The origins of that undead scallywag Dracula was a story I never cared to see. You see, when you’re trying to give a beginning to some of entertainment’s truly big bads, it’s very difficult to create a story that can outdo the mystique around those characters.
In 2010 developers Mercury Steam in conjunction with Kojima Productions managed to do just that. At least in the Castlevania universe they did. Players took on the role of Gabrielle Belmont in what was a dark and twisty narrative that saw him go from the right hand of God to, well, the Prince of Darkness. The game drew some fantastic voice acting from Robert Carlyle and Patrick Stewart as we saw how doing the right thing took Gabrielle down the dark path to becoming one of the greatest monsters who ever unlived.
Coupled with some fantastic visuals in linear levels, that showcased exactly what classic 2D Castlevania levels would look like in 3D, the great combat in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow set up the beginnings of a fantastic series that was all too short lived.
In 2014 Mercury Steam released Lords of Shadow 2. The game drew on what made the first game so great and then translated it into what I had always wanted from a Castlevania series: a sprawling, epic open 3D world.
Now this wasn’t the first time that Konami had attempted to translate Castlevania from its 2D origins to 3D. The PS2 saw two 3D entries in the series while the N64 saw two 3D entries of its own. All four games are better left in the past and, in many ways, best not mentioned again either. Capcom’s original legendary Devil May Cry became the closest to a good 3D Castlevania game I ever thought I would get.
Lords of Shadow 2 surpassed my expectations of what Mercury Steam would be able to develop. Set both in the modern day and the medieval past of the castle, Lords of Shadow 2 pulled out some fantastic vistas for you to stop and marvel at along your journey. The modern day sections were set in a city that was built upon the dessicated bones of Castle Dracula while the more supernaturally set medieval sections of the game were a triumph of epic, screenshot worthy vistas.
Mercury Steam managed to translate the Metroidvania style into 3D. As you once again took on the role of an underpowered Dracula, the more you explored and fought, the more powerful you would become and this in turn opened up new areas for you to explore, to both progress the game, and find secrets. It certainly could not have been an easy feat, but I always felt that Lords of Shadow 2 nailed this aspect of what made Castlevania so great. It was an absolute joy to explore the environment which added a grand sense of majesty to the narrative.
While the exploration is the main reason I truly love this game, the combat was no slouch either. Dracula uses his own blood as a weapon, creating his own version of the now iconic Castlevania whip. However there are new offensive and defensive moves and weapons. The dash and counter system needed to be mastered to be truly effective, especially in later fights, while two new weapons, the Void Sword and Chaos Claws helped you to heal and deal with armored enemies respectively. Using them would drain your magic meters so there was some tactical play in when to use them.
As much as I loved Lords of Shadow 2, it launched to rather mixed reception. In short, the game didn’t do well with low sales. Add a lot of apparent behind the scenes drama and negativity and Lords of Shadow 2 became the last entry in the series.
Having replayed it yet again recently, Lords of Shadow 2 still holds up fantastically in environment design and combat, though, visually, its age is starting to show. The PS3 and Xbox 360 era games have a tendency to be rather… muddy. The fantastic exploration still remains highly addictive and the combat is chaotically cathartic and challenging still.
While the story may have been definitely concluded, this is Castlevania and Dracula after all, who has more than once proven that you can’t keep a good Count down. That said, the chances for a series revival for this are non-existent. The chance of some sort of HD remastering is also non-existent considering the poor sales. Thankfully if you have either an Xbox 360 or PS3, you can still play the game. If you have an Xbox One or an Xbox Series machine, the Lords of Shadow series is part of the Backwards Compatibility program meaning you can still give it a go there, and I highly urge you to.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I feel a need to explore a certain musty old castle again…