Early impressions of Lords of Shadow 2 bring back fond memories of classics embedded in the hack-and-slash genre. Those behind the game might resent comparisons to the likes of God of War, but it’s tough not to shine a light on the obvious similarities present in Dracula’s upcoming outing. Thankfully, with a stronger focus on adventure and exploration, that obvious but perhaps unintentional ode deviates from MercurySteam’s core Castlevania interpretation, propelling a strong sense of originality and challenge.
An hour into this sequel to the modest but somewhat uninspiring 2010 entry and I was remembering the original Devil May Cry that, to true fans of the hack-and-slash game, helped redefine the genre throughout the ‘00s. Its gothic aesthetic, alongside a confident and sly protagonist, reinvigorates the fantastical nature of Castlevania lore that the first game could never get quite right.
A quasi-boss battle, a few platforming puzzles up a gigantic mechanical beast, and a subtle introduction to a night-and-day weapon system set a powerful standard for a game that has a lot to live up to. Not unlike what was on offer in last year’s DmC with the “Demon” and “Angel” weapons, Dracula has a range of engaging, powerful tools that, when blended together into a satisfying combo of devastation, extend well beyond their initial offerings thanks to a seemingly deep skill tree.
Beyond Dracula’s tools-of-the-trade is a range of powers that, with a welcomed expansion of the game world (and therefore a more “open” experience), add a level of originality that successfully envisions age-old myths about that bad guy: approaching an enemy, sliding into a dark spot, coming out as a mouse and sneaking past to avoid confrontation is a sleek way to mix up the gameplay. Remember: Lords of Shadow 2 might at first seem like your run-of-the-mill hack-and-slash action game, but then again, Dracula isn’t your run-of-the-mill vampire, is he?
Yet, despite an expanded weapon, combat and power system, Lords of Shadow 2’s most impressive new attribute is its camera, something sources tell me the team at MercurySteam spent months and months trying to nail. Acknowledging the problems of the original, primarily the limitations of the game world and the restrictions it placed on exploration, the development team created a free camera that in my experience gives Dracula the edge in combat. For a game above and beyond the challenges of its predecessor, MercurySteam has created what seems like a well-balanced but still often ruthless game world that is equally unforgiving as it is accessible.
That accessibility does not translate over to the man of the show: Dracula himself. Is he the bad guy? Is he the good guy? We don’t know yet, but he’s, surprisingly, a family man, one on a mission of vengeance and, perhaps, sympathy and regret. After only a few hours of play, I’m left wondering just how far he’ll go to protect the ones he loves, and I wonder if any of us would be any different. It’s not night and day as one might expect about this particular character, and it’s a narrative structure that has so far been quite compelling.
I’ve been anticipating this release ever since I finished the first game, and I’m already more impressed on both an aesthetic and gameplay front than I ever was with the first game. Not to disregard the original’s offerings -- it wasn’t perfect, but was certainly solid enough to justify a playthrough -- but Lords of Shadow 2 really does feel like it has something to prove.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is out February 27 on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.