Having had enough of the ‘vampire’ theme thanks to film and television, I was not even remotely interested in a new Lords of Shadow, and this is despite really enjoying the previous title in the series. Thankfully, Mercury Steam did not hold back in terms of narrative – Lords of Shadow 2 narrative has depth and as amoral as I would want a vampire saga to be, and therefore I found it to be gripping. The mechanics are strong for the most part, as are the production qualities. For a fan of hack n’ slash, platform and horror titles, I could hardly put down Lords of Shadow 2.
Developer: Mercury Steam
Distributor: Ster Kinekor
Reviewed on: Xbox 360
Also available on: Playstation 3
If we had to give it a numerical score: 8.4/10
What I liked
- Gameplay mechanics
- Dark theme
- Different worlds for different eras
Not so much
- Clumsy leaping mechanics
- Loads of cinematic scenes for a good few hours into it
- Could’ve and should’ve explored stealth bits more
- Some visual inconsistencies
Lords of Shadow 2 is a very story-driven experience, I get that it has to be in this genre, but the pace of the game in the first few hours really dragged on for me. I get that there was a lot to divulge, and plenty to learn about the gameplay, but the first few hours’ cinematic sequences kept interrupting it all for me – the pace was all too often paused by the sequences. The cinematic sequences were gorgeous though, deeply textured and wonderfully artistic, but my word, I just want to get on with it. Just as I would be off… another scripted bit.
Like I said though – there’s a lot learn, and because Lords of Shadow 2 takes place hundreds of years after original game and its sequel, there’s plenty to recap. Dracula is Gabriel Belmont who’s story unfolds from the years gone by to modern day. Belmont is drained from his vampire strengths, defeated, a shadow of his former self. Zobek offers a lifeline – prevent Satan’s return to regain his immortality. Enter you the player, on the dark path to restore Dracula to his former self.
The joy of modern games in this genre is of coarse the mechanics, but also a worthy progression system. The genre seldom sees any major new elements in terms of gameplay, and that’s the case here for the most part. There are however some apt additions – like the ability to poses certain foe’s beings. You can stealthily creep up behind the foe and inhibit them (to allow you to get into certain places for example). The additions to gameplay are mostly for stealthy bits, and unfortunately, not explored enough. I will concede that at least I have never played as a rat in a game until now.
The rest of the gameplay mechanics will be instantly recognisable to those that have followed the series. Dracula uses a whip as default, and to defeat the various enemies, you can equip a sword by hitting the left bumper button, or use a powerful claw ability by hitting the other bumper button. The latter is needed to break through enemies with strong guards. You get a worthy progression-tree to upgrade the weapons, which keeps you busy throughout the lengthy experience. Apart from the weapons, Dracula can block and dodge attacks. The mechanics are all crisp in the defending and attacking bits. Dodging requires you to hold in LT and press directions away for the attack, and fortunately this works well, because the gameplay calls for more than just mashing away – you need to think of when to attack and how, and then also defend.
What I found to be extremely well designed in Lords of Shadow 2 is the requirements needed to take on the various enemies. Some will require you to use the sword, others the punching mechanic and then some, a combination. You will need to dodge, attack and generally this is all mixed up nicely. The boss fights are the absolute highlight in terms of varied gameplay. There were those boss fights where I would be attacking and defending for what felt like ages, before I worked out how I needed to go at it – I love that.
Successful attacking and defending results in health or focus gauges being replenished, but getting damaged results in this being halted. You need to build up your focus to get your mightier magic attacks going – and then things get really juicy. Massive, visceral magical attacks will keep you wanting and tapping to the tune the developers intended you to follow. Simply put, a few hours into it, and I was either grinning from ear to ear as I pulled off the stunning battles as they were intended, or I would stumble, begging to get it right so I could get my “big stuff” on.
The other side to the game’s formula is the platforming, which didn’t quite match the spectacle of the battle aspect for me. For the most part, the platforming is crisp, but there were some nuances for me. The basic aspects work well – climbing around, and the environments were wonderfully designed – cohesive and not obvious. You hold in the LT to highlight the path. Often puzzles will slow you down, and the path is not always obvious, which I loved. The only aspect here that was off for me was platform jumping from moveable objects. Chandeliers for example – there’s these great big chandeliers, which you need to get swinging in order to make the jump to the next. You shimmy Dracula up and down or from side to side to get the object swinging, but jumping from one to the other was a bit off for me, often leading me to need to repeat – the mechanics were just clumsy in this sense.
All in all, I would say Mercury Steam built on Mirror of Fate’s mechanics, despite it not being a very dramatic progression. The gameplay pleases in the ways that a good game from this genre would, and there is so much to upgrade, making the proper long adventure, fulfilling all the way through. Lords of Shadow 2 keeps rewarding you right through in a timely manner – again, exactly what I want from a game in this genre.
Despite being baffled here and there with the story, I really loved that it was not “prettied up” in anyway like Hollywood vampire tales. It’s pure evil, and I can’t recall ever thinking, “oh he’s actually a good vampire.” I also adore the artwork, supporting the theme.
In terms of gameplay – there’s some surprises, though nothing groundbreaking. The gameplay is however very solid, engaging, pleasing and most importantly – far from “button-mashing” inducing, which is what I look for from a modern hack n’ slash game. If you’re a fan of the theme and genre, you should be well pleased. I actually feel it is a more stylish choice, in every sense of the statement, than the series it will be most compared to – you know the one.
Read about our ratings here.