The Castlevania series has become well known over the last 20 years, but most recently, it took a more dramatic turn with the Lords of Shadow saga. First introduced with a spellbinding 3D adventure in 2010, it introduced a new descendant in the Belmont bloodline, Gabriel, as he struggled to save his beloved wife Marie while battling supernatural forces.
It turned out to be a rousing success, alongside the 3DS/downloadable spin-off Mirror of Fate. Next month, the saga will come to a close with MercurySteam’s Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2, which provides an unconventional twist – unlike previous games, it takes place in modern times.
Gabriel (once again voiced by Robert Carlyle), who has transformed into the blood thirsty Dracula, awakens to find his powers sapped and weakened from a lack of energy. He vows to get his powers back, only to find his old ally, Zobek (voiced by Sir Patrick Stewart) standing in the way.
Most of the whipping attacks from the original game make their return here. He once again utilizes a Blood Whip, which can expand to hit enemies from a distance. Gabriel can either use straightforward attacks to hit someone right in front of him, or weaker range strikes that hit everyone within a certain trajectory.
As Gabriel continues his journey, he can unlock new combos, like in the first game, which unlock even more devastating moves, such as an aerial whip strike or additional chained hits.
With Lords of Shadow 2, however, MercurySteam expands the gameplay in a couple of ways, which are apparent when you first start the demo. Gabriel can activate a pair of special weapons that provide him additional energy and magic when the situation calls for it.
The Void Sword, for example, strikes enemies hard and deep, and also generates energy that Gabriel can pick up. Then there are the Chaos Claws, which are not only useful for regenerating lost magic, but can also break through shields with ease. Over the course of the game, you’ll find tougher opponents you’ll need to use these on to break through their defenses and finish them off.
Before the game takes place in the present, players will take part in a mission called Castle Siege, which is where the demo we played takes place. Here, Dracula has to fend off against invading soldiers – and a huge mechanical goliath – to keep his castle safe. It’s here that you’ll put his combat techniques into effect, combining Blood Whip strikes with the Void Sword and Chaos Claws.
In addition, platforming – which was a huge part of the original game – makes its return in Lords of Shadow 2, with a twist. You’ll once again climb up walls and make your way across gaps, using Gabriel’s climbing and jumping capabilities. However, dangers now lurk about, which forces you to keep moving in some sections, while waiting for a key opportunity to move along in others.
Case in point – during one part of the Castle Siege, you’ll have to watch for spinning gears as you work your way up the goliath structure. Jumping at the wrong time will result in knocking you off and resetting your position. Do it too many times, however, and your game is over.
Also, a winged guardian begins his pursuit of Gabriel over the course of the stage. You’ll content with him on the ground first, dodging his strikes and chipping away at his golden armor. Once he takes to the skies, you’ll want to watch out for his arrow attacks. You’ll see when he’s about to fire with an indicator showing where his projectile will go. Move out of the way just when he’s about to fire, or you’ll take damage.
These attacks can actually be used to your advantage, though. At the top of the goliath’s gears, you’ll see a trio of bolts that Gabriel won’t be able to undo on his own. However, he can trick the winged guardian to shoot them out, moving out of the way at the right time so that his arrows hit the bolts. Once they’re destroyed, Goliath can really do some damage to the goliath’s most crucial points.
In addition to these great combat techniques, Gabriel can also utilize vampiric abilities in the modern day. These include controlling enemies to do his bidding – an ideal tactic when it comes to clearing a group of them – and transforming into mist to get into otherwise inaccessible areas. We didn’t see either of these abilities in the demo, but they’ll play a huge part in the final release.
It’s sad that MercurySteam will step away from the series after this concluding chapter, but it’s definitely going out on a high note. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 looks to be the best game in the series to date, and we can’t wait to see how it all ends. You can, too, when the game releases for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on February 27, 2014.