Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 – Demo Impressions (PS3)

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The next game that I was able to preview at the London MCM Comic Con was Konami’s new, epic adventure: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2. You can read my first demo impressions article from the Comic Con here.

Lords of Shadow 2 is the long-awaited sequel to the original Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, which was released on Xbox 360 and PS3 back in 2010. A backstory-type prequel to the 2nd game was released for 3DS on March 5 2013, entitled Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate, a game which documented the lineage of Gabriel Belmont and how his family acts to fight against him. Mirror of Fate was made available for Xbox Live and PSN as an HD updated version and will also be included in the Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Collection, which releases next month. You can actually download an early copy of the Lords of Shadow 2 demo by buying Mirror of Fate HD right now, so eager fans can get to play the demo before everyone else.

The Lords of Shadow 2 demo begins with the reveal trailer playing (see above), showing us the new setting and the new look of Gabriel Belmont, who is now Dracula. The CG trailer is impressive but the gameplay doesn’t fail to meet that standard either. Mercury Steam, the developer of the original Lords of Shadow and Mirror of Fate, have crafted an amazing engine that runs at 60fps and looks fantastic. Lords of Shadow was a visual treat that showed us many phenomenal locations and cinematic boss fights, and Lords of Shadow 2 already looks like it has stepped up its presentation. From the beginning of the demo we see a solitary Dracula with his castle under siege, who then becomes agitated and throws his cup to the ground after taking a drink; Symphony of the Night fans should immediately get the reference.

You’re given a simple tutorial where the buttons are displayed on-screen at first and you’re given the chance to test them out on enemies as they pour into the room. Dracula plays exactly as Gabriel did in the original game, with simple close range attacks tied to the Square button and wide area attacks tied to the Triangle button. Now, the Circle button becomes a grab that, when prompted by a glowing enemy, allows you to ‘feed’ on them which shows Dracula gruesomely bite their neck. The very first blood sucking animation is long and detailed but after that it becomes quick. This game also utilizes the quick time event of pressing a button when two circles intersect like the original game, but now you have to time it to when the circles connect instead of when they pass through each other. It’s not particularly difficult and the change to it makes it feel more precise than the original game’s system. Players who played the first game will immediately feel right at home with how LoS2 plays and there’s some interesting surprises in store.

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Dracula may play like Gabriel but their similarities end in control schemes. Dracula is a much faster and agile person than Gabriel ever was, with a more fluid dodge mechanic that is performed by pressing L2 and moving the left stick. The dodge animation is fluid and impressive and it allows you to easily avoid damage. The L2 button is also tied to the block button which, like the original game, can be timed to parry an enemy’s attack and deliver a devastating counter attack. Dracula’s weapons work similar to Gabriel’s old ones, with an interesting twist; his combat cross has been replaced with a ‘Blood Whip’ which is fast and vicious, and now his light and dark powers have two new forms. The L1 button is tied to the ‘Void Sword’ (pictured above) which is a swift weapon that restores Dracula’s health with each strike, and the R1 button is tied to the ‘Chaos Claws’ which deliver powerful fist attacks that can break through enemies’ shields. These 3 weapons can be switched to at any time, very easily, and are very fun and satisfying to use. Getting the hang of the enemies’ attacks takes a while since they don’t easily telegraph their attacks, so the flow of battle is determined by how well you can pace your attacks and block where necessary. Luckily, if you get knocked down you can quickly recover by pressing X, getting you back into the fight as soon as possible.

After the tutorial battle section, Dracula must go through a climbing section which gives you a preview of his much swifter climbing ability. Points that can be jumped to are highlighted in smoke and it’s easy to navigate up climb-able ledges and points by simply moving the left stick. This part may have seem randomly inserted at first but I believe that it was down as a necessary preview to the battle that comes next. The original Lords of Shadow had some interesting boss fights modeled in the style of the game Shadow of the Colossus, where you had to climb and defeat massive monsters. This system may seem shamelessly borrowed from Shadow of the Colossus but it was done well in the original game and made for some intense and visually stunning boss battles. Lords of Shadow 2 takes this system and pushes it even further.

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“What is a man…but a miserable pile of secrets” says Dracula as he witnesses the massive siege to his castle. This quote, taken from Symphony of the Night, was a nice throwback and it represents the re-imagining of Dracula in Castlevania, though personally I felt that the plug was context-less. However, when a golden knight with wings (pictured abode) suddenly appears, a more relevant discourse takes place. “God is with me, monster” says the Paladin, to which Dracula responds “That will be your ruin”, a line which fully symbolizes the fate of Gabriel’s previous adventure. Mercury Steam is content to keep the focus of the game on Dracula’s quest for revenge on the Brotherhood that had used him, a deep plot which is bound to have many twists and turns. However, that doesn’t mean there’s no room for spectacle in this game.

The battle against the paladin puts your skills to the test as he switches between swift blockable attacks and telegraphed unblockable attacks. Switching between Dracula’s 3 weapons will make the fight go smoother and it allows for fun ways of fighting with style. Not too long into the fight with the paladin, you’re interrupted by a massive mechanical titan that attempts to crush Dracula. After a cinematic leap onto the arm of the titan, Dracula must now face off against more normal enemies but also attempt to stay on the arm when it tries to shake him off. If you mess up and miss the quick time event, you can get back onto its arm in no time. The musical score in the game is along the same lines as the original; epic orchestral tracks composed by Óscar Araujo, which are a joy to listen to and accentuate the scale of the battle. This greatly helps as the battle turns into a fight to stay on the mechanical titan as it tilts its arm down and Dracula must hold on. Now, you have to climb your way up the mechanical titan and find a way to destroy the clasps holding the joints together. The game does make it very clear how you should go about doing this and it involves manipulating the paladin’s arrow attacks which are directed at you.

As you fight your way up the titan, the frequency of the paladin’s attacks increases and the targeting of his arrows becomes more accurate. In-between fighting off normal enemies after reaching a ledge, avoiding the paladin’s attacks and climbing up the titan piece by piece, this part of the demo makes sure that there’s always something to do and the action never lets up. If Dracula gets hit whilst climbing up the mechanical titan, you’ll disappear into a mist of blood, having lost a bit of health, but you’ll respawn on the last ledge you stood on. This is similar to the checkpoint-like system of the previous game that deposited you back on the last solid ground you stood on, a good way of keeping you in the game before you run out of health and get a game over. As you finally reach the top of the mechanical titan, traversing it becomes more challenging as moving gears and mechanisms get in your way, so all it takes is precise timing to avoid them. If all the ‘titan’ battles in LoS2 will be at this scale or better than there’s bound to be more amazing spectacle to be seen. The way in which Dracula finally takes down the titan is actually quite surprising and it immediately reminds you that we’re controlling the dark and disturbing Dracula and not the noble knight Gabriel. It highlights how Mercury Steam is hoping to create a much deeper, darker story than the original game, so you’re bound to encounter some shocking scenes.

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So ultimately, how does it feel to be Dracula? Very good. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 controls very well, it looks amazing and the action is unrelenting and satisfying. Castlevania may have gone in a new direction but the scale and attention to detail that the Lords of Shadow series has provided is impressive and fun enough to be worth playing. If you enjoyed the original game then this game is bound to not disappoint, and fans of hack n slash games should definitely give this a look too. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 releases next year, on February 25th 2014, for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.