If you haven’t finished the first Lords of Shadow game spinning Castlevania’s lore off into Spanish developer Mercury Steam’s wickedly twisted world, then much of this preview will spoil that game’s story for you. In fact, the first game’s cliffhanger ending had us dying for more, but the more recent Nintendo 3DS sequel left a lot to be desired. For at the end of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow our hero Gabriel Belmont underwent a startling transition.
It seems that the Castlevania franchise’s 3D hopes have undergone their own transition. Where entries in the series that wandered outside of the classic 2D plane used to be riddled with land mines for fans, Lords of Shadow 2 joyfully double-jumps over any such danger in a fully realized modern gothic world. Remember, spoilers for the first game follow.
Obviously with Konami’s protagonist taking on the role of Dracula, the typical Castlevania boss, players might be confused as to what Gabriel Belmont’s motivations are. Even with my hands-on time, details remain scarce. After destroying the Lords of Shadow in the first game, Gabriel sits down on Dracula’s throne until the scene jumps to a modern-day setting where Gabriel is confronted by his old ally, Zobek (voiced by Patrick Stewart).
The voice acting in Lords of Shadow 2 is once again top-notch and the soundtrack sounds fantastic as well, but the biggest leaps are easily in graphics and gameplay. First, Mercury Steam has optimized its engine for high-end PCs. The game is landing on Xbox 360, PS3, and PC meaning next-gen console owners might have to wait for a port, but overall the new PC-facing engine allows the development team to create a much more detailed world.
The devil was certainly in the details in the first Lords of Shadow game. With a linear structure, players lost the kind of back-tracking and measured exploration usually associated with the Metroid-vania genre. In the end, this meant that environmental details and musical throwbacks kept the Castlevania spirit alive while the gameplay only barely got off the ground.
In Lords of Shadow 2, players have Dracula’s epic castle and the modern world around it to explore in addition to plenty of massive bosses to fight. When Konami presented the game, they showed off one long puzzle and a boss fight that followed it. The player had to select the correct puppets to complete a play, but once that was completed the castle itself fills the arena with evil.
Once Gabriel defeats the boss, he can claim the relic or key he needs to move forward, but it’ll take all of a player’s dodging and damage to overcome the blood pouring out of the castles very walls. One thing Castlevania fans will know is that the evil spirit antagonizing the Belmont clan doesn’t just live in Dracula, but in the parapets and bricks that make up the castle itself.
If you think that means you can expect towering bosses with multiple stages of attack and defense, you’re right. Even the E3 demo which I got a chance to play without spoiling much of the game’s early narrative features a massive mechanical monstrosity. Gabriel uses varying attacks and energies to keep up damage, health, and magic meters as you go. All in all, Lords of Shadow 2 feels like a much larger production and that’s probably thanks to the supportive relationship between Konami and Mercury Steam.
With the first Lords of Shadow, Kojima Productions assisted on some aspects of design and progression, but Mercury Steam is flying solo with Konami’s full support on this effort. The studio is looking forward to trying its hand at creating a brand new license, but speaking with Konami producer Dave Cox, it would seem the studio is all too eager to fulfill every Castlevania fan’s wildest dreams.
That was certainly suggested by the inclusion of Alucard in the new game’s cast. The Symphony of the Night hero also played a role in the handheld and downloadable sequel Mirror of Fate, but the role Alucard has is much larger than a cameo here. As Gabriel’s story wraps up, we’ll have to see how the extended cast wind-up and whether Konami wants to continue this successful Castlevania offshoot in the future.
While I saw Dracula explore both inside and outside the castle walls, the narrative remains a mystery beyond those opening moments. You’ll smash Gabriel’s enemies with flame gloves and an ice whip, and combat seems to play fast and loose with improvements made to dodging and switching weapons, but ultimately its the narrative that has me hooked. Brilliant turns on old Castlevania lore have already proven Mercury Steam’s strongest asset, but with a new engine and improved gameplay mechanics Lords of Shadow 2 might just be the best reason to hold on to your Xbox 360 or PS3.