Along with about seventeen others of the world’s population, I thoroughly enjoyed the original Castlevania: Lords of Shadow from Konami and Spanish development outfit Mercury Steam (find out how much in my review of the game). The deceptive scale and scope of the action title was amazing and by the time the journey was done, it really did feel as though I had gone on an epic adventure through strange and wonderful fantasy lands while meeting fascinating characters who both helped and hindered by undertaking: To save Gabriel Belmont’s wife from death itself.
Three years later, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is nearing release and this time we’ll take on the mantle of Dracula himself, the twisted and transformed version of Gabriel who has been left to suffer a life of lonely immortality for centuries.
I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go hands on with Lords of Shadow 2 at E3 2013 and find out how Mercury Steam is continuing the story and improving the game that I found so magical in 2010.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 – E3 2013 Trailer
The narrative of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is said take place in a modern day setting, just as we left off at the end of the original game where we find Dracula as a withered and ancient-looking husk of a man. The game will, however, jump back in time to when Dracula was at the very height of his power and influence and it is here that the E3 demo took place.
As Dracula’s castle is under siege by the Brotherhood of Light, the tutorial took me through the basic moveset and abilities that will become important later on in the game, and very much like other Castlevania games and Nintendo’s Metroid series, these powers will be stripped from your grasp as you regain your strength later in the story (using the so-called ‘Abilitease’ method of encouraging you to continue).
To begin with, Gabriel’s ‘Combat Cross’ has been replaced with the ‘Blood Whip,’ a similarly performing area of effect weapon that can be used to slash at enemies from a distance. The demo rumbled to life as a battering ram crashed through Dracula’s door, allowing a steady stream of heavily armoured knights to flood into the room, but a few swirls of the Blood Whip soon took care of the first wave.
Dracula also has something called a ‘Void Sword,’ a summonable weapon that helps him regain small amounts of health with every swipe that successfully bites into an enemy’s flesh, which can be used in unison with the Blood Whip. A third new addition to Lords of Shadow are the ‘Chaos Claws,’ which are also able to be summoned with a button press and used to break the defences of your enemies, allowing you to effortlessly crunch through shields and armour to get at a knight’s soft insides.
As it was in the first game, blocking incoming attacks is enormously important and if timed correctly will open up enemies to a devastating counter-attack, but when blocking isn’t possible you can make use of Dracula’s increased agility and dodge out of the way before closing in for a melee attack of your own. You can also use this opportunity to grab a soldier and feast on his neck – like a true vampire – and replenish your health (unfortunately I couldn’t confirm if you could ‘turn’ enemies to help you in combat… still hoping it’s possible).
What all of these combat options mean, of course, is that Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 isn’t a mere button-mashing hack and slash game like many of its contemporaries, and I even compared the original game to the mighty Bayonetta – a game that I hold in very high regard for what it did to further the tactical combat of this genre. Now with a free camera (as opposed to Lords of Shadow’s fixed camera), I’m looking forward to putting the combat options in Lords of Shadow 2 to the test and using each ability to the full. The original also had a mind-boggling selection of combos to upgrade, all of which felt as though they had a purpose beyond adding variety, and I don’t expect anything to change for the sequel.
Once a few waves of knights had been dealt with, the demo moved out onto Dracula’s balcony surrounded by carnage and chaos as the full assault on his castle could be witnessed stretching far into the distance and in every direction. The scene ahead was impressively full of activity as buildings crumbled and smoke billowed from towers consumed by plumes of fire. There wasn’t much time to admire the detail, and the moment was disturbed by the violent advances of a ‘Golden Paladin,’ an elite knight of the Brotherhood of Light’s ranks whose armour was (naturally) made of shimmering gold plates.
Although this enemy was rather difficult to contend with, sending out flurries of close range sword swings combined with longer range dash attacks, he was rather flighty and acted as more of a level protector than an all-out end-of-level boss. After trading blows, a gigantic Titan (which looks like an overgrown steampunk-inspired mechnical golem) tried its hand at smashing into Dracula’s castle (literally) by ramming its giant arm into the wall.
The first Lords of Shadow featured certain boss encounters that required you to climb around a towering monstrosity and methodically attack vital areas of the enemy to claim victory (much like Shadow of the Colossus), but it seems as though Lords of Shadow 2 will feature these sorts of battles a little more liberally. Dracula’s climbing and platforming skills were put to the test in order to reach the Titan’s top platform and put its devastation to an end.
If you get stuck while climbing sheer surfaces and more irregular structures in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2, you can easily highlight your way forward at the press of a button so you can see your range of possible handholds. Sometimes the most direct path won’t be the easiest (or best) route ahead and with moving parts like gears and machinery turning and clicking in and out of place, you’ll need to be quick with your decisions lest you get crushed.
Other climbing sections will be less stressful than clambering up a moving and jostling Titan, and you’ll be able to use the highlighted handholds to discover additional secrets and areas off the beaten path. During the Titan sequence in the E3 demo, however, there was precious little time to think about anything but the task at hand and the Golden Paladin didn’t make matters any better while firing arrows at Dracula as he dangled from ledges and bolts. Those arrows did make it a little easier to break through chains holding the Titan together, and after a few misfired shots the path up was cleared.
In this way, even something as simple as climbing and movement can be made to be fun and challenging and while I hope the developer hasn’t included too many of these sections (the tension would kill me), they’ll make a nice change of pace if interspersed with combat, traversal and less taxing ascensions. After toppling the Titan with a few well-placed attacks to its source of power, the machine came tumbling down in a ruin of metal and chains and planks and cogs, now all littering Dracula’s courtyard and forming a perfect arena to face off against the Golden Paladin… and then the demo ended. Aw.
From what I’ve seen, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 includes the same high level of attention to cinematic presentation as the first game, with narration and beautiful illustrations adorning the pages of an ancient tome to relate the tale.
While I would be happy with a new adventure using the template laid out by the original Lords of Shadow, I have a strong feeling that Mercury Steam has a number of great surprises for the eighteen of us who have been desperately waiting for Lords of Shadow 2 and it’ll be fantastic for more of Earth’s gamers to experience this expertly crafted franchise later this year… even if it is the conclusion to the saga.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 Screenshots
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