One day, I’ll stop harping on about how much I enjoyed Castlevania: Lords of Shadow… one day. You should read my review of the amazing action adventure game to see how it managed to so effectively worm its way into my gaming brain.
And one day, I might just stop talking about Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 for long enough to actually play the game when it’s out in early 2014. After playing the demo at E3 2013 it has continued to rumble around in my mind to the point where I was very ready to get my hands on the full version as soon as possible. The wait until February will be strenuous…
… Which is why I was very excited to get another dose of Lords of Shadow 2 during gamescom 2013, where I had the chance to speak with producer Dave Cox about the major improvements and smaller tweaks that the team at MercurySteam will be bringing to the table, while taking in a new gameplay presentation for what is an extraordinarily promising game.
- Dave Cox at gamescom 2013
The overarching premise of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is the problem of immortality. Protagonist Dracula, now centuries old and after defeating Satan himself in the first game, now desperately wishes to end his immortal life with no way to do it. “He’s sick of living,” says Dave Cox. To make matters worse, his own castle has become an overbearing, envious and protective entity able to manipulate the world (and Dracula’s own minions!) with the power of blood.
Satan is regaining power, however, and Dracula (nee Gabriel Belmont) is given a chance to leave this mortal coil and forego his immortality thanks to an offer from Zobek, one time narrator of the series (voiced by Patrick Stewart) and aid (of sorts) to Belmont: Take up the fight against Satan once more, and Dracula may learn the peace of eternal rest.
The story of Lords of Shadow 2 is set during modern times where Dracula’s powers have left him, so it’ll be up to players to slowly regain the dark lord’s abilities and equipment while learning a few new tricks along the way. Cox consistently highlighted MercurySteam’s attention to the exploration aspect of the game which will allow players to go off the beaten path in order to discover secrets and hidden powers, and true to his word, the world of Lords of Shadow 2 is dizzyingly large.
The mission shown in the gamescom demonstration saw Dracula tasked with finding the Void Sword, a relic and weapon that allows players to regain vital life energy with every successful attack on an enemy. Challenging and fluid platforming sections are back in Lords of Shadow 2 and we saw Dracula swinging on chandeliers to reach different areas, all of which looked very fast and responsive. This is also where the free roaming camera system was best demonstrated, which Cox says makes exploration that much more enjoyable, allowing you to see things in the distance and go off to pursue them.
The world of Lords of Shadow 2 is also much more open and seamless with absolutely no loading once you’re in the game. “It’s not linear like the previous game,” said Cox, and there’s a lot of scope for exploration with pockets of areas to find and adventure through. There’s even a mini-map this time around to help players find their way around the vast, interconnected world, which Cox seems very proud of.
As we moved through the castle, the eerie influence of the place could be felt all around. “The castle feels as though its lord is leaving, as though there are forces at work pulling him away from the castle, to ‘save’ him, if you like,” explained Cox. To this end, the ‘blood’ of the castle is revolting against its lord so Dracula will have to solve puzzles and fight against enemies possessed by the castle in order to escape.
This was readily apparent after finding the Void Sword, when the talents of a Stone Golem were hijacked by the blood of the castle which meant a challenging face-off against the towering beast, giving us a chance to see the improved combat system.
Gone are the days of the Combat Cross, and in Lords of Shadow 2 Dracula will this time be equipped with the Shadow Whip, Void Sword and Chaos Claws as his primary weapons (read our hands-on preview to see what we think of the combat in the game so far). While it’ll come in handy to replenish your health with the Void Sword, the weapon itself needs power to be useful, which is replenished by ‘focussing’ during combat.
A focus meter is built up by successfully attacking enemies without you yourself getting hit, while effectively using the dodge move and ‘sync block’ (parrying an incoming attack). Every attack while focussed and using the Shadow Whip will net you blood, which powers Dracula’s abilities and fills up the Void Sword’s magic container, which in turn lets you regain energy when you need it.
In this way, a few different combat mechanics are reliant on one another which means players are encouraged to fight effectively (and not simply mash buttons) in order use the more powerful abilities further along the story. Combat is made more responsive with the chance to cancel your attacks mid-combo to flow into another combo or dodge move, even allowing you to use a different weapon entirely, both on the ground and in the air. Personally, this is the kind of combat freedom I crave.
We also learned that certain enemies will have their own abilities that they can use against you, but once defeated you can learn those skills yourself. The Stone Golem’s freeze attack came in handy after taking him down not only during scraps with other enemies, but by manipulating elements in the environment.
While fighting against multiple enemies you might choose to freeze one (or more) to make your life easier, and you can even freeze water which will become a surface over which to climb and reach secret areas. Teasingly, Cox pointed out a relic of some description that was hidden behind bars, saying that “once you learn the ‘Mist’ ability, you’ll be able to get back there.”
