The undisputed Lord of Darkness is back. Gabriel Belmont's physical and mental descent (ascension?) from his previous journey has led to him taking the mantle of being the one and only Dracula. Lords of Shadow 2 takes place 25 years after the first Lords of Shadow, which sees Dracula awakening in a modern world that's still filled with supernatural threats. Dracula has awakened from a long slumber, but his powers have been depleted and his strength is at an all time low. He's called upon to take down the very evil being he once thwarted - the almighty Satan. Satan's regaining his power and his followers have tons of influence in the modern world that Dracula now inhabits. Not only does Dracula have to combat Satan and his loyal soldiers, he also has to contend with the Belmont clan (his family clan wants to take out Dracula for themselves).
If you've played the first Lords of Shadow and Mirror of Fate, then you'll have an easy time getting into Dracula's newfound quest. For those who skipped the previous two titles, you'll be brought up to speed rather quickly. Lords of Shadow 2 refreshes the past storyline points that matter and also explains the dark reign of terror that Dracula ruled over during his prime years. Dracula's tale is filled with strife, intrigue and plenty of emotion. The plot threadings here provide a fully involved playthrough for players thanks to the many interesting characters that you'll run into (Zobek and Satan's powerful talking minions, for example). The game's dark tale will shock and surprise you at every turn, which is a great attribute to have. The conclusion to this Lords of Shadow trilogy wraps up things rather nicely.
Castlevania is known for it's Gothic atmosphere and wildly varied monster designs. Dracula's quest takes place in two separate realms that features old and modern architecture. It's strange at first to see Dracula running around an underground laboratory that's filled with technology, but the environmental themes come together nicely as you venture throughout the city and beyond. The visuals are dark, as expected. There are places that you'll travel to that feature some lighter colored elements, but the majority of the game's many worlds are gloomy and murky. This is a Castlevania game, so that's an asset rather than a detriment. The best aspect of the graphics come from the incredibly designed monsters you'll encounter. Each creature and boss that Dracula battles looks excellent in all their menacing, disgusting glory. You'll probably overuse the new free roaming camera and goggle at the badass character that you're in control of, too.
As far as the audio is concerned, it shines brightest in the combat department. You'll cringe at the sound of Dracula's Blood Whip as it crashes against his many adversaries and get excited once the music picks up during a major encounter. The sound effects that you'll enjoy the most will occur as you whip, slash and punch foes to a epic battle tune. You won't pay too much attention to it once you're out of battle, though. The usual mix of orchestral tunes that play as you run around are none too memorable.
The very first half of the game is miles better than the admittedly mundane beginning portion of the first Lords of Shadow. In just the first 20 minutes, you'll suck the blood out of hapless soldiers, face off with a super powered Paladin, climb up a giant religious mech and lay waste to a entire army. Everything else that follows this portion of the game is just as epic and awesome. Dracula's quest for power takes him to several open world locales that are packed with hidden power up's, vicious enemies, puzzle opportunities and more. You'll never feel a sense of boredom here, as there are plenty of things to see, collect and fight. You may grow frustrated at times though, since there are instances where you'll have a problem figuring out where a specific item is when you need to head to the next section.
Lords of Shadow 2's greatest asset is based in it's combat. Dracula has access to a dizzying amount of moves that make him a deadly opponent for his many enemies. You'll have access to a powerful whip that's powered by Dracula's own blood, a frosty blade that's capable of healing him and a pair of gauntlets that can punch through anyone and anything. This game is far from a cakewalk, though. You can't just mash your way to victory. It pays to dash around and pick your spots during the many battles you'll get involved in. Dracula has so many other skills in his wide moveset, such as boost items, projectile attacks, blocking/countering maneuvers and upgraded versions of his already existing combos. Sure, the battles are challenging. But they're far from frustrating thanks to the easy learning curve, enemy variety, exciting boss battles and huge repertoire of moves at Dracula's disposal.
Venturing into the new world that Dracula inhabits outside of battle is also great. There are several areas to fully explore at your leisure. As you acquire new powers, you'll get the chance to return to previous areas and uncover the many secrets you couldn't access once before. In other games, you might ignore the notes left behind by NPC's. Lords of Shadow 2 actually makes these notes useful by displaying clues to hidden items and enemy patterns, which is a nice touch. The biggest problem that disrupts Dracula's grand return to power are the abundant cutscenes that disrupt the flow of gameplay from time to time. There are times where the game stays in the expected flow of FMV sequence, free roaming, fight sequence and another FMV sequence. You'll wish there were more instances of longer gameplay that weren't broken up by long scenes you're forced to sit through. It would have been better to make most of the in-game cinemas a part of the active gameplay, but it's too late for that to change now. The free-roaming camera also gets stuck in some weird spots from time to time, which is a minor but still noticeable problem.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is an amazing effort from MercurySteam that takes everything from the first game and excellently improves upon it. Controlling Dracula is an awesomely fun treat that makes the player feel like the true Lord of Darkness. The epic story, incredibly fun and challenging combat and open world exploration fill out this new Castlevania with ease. The sometimes glitchy camera and overabundance of watching you'll have to do keep the game from being a 10, but it's still one of the best action/adventure titles currently available.