First things first. This hands-on report will be spoiler-free regarding the first game. I'm currently playing that one through (I know, I'm late) and several previews for the new game have blown the first game’s ending. I don't want to do the same if you're yet to play Lords of Shadow. So read this, then get on it, you don't want to get left behind again.
The word on the wire is that this concluding part of the Lords of Shadow saga is going to be a more open world affair. That's not on display here though as this is more of an introduction. Don’t worry; it’s much more exciting than it sounds. There's a massive, Holy Transformer thing for starters! But more on that later.
The original game is one of the best-looking games of the generation. Seriously, go borrow a copy and see. Packed with gorgeous scenery and pin-sharp images, it truly shames the genre’s competition with only the God of War games being able to stand up to it. Much of this was possible thanks to the fixed camera angle, as it allowed the developers to really focus on detail for set scenes rather than create fully-viewable environments accessible via a player-controlled camera.
This did make the odd fight awkward though as you could disappear behind large bits of scenery or more likely behind the massive troll beasts trying to squeeze the Holy Spirit from your guts. Not being able to move the camera also made exploration difficult, especially if a side-route was off-camera.
It would seem the developers have taken on the feedback and have seen fit to introduce a manual camera on the right stick. Some scenes have locked it down for cinematic effect though. I was a bit concerned that the new camera would mean the game would take a hit graphically, as more of each stage would have to be designed.
With only gloomy indoor and night stages available in this demo it was hard for my inner graphics whore to make a solid judgment call to be honest. This also wasn’t helped by the wildly varying quality between the TVs available to players at the preview event. I'm really not sure why publishers provide/settle for massive -but shit- TVs for these things, then force us to sit three feet away from them with pixels bleeding into our retinas. When viewed from a reasonable distance though, it wasn’t hard to tell that CLOS2 was one of the better-looking PS3 games at the Eurogamer Expo.
Anyway, let’s talk gameplay. The chained-whip returns for fantastically fluid combos, although you won’t be surprised to see the combos reset from the first game. But if the last game is anything to go by, there’ll be plenty on the way. All weapon attacks use Square for close-range attacks and Triangle for unleashing wider swings, inflicting damage on any group of enemies who think surrounding you is a good idea.
The opponents I faced in the demo were apparently hired by God himself. So, yeah, they're a bit full of themselves. They're no pushover either as their armour is thick and their swords sharp. Just because you find yourself landing blows doesn’t mean they can’t interrupt with attacks of their own, making mastering counters essential if you don’t want to spend more time dodge-rolling than attacking.
Attacks can be blocked or -if timed nicely- parried with a push of L2, which also serves as a dodge button when used with the left stick. It's still a bit awkward blocking and dodging with the same button. You’ll move around a lot during combat and I found myself frequently accidentally rolling instead of attempting a parry.
There were a few new weapons to try out in this early build; the Void Sword was introduced just in time when I was getting a bit of an ass kicking. Each blow drains the health of any enemies to top up your own. Enemies are crafty and will frequently break through your defences, so this is a weapon you’ll use a lot. At this stage however, I prefer using the whip’s similar magic ability in the first game, as I didn’t really take to the new sword. It feels stiff to wield and I didn't think its damage output was anything to write home about.
I wasn’t down for long though, as I was soon given a pair of Chaos Claws. More gauntlets than claws, they handle like the Cestus that Kratos steals from Hercules in God of War III. These are the go-to shield breakers introduced along with my first group of bashful shield carriers. Keen to have a proper face-to-whip-face with them, I was able to use these new super-mitts to pound their shield to pieces after a few satisfying blows, also accompanied by some great sound effects that really emphasised the strength of the impacts. There’s no awkward charging on the spot like the gauntlet attacks from the first game either.
After getting back into the swing of things with the combat and a minor bit of platforming, I found myself outside of a huge gothic castle facing off against an invading army and a huge walking mechanical titan pimped out with a neon-blue crucifix for a face.
Before I get to climb all over the massive holy war machine I have to deal with God’s Golden Boy. No, not JC (maybe later?), but one of this top-tier angels complete with golden armour, a huge sword and a bow for long range-attacks while he sends minions in for a reprieve.
Before long, he flies off, leaving me to climb aboard the MechaChrist. Fortunately, I’ve been trained well for such encounters with the last game and of course God of War III and Shadow of the Colossus. Starting on the arm, it wasn’t long before I found myself hanging onto small round grips that dotted the surface. A new feature allows you to hold a button to highlight every climbable object, making navigating the array of handholds simpler. There are a few timed jumps between moving machine parts to look forward to/curse too.
Rather than hold a shoulder button to hold on when the titan tries to shake you off, you now have to pass a QTE, by nailing a circle when it reaches a smaller circle. It’s less-forgiving than the ones in the last game too. But at least getting back to where I fell didn’t take as long.
As if I didn’t have enough to deal with, the mini-boss angel returns to fire arrows while I’m climbing. This actually helps though, as he can be used to break off path-blocking clamps by dodging away from his locked-on target zone in time. It all culminates in another fight at the top where you’ll ultimately take down this bothersome Godbot, but I’ll let you enjoy that for yourself.
With the game currently set for a late February release next year, it smartly dodges the mad Christmas rush and next-gen fever. With any luck, we will once again be getting a visual powerhouse that seeks to remind us just what our creaking current-gen machines are capable of. Sensible adjustments to the camera and some neat new weaponry also indicate that MercurySteam are keen to keep pushing the series forwards for the better. Welcome to the Most Wanted list of 2014, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2.