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Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 Preview

23:0909/01/2014Posted by Charles Etheridge-Nunn22 Comments

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is the second ‘big console’ release of the rebooted Castlevania franchise and the third overall (you can see my review of the ludicrously-named Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate here).

The first Castlevania game wasn’t all that great, and the finale with Gabriel/Dracula appearing in the present day was a fantastic hook for the next game. Rather than slavishly devote itself to the bonkers continuity of the old Castlevanias, this game series has created its own bonkers lineage for the Belmonts. In an overly-long expository scene we get the take of Gabriel Belmont who became Dracula, and his son Trevor who he killed and then brought back to life as Alucard. Alucard understandably is a little peeved about this. And then there’s Simon Belmont, the original hero of the Castlevania games who doesn’t appear in this game and hasn’t been turned into a vampire. At least, not for the duration of the first fifth of the game which was the preview I was provided to play.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2’s action is split between the past and the present. The first scene takes place with Dracula looking like the Final Fantasy people make all his fashion choices. An overly-long tutorial introduces us to the basic third person action moves and a few others. Dracula has a whip made of his own blood, a void sword which drains the life from people and some claws which smash through shields. Knights are coming to kill him and after learning the basic moves you get to the meat of the scene. A giant golden-armoured winged knight is leading a charge against Dracula from his medieval mech.

It is as stupid and wonderful as you would expect such things to be. You fight foe to foe, direct the paladin’s arrows at pivotal points in the armour and wrestle with quick-time events. I wrestled with quick-time events, I guess. They’re mercifully uncomplicated but can get frustrating as a barrier to the story in a couple of places. For an introductory scene everything is mental enough to be part of a Bayonetta game, and revels in such action. In fact, replace all the hair with so many buckets of blood that the screen looks like a raspberry jam mishap and you’re virtually there. Just throw in some Assassin’s Creed running and jumping in between fights in ludicrous places.

Then time passes. Centuries, specifically. Gabriel wakes up looking like what’s left of Iggy Pop, only to be confronted by the horrors of the modern world and Patrick Stewart who is trying to enlist him in a fight against Satan. Apparently Big S is the villain this time, although Gabriel does like to surround himself with the people most likely to betray him.

After all the madness of the first scene, once we’re done with the exposition and the initial shock of the new world, Dracula has to do a stealth mission against some space marine ogre things. Not really what you’d expect but great fun as Dracula travels in rat-form through air vents and possesses enemies. Unexpected but great fun as you follow rats trying to get past sparking wires and the boots of angry ogre monsters.

And then we travel back in time! Possibly. I’m sure the game itself will explain matters as it goes on, but for now Dracula’s as surprised as we are. Now he’s starting from scratch he has to earn his void sword and funky claws. This gives you time to actually learn how to use them and deal with the currency of the weapons. The void sword can freeze things and uses magic. The claws break through things and uses magic. Both have their own gauges and to charge them up you need to use your blood whip in combos which make floaty orbs appear all around you. Clicking the left or right stick determines which magic gauge is absorbed, so you’re switching up weapons, attacks and styles depending on your supplies, as well as the defences of the enemies.

The language of the actions and what’s required is about 80% on form, signifying what of your increasing pool of abilities is useful to progress. The rest of the time it’s either holding your hand too much or a little vague. This may clear up later in the game as only five hours were played out of an approximately 28 hour run time. Once Dracula was cast down into the hell of the past to face the gorgons, the player is on their own and a couple of times it is easy to lose track of what you’re doing. The rest of the time you can look around the environment for one of the signs for the specific tool in Drac’s arsenal.

Konami have said that their current plan for DLC is to support the game at around the same level as the original Lords of Shadow. That release saw two moderate-sized pieces of DLC which added around four more hours of gameplay, and apparently we can expect something similar to that, rather than shiny little trinkets to pimp Dracula out or what we’re used to as near-mandatory DLC in any modern release.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 doesn’t look like it’s going to break any boundaries, change what people think or even be all that original. My thoughts kept going to other games when I was playing, Assassin’s Creed for the platforming, Bayonetta or Warhammer for the aesthetic of the past, Final Fantasy for the wardrobe and hair. Still, it looks like a fun and solid game. This looks like the equivalent of a modern Hollywood blockbuster: completely disposable, but a really entertaining thrill-ride when you experience it.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 was played at a preview event by Konami on a PS3. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is released on February 28th.

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