Crucify me if you will, but I wasn’t a Castlevania fan before the Lords of Shadow reboot. It earned the ire of some fans due to the fact that it dispensed with much of what made Castlevania, well… Castlevania – 2D gameplay, exploration and backtracking, RPG elements and ridiculous costumes (OK, it kept those). However, I enjoyed it for the God of War-style adventure it was, and as a consequence I also enjoyed the recent Mirror of Fate follow up on 3DS, which is essentially a re-make of the original series’ mythos, and I’ve now moved onto trying out the old NES games. You could say I’ve been officially converted, so it was fantastic to see a playable version of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 at E3 this year. Spoilers ahead if you haven’t played the first game!
Now that everyone’s ignored the spoiler warning and continued on, Lords of Shadow and Mirror of Fate more or less left off with Gabriel Belmont transformed into Dracula, sitting alone in his throne atop the giant labyrinthine castle we all know and love from other Castlevania games. The E3 demo level took place in his castle, apparently not long after Mirror of Fate, as the armies of the Brotherhood of Light storm Dracula’s castle to slay him. Players of the first Lords of Shadow will remember that game showed a preview of Gabriel as Dracula in a very unusual location – a present day city. Representatives at the booth confirmed, this modern day setting will be the primary location of the game, with the medieval castle level serving as an introductory tutorial. I actually find this news super exciting – after all, if you’re going to reboot the Castlevania series to try different things, why not go all out and change things up significantly?
Seeing as Gabriel is now the king of all vampires, he has a host of new abilities at his disposal. As an unholy demon of the night, his Combat Cross no longer seems appropriate (although Gabriel does make a grab for a crucifix near the end of the demo), so he now wields the Bloodwhip. Also available by default are the Chaos Claws – heavy hitting weapons used to break armour, and the Void Sword – a quick weapon that’s necessary to regain health quickly, as it saps your foes. You can also grab a nearby neck to feast on, if that’s your pleasure, but these serve as finishing moves.
Most of the level involves Gabriel dishing out his weary vengeance upon the Brotherhood as they completely wreck his castle, breaking down the doors and most of its walls (Who built it all anyway? Gabriel? Does he have an architectural degree we’re not aware of?). More impressively, the Brotherhood have come packing a giant Robot of Holy Wrath, a mass of gears, cogs and climbable surfaces.
The amount of destruction going on in the E3 demo was impressive, but what’s more interesting is the direction the rest of the game will take – as the developers are making Castlevania’s modern city an open-world one. It’s a shame I didn’t get to glimpse MercurySteam’s vision of gothic, open-world Castlevania city, but in my mind I’m thinking something like Arkham City meets Assassin’s Creed… meets Blade.
If Lords of Shadow infuriated you, then Lords of Shadow 2 will be no help whatsoever – it’s still big and bombastic, with gameplay inspired more by God of War than Simon’s Quest, and design decisions that are intentionally taking the game away from the series’ roots. However, that’s exactly what makes the game exciting for me – a chance for MercurySteam to continue to do something new and different. And for fans, there are still references back to the old mythology, although perhaps not what you’re expecting. Upon first seeing the armies of the Brotherhood of Light, Gabriel Belmont (as played by the no doubt amused Robert Carlyle) glibly comments, “What is a man? A miserable little pile of secrets!”
If you have a sense of humour, and a history, but not a fanatical attachment with, the old Castlevania series, there should be plenty to look forward to here. Look for it on current-gen systems at the end of 2013.