The improved camera system included in Lords of Shadow 2 came up again during a particularly hairy encounter with a few possessed creatures, and Cox explained that even if you decide to leave the camera alone while playing the system will find the best angle, view and vista to give you the best experience possible. “It’s something we’re very proud of,” said Cox. “The camera can be a hindrance in hack and slash games.”
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 – GamesCom 2013 Gameplay Trailer
One last feature that Cox was keen to point out was the weapon mastery system in Lords of Shadow 2. Whenever you defeat an enemy, you’ll earn experience points which are then used as the currency with which to buy attack combos. As you use different combos, a gauge will fill up and when it’s full you’ll have mastered that move. You can then choose to take that power and slot it into a weapon to augment that ability. Slotting abilities into the Void Sword will let you draw more health from enemies and imbue the weapon with more special effects, for example.
Each weapon has its own mastery tree, too, and you can choose to master individual weapons like the Shadow Whip, Void Sword or Chaos Claws depending on your playstyle, or move each of them along the mastery tree to make you more well rounded, but less specialised. There are also lots of Relics scattered around the game, each giving players different abilities so there’ll be very good reasons to explore every corner of the castle, and beyond.
Question and Answer and Answer Time
Following the fantastic demonstration of the new features and improvements in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2, we were given some time to ask a few questions so I took advantage of the situation.
The presentation of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow was extremely impressive to me and the artwork included in the main tome that contained the game’s menu screens in particular stood out with details like wonderful animations showing the actions and moves that were available to purchase, for example. I asked if this was returning and Cox was quick to confirm, while showing a few placeholder animations and skipping through a few other entries in the menu like your inventory of items, the mastery system, lore and different characters.
I was also very impressed by how instantaneously Lords of Shadow allowed players to zip from the game, into the menu, and then back out again, and again Cox said that this was important to bring to Lords of Shadow 2. He also provided a morsel of information on something called the Wolf amulet, or medallion, that will eventually le you instantaneously travel from the castle to “the city,” and back again.
Being a vampire, it’s half expected that Dracula will be able to do things like bite enemies in order to control them and get them to do your bidding. Will this ability be in Lords of Shadow 2? Cox’s answer was highly intriguing:
“Yes. Kind of… that’s not something we’re really talking about, but yes. You can possess enemies, and obviously you can bite enemies to get a health boost in terms of blood. You can become an enemy yourself… I’ve already said too much! But yes, you can do vampire sh*t.”
I also mentioned the announcement of the game’s release date and dared to utter the word ‘delay,’ at which Cox grimaced and frowned in a way that made me incredibly nervous. Before finishing my thought, Cox politely interjected:
“We haven’t delayed. We never announced a release date. We have a policy at the studio that we would only announce a release date when we feel that the game is at a stage where we can hit that release date, so that’s why we said ‘Winter’ at E3. We just weren’t sure if we could hit the fourth quarter or first quarter and it was really not clear to us, but we’re in a position now where we think, ‘OK, the game’s coming together, where’re at a stage where we can say it’s going to be this date.’
“I know everyone was expecting it at the end of this year but we never actually physically announced it.”
“I was expecting it this year…” I said, meekly.
“Sorry to disappoint. I think it’s important when you’re making a game of this complexity that you feel comfortable that what you’re going to give out is quality, and you don’t make any compromises. We could have just knocked out a sequel to Lords of Shadow 1 after the success of that, one year later, more of the same, but we didn’t want to do that. That’s why we went back, redesigned the engine, redid our cameras… you noticed there’s no loading? Absolutely zero loading. Where ever you go, the game is constantly streaming content.
“The frame rate is very, very solid – no stutters, no jerks like we had in the previous game, the level of graphical fidelity is still there even though we’ve got a free camera system. That’s a massive achievement, I think, and we always decide to take the hard [route] and we’ve done that. We didn’t want to rush the game out, we wanted to make sure it was going to be the best that it could be.”
To wrap up, I was interested to find out what Cox thought was the most important improvement to Lords of Shadow in the game’s sequel, and he was quick to answer saying:
“I think the exploration side of it, giving the player the freedom to explore, which is something that we got through fan feedback. We felt that we needed to improve. Everybody liked the combat in the first game, so what we’ve done is built the combat and made it better, but with the exploration we thought that was a weak point of the first game and in this game there’s a lot more exploration, a lot more secrets for players to find, and I think that’s something we’re really proud of. It’s not something you see in hack and slash games very often.”
It goes without saying that I’m immensely excited for Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 and I can’t wait to explore the world to find secrets, get to grips with that combat system and find out more about the story and Dracula’s unannounced abilities. February can’t come soon enough!
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 – GamesCom 2013 Story Trailer
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is out on February 25th in North America and February 28th in Europe across PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC. Jump into El33tonline’s previous coverage of the action adventure game for more screenshots, videos and details.