic fantasy enemies, whip combat, and linear levels. But enough talk! Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2; have at you!
The story of Lords of Shadow 2 picks up long after the events of Lords of Shadow and Mirror of Fate, its primary story taking place in a modern day city that has been built on the land where Dracula's castle once stood. After a brief (yet intense) introductory level taking place in the past, Dracula (formerly Gabriel Belmont) wakes from a long sleep to find himself weakened after centuries of wasting away. His “old friend” Zobek would like to team up once again so they can stand together against the armies of Satan, who seeks to return to the world of men.
The final installment in the Lords of Shadow trilogy seeks to overcome many of the criticisms from the first game. LoS was as linear as they come, but in LoS2 we see the Metroidvania formula revived as it features 2 “open” worlds which you traverse in the style you'd expect, following a given path until you unlock a new power and then using that power to follow paths that you couldn't before. As Dracula you will go back and forth between exploring both a modern day city and your glorious castle in the past. That's not quite as confusing in practice as it sounds on paper, there are portals around the city through which you can go back and forth between the two time lines. There are also fast travel points, known as map rooms, to help you get around the city and castle faster, unfortunately they only work for the world you find them in(i.e. map rooms in the castle can only take you to other castle map rooms and vice versa).
Your primary combat style is still that of the whip, but now that whip takes form through a combination of shadow magic and Dracula's own blood. Unlike previous games you also obtain more weapons. In place of light and dark magic Dracula can obtain the Void Sword, for restoring health, and the Chaos Claws, for breaking defenses. Though these aren't quite the same as the magic system from the previous games, they still use the same charge up system from the first game where long combos fill a bar at the bottom of the screen which then causes orbs to spawn that will refill each respective resource. Rather than a list of skills / combos to obtain, LoS2 features a skill tree of sorts for each weapon. Basic button presses stay the same between the weapons, but the function of those combos and the way they play out changes. After unlocking a new combo you can gain mastery in it by using it repeatedly. Once you've fully mastered a combo its mastery can be drained into the weapon, and after doing this with a few different combos your weapon becomes upgraded. It's an interesting system that gets you to constantly try out new combos in the hopes of gaining mastery in them. Overall combat feels fluid and responsive and definitely the most fun I've had out of the three games.
The item powers work a bit differently this time around as well. Now on your D pad you simply have three powers and a final slot for a selection of relics, which are basically beneficial consumables. These relics act as health potions or buffs. There are quite a few types of these in the game but honestly the only ones I ever felt the need to use were the health ones and I maybe used three of those over the course of the game. Your powers are those of the Shadow Dagger, Bat Swarm, and Mist Form. The first two are obtained very early on while the third is a ways in. Shadow Daggers work how Daggers did before, except that now they have no inventory count and instead regenerate over time. These daggers also gain power from the weapon form you're in. By pulling out your Void Sword they gain the power of ice and by pulling out your Chaos Claws they become fire balls (and potent ones at that). The Bat Swarm power is a bit of a strange one. I'm not sure that they have much use in combat, but they seem to be in the game pretty exclusively for one reason.
Here's the deal: LoS2 introduces stealth segments into the game. I'm not sure why, as they feel out of place. I understand that Dracula has lost many of his powers and early on probably could not take the extremely large guards on, but there is never a point where you can actually just say screw it and take them on later on in the game either. While these segments don't make much sense, they are almost always incredibly short and easy to get through. This is where the Bat Swarm ability comes into play. You can use the swarm to distract a guard. Distracted guards don't see what's going on and a second guard will come over to see what the fuss is about. If you walk up behind a guard undetected you can possess said guard for a short time. There are also points in the game with shadowy portals on the ground that, when stood in, allow Dracula to turn into a pack of rats to sneak around or travel through small grates. The only stealth section that gave me any real trouble, and one of the only sections in the game to really frustrate me, was a special lengthy section of the castle where you have to sneak around a boss while avoiding stepping on leaves, of which there are many all over the ground.
There are far less puzzles this time around and none of the large scale puzzles you saw in the first game. The platforming is still around and works pretty similarly; jumping from rung to rung, never with much risk of falling. The one major downside of this game is that, after playing the first Lords of Shadow, you may come into this one expecting a decently lengthy run, but that's simply not the case. If I recall correctly the first LoS took me in the neighborhood of 20 hours to finish, while LoS2 took me about 11 and a half. Now, there were plenty of upgrade gems I could have gone around searching for to increase my health, chaos, and void bars, but I didn't really feel the need to as this game overall felt easier than the first. There are also pins you can collect that open challenge rooms to partake in. Aside from the length, the ending felt a bit out of place to me, though I won't go into spoilers, and the final boss battle wasn't quite as intricate as that of the first game.
Overall while Lords of Shadow 2 has its share of pitfalls and high rises it has far more of the latter. I had more fun playing through LoS2 than I did through either of the former games(both of which I enjoyed as well), so much so that I played the entirety of the game in one day through two sittings. The game is a fitting final installment to the trilogy and if they do attempt DLC I hope it takes the form of Alucard story missions as there was no where near enough of him in this game. Who knows where Castlevania will head next, but for better or worse, this stage of its life is now at rest.