Eurogamer Expo: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 Hands-On Preview

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow reimagined the popular franchise and looked to imbue it with shiny, modern graphics and the intense set-pieces of the biggest gaming blockbusters. Dripping with bloody potential, LoS presented a long yet linear adventure full of creative enemies and gothic ambience. Sadly, the high challenge and onset of frustration polarised the masses, with purists seeing it as a poor man’s DMC rather than a beast of its own making. The whip-cracking Gabriel returns next year in Lords of Shadow 2, but will it do enough to satiate its fans and silence the naysayers?

One glance at the screenshots and it’s clear that things have changed for the intrepid ‘hero’ – he’s just not the man he used to be. This plays a major role in the story and ties into the gameplay itself (so click away now if you wish to experience the first game spoiler-free), though it’s an interesting change on a character whose destiny could take him anywhere.

The demo opened with an assault on his castle, presenting a fairly lengthy tutorial teaching the basics of combat. Gabe’s standard whip is readily available, but you’ll now have access to the life-draining Void Sword (indispensable when your health is running low) and shield-breaking Chaos Claws. These appear to stand in as replacements for the unwieldy blue and red magic meters of old. This means you’ll have to deal with certain foes a particular way, or weaken groups by lowering their defences before going in for the kill – and what a kill it can be.

Taking enough abuse can lead an opponent to flash for a few seconds, opening them up to a satisfying crunch to the neck, in true bloodsucker style! From what we’ve played, a frequent mix of drinking blood and Void Sword attacks will be necessary to keep Gabriel standing for long. It’s still a stiff challenge, which the demo proved in spades when it pitted us against a flying, armoured enemy complete with twin swords and explosive arrows.

One important alteration is the camera, which is no longer fixed and much less intrusive this time over. It’s far from perfect when an enemy can dart around at speed, but the extra movement at least brings the series up to modern standards. Another improvement lies in the climbing, which is fast and more fluid than before. One scene had the hero (turned villain?) climbing the limbs of a wooden colossus complete with rotating gears, all whilst being fired at from close range. Getting chopped up resulted in instant death, but checkpoints were fair and post-death loading was negligible.

The next section evoked the slightly archaic elements of the original Lords of Shadow, as finicky as they could often be. Gabriel would have to fend off shielded, respawning knights while keeping an eye on the enemy’s crosshairs, then dive away in time to shatter three locks – a process that had to be completed a further two times in the demo. It’s pretty standard fare for those who dabble in the odd adventure game now and then.

‘Good but standard fare’ is the impression left by the gameplay segments we tested here. It’s more beautiful than ever, even if this is one area in which the first game excelled. Finishing off enemy knights in vampiric style is thrilling, at least to begin with, and combat seems to be decent fun if not terribly inventive. A rep for the game expressed his love of the game’s new open world formula, so it’s unfortunate that we never got to dive in and test it first-hand. Let’s hope Lords of Shadow 2 can keep the quality high and stalk its way to success when it hits in February.

[slickr-flickr type=”gallery” search=”sets” set=”72157636163506013″ items=”11″]