Become Dracula in Castlevania’s most impressive outing to date
Last week the Australian Red Cross, in collaboration with Mindscape, gave the media and general public an early taste of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2. This event aimed to educate gamers on the importance of donating blood whilst previewing the latest vampiric offerings from Mindscape.
This event was a great success, with pledges and blood donation happening during the evening. Awareness of important issues like blood donation in the specific demographic games like Castlevania aim for can always be improved, and this type of event was a really clever way to reach out. I have to thank both Mindscape and the Red Cross for allowing us to come and test out the game, and to commend them on the excellent event held. I really hope we start to see more events like this, focussing not just on amazing new games, but also on important topics within our society. You can read more about blood donation, and even donate on the Blood Service website.
Now, onto Castlevania. During the event the first three hours were playable, taking us through the tutorial, prologue and then giving us a look at the modern-day missions and open world. In a great move for newcomers, the game introduces the core story for the series over the course of a long cutscene to bring players up to speed with the series, and as a person who hasn’t played a lot of the Castlevania games before this, I felt quite comfortable following the plot.
We first meet Dracula as the game opens in his throne room, sitting atop his throne with a chalice of blood. Before long he’s interrupted, the door shakes as it’s hit by an ornate battering ram over and over. The doors shatter and enemies start to pour in; Dracula’s castle is under siege, and our tutorial begins.
The combat is fairly simple but quite well put together. Using a series of light and heavy attacks, plus blocking and dodging, you can reliably knock down enemies health and sometimes even stun them to perform a gruesome finishing move. You soon become quite good at predicting the moves of the basic enemies, but the bigger enemies and bosses mix up the pattern quite nicely. You also gain two different special weapons for use in combat, the Void Sword, which allows you to absorb health from enemies upon hitting them and the Chaos Claws, which can be used to break through enemy defences and shields. These weapons add a nice sophistication to the combat, making you think about how and when to use your weapons.
The more you use your weapons and powers, the more they can be upgraded through ‘masteries’. You can also unlock more abilities and attacks by collecting experience orbs, broadening moves and attacks from the initially somewhat basic combat roster.
Just as you slide into the comfort of fighting basic enemies the game shows you its impressive set pieces, giving us a stunning view over Dracula’s castle under siege. For a moment you can take in the impressive gothic fantasy world that has been created here, before being attacked by a walking siege castle and a shining gold paladin, whose only aim is to kill Dracula.
The game has a great balance to it with its enemies and bosses. It’s not too hard, but hard enough to be a challenge. Enemies and bosses will kill you, but this is no Dark Souls; you won’t find yourself throwing a controller across the room because of them. Slight hints and tells balance out the un-blockable heavy hits, and used wisely, the Void Sword keeps you pretty well stocked on health.
Upon completion of the Prologue you are introduced to the modern-day world through a series of (overly long) cutscenes. Whilst the dialogue can get a little overdramatic, the story is intriguing and the voice acting is quite strong, lead by actors like Patrick Stewart and Richard Madden (of Game of Thrones fame). Regardless of length the lore cutscenes have a great visual style to them, playing out like the pages of a dark fantasy novel across the screen.
Even the in-game or cinematic cutscene have quite a dark feel to them. In one instance, after Dracula’s re-emergence to the modern-day, you are given a real weakness as a shrivelled and old vampire. Directly following this, the game hits the hardest that I saw in its first three hours. In a dark and quite disturbing way you’re forced to murder a family in order to feed to regain your youth and strength, which whilst fitting in with the tone of the game, I found overly brutal. It reminds the player that even though Dracula is the protagonist, he is in no way a ‘good’ guy.
Outside of combat you get an open world to explore in the modern-day, filled with mission based ‘dungeons’ of sorts. I was able to complete the first mission, to in
filtrate a science and technology company believed to be a front for the allies of Satan, paving the way for his return. You can smash all sorts of items that litter the area for experience and art unlocks, as well as keeping your eyes open for crystals to increase your health and magic. Lords of Shadow 2 has a very Darksiders feel to it outside of combat. You’ll climb and jump your way through levels whilst gaining powers (such as a crystal that lets you freeze and climb waterfalls), all the while solving basic puzzles to progress.
In the first three hours the game had no really hard puzzles, but almost all of them required a little thought at least. Adding to the puzzles is the drift between the present day and Dracula’s time. You’ll enter a stark modern passageway, or industrial service hatch and come out into a grand ballroom line with chandeliers and torches. It has a beautiful visual style that keeps things pretty exiting all the way through.
Castlevania also employs some stealth gameplay that works well in sections. You can possess rats and hide in the shadows to avoid enemies and traverse passageways unnoticed. Whilst these sections were fun, the game really shines in it’s cool combat and diverse enemy roster.
All in all I very much enjoyed my time with Lords of Shadow 2. With pretty fresh gameplay and an intriguing story it has all the hallmarks to be an exciting entry into the series, and I’m eagerly awaiting it’s release, February 27th, to play more of this game. Once again, a huge thanks to the guys at Mindscape and the Australian Red Cross for hosting the event and giving us a hands on preview of the title!