In the hands-on demo for Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2, there’s a point where Dracula barfs blood onto a crystallized generator powering a colossal battering-ram crossed with a mech, causing it to deactivate. If that’s not enough to interest you in the game, I don’t know what is.
What? You’re still not sold? Yeesh. Hard to please. Ok then, I’ll give you the rest of the lowdown.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow was not a game for everyone. It had the strange trait of being exciting and grand in scale, but also slow and methodical. Environments were humungous, for example, but climbing them was a delicate endeavor. Fights were tense and devastating, but they were also long and drawn-out, almost as if you were engaging in an extended ballet session. It takes a certain kind of person to appreciate that, and so it’s understandable that some people just didn’t like the game.
Keeping that in mind, the astoundingly and creatively named Lords of Shadow 2 sets up this mood from moment one. As the camera slowly panned across Dracula’s gothic castle, eventually centering on the vampire lord himself sitting in his throne, I got a sense of eternal torment and, well, boredom. The E3 trailer hinted at the breaking of immortality being a driving plot point and major theme within the game, so it’s nice that Drac’s depression is established right out of the gate.
It’s not long before a battering ram smashes through the throne room doors, allowing several human knights with a vampiric grudge to pour in. Right off the bat, combat feels crunchy and satisfying. Lashing foes with your glowing red whip feels like it does considerable damage, and dodging enemy attacks is as efficient as ever. I’m not an ardent fan of the finishing moves, though, whose animations are repetitive and take a tediously long time to finish. Then again, even the great God of War series is guilty of this, and it’s not hard to just ignore the feature and finish enemies with standard slicing.
It’s during the rather lengthy throne room tussle where you’re introduced to two new magic weapons that you can switch to via the shoulder buttons; the void sword, and the chaos claws. The former looks a lot like the energy sword from Halo and restores your health when used, while the latter are flaming fists that are good for breaking through shields and heavy armor. They’re really just streamlined versions of the Dark and Light magic from the first game, but since you no longer have to build up a meter to use these abilities, they fit into the combat more organically. All three weapons are nicely balanced in their own right, so they provide for some welcome flexibility.
Eventually, I made my way outdoors, whereupon I stood on a balcony overlooking a massive invasion of the castle. After spouting an extremely out-of-place reference to a certain Symphony of the Night, Dracula is confronted by a burly, golden-armored knight with the ability to fly, presumably the leader of this entire crusade. His rather lame and melodramatic dialogue made it clear to me that, like the first game, LoS2 won’t have consistently good writing. Thankfully, at least the voice acting behind the cringe-worthy lines was surprisingly solid. Naturally, you go toe-to-toe with the guy in an arena-style boss fight, which feels very familiar if you’ve played the first game.
After knocking him around a bit, a colossal medieval ‘robot’ of sorts appeared, which Dracula jumped onto and started climbing. This is where the bulk of the demo’s platforming was presented, with our vampire lord tasked with jumping along a trail of easy-to-see golden bolts. The controls for these segments weren’t quite as fluid as the likes of Uncharted, but I can safely say the platforming felt many times more involving. Timing jumps between humongous moving gears and dodging telegraphed arrow strikes was suitably tense, and I especially loved how screwing up a leap simply warped you back a few seconds rather than tossing a ‘game over’ screen your way.
One of the Konami guys I spoke to said Lords of Shadow 2 will clock in at around 20 hours, and boy, do I believe him now. I already started to see some significant cases of padding and repetitiveness within the objectives. For example, I’d have to get the enemies’ explosive arrows to inadvertently shoot off three large hinges, only to do the exact same again a few minutes later. Much like in the first game, whether or not you’ll be able to forgive some of this repetition will lie solely on how much you love the core gameplay. After all, it’s thrilling and polished to a remarkable degree.
Just as thrilling and polished are the game’s visuals, however. Watch out God of War III, for you have a worthy competitor in terms of scale. One of my favorite portions was when I was surrounded by dozens of knights on one of the robot’s platforms, only for it to tilt and have everyone except the nimble ledge-grabbing Dracula fall off. The amount of bodies tumbling away, alongside soldiers and catapulted debris bombarding the castle in the background, was a magnificent sight to behold, and the framerate handled it all like a trooper. Textures and animation were also gorgeous, particularly those for Dracula’s scowling face, and the whole thing just LOOKED like Castlevania.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is really just more Lords of Shadow, albeit with a few tweaks and some more visual splendor. Is that a bad thing? I really don’t know. Speaking as a massive fan of the first game, I was riveted throughout. Slashing and climbing felt just as rewarding as ever, and I honestly look forward to doing 20 or so hours of it this fall. The dark, gothic look is also a welcome reprieve from the first game’s admittedly familiar fantasy aesthetic. However, if you thought the first game was a tedious bore or franchise sacrilege (or both), then this sequel’s vampiric seduction will similarly fail to pull you in. Consider it a second helping, one emanating the same controversial odor but also made with the same amount of love and effort.