The former Belmont's presence on screen at the start of this thirty minute demo to the Lords of Shadow sequel completely captures our attention when we enter the presentation room. The next half hour of teaser gameplay simply increases our anticipation.
Dracula lounges serenely. Mercrury Steam is confident that they've caught our attention with this first image, and their creation assured he'll repel the ongoing siege on his castle. Last blow of the ram at the gates. Last swig from the cup. Time to show the power of the Dragon.
Those first unfortunates entering the hall already know they're about to die. The mere presence of the vampire makes them shudder, his strength overwhelms. He still doesn't jump or run: he just walks around, dealing graceful lashes with his whip. Each strike extracts some blood from his opponents, and if they resist, it's a turn to savage their necks and up the PEGI rating. For Dracula's personal wine warmers are actually "the fuel for your abilities", as we learn later. The resulting greater violence doesn't feel unfitting with this protagonist.
From the red fluid to the blue of the Void Sword, with which the fearsome vampire loses the range of the whip but gains some flashy mid-distance slashes and the ability to absorb life from the enemy.
Dodges, blocks and air combos join the repertoire when the count of unexpected guests exceeds the boundaries of courtesy. Those who are most heavily armoured are tackled by the third of the arsenal trio, the Chaos Claws, wielder of yellow flame and with which the vampire is capable of breaking defences and shields in closer combat dances.
Those who finished the 3DS Castlevania title Mirror of Fate - which played as a bridge between the two Lords of Shadow games - got a teaser. Red, blue, yellow. Blood, Void, Chaos. Ingredients of a new combat system designed "to make hack ‘n' slash more meaningful and strategic". So you take into account what to collect, which weapon to use (switching even mid-combo). So "you are careful and pay attention", as each hit received ruins this dynamic. And if you're as ambitious as the protagonist, you'll later want to reach Mastery for every weapon in the new combat skill tree.
Dracula's welcome both dissuades invaders and persuades journalists to his strength. Mercury Steam wants the player to feel his power, and thus leaves us eager to taste it. However, won't this be too powerful? Only at the beginning and the end, it seems. In a Metroid-like turn (and for some yet unknown reason) the Dragon is divested of his powers and must recover them throughout the game.
Story "leaves no loose ends", Álvarez and Cox tells us again and again. "It really has a conclusion" and also explains LoS epilogue (decrepit Dracula, Zobek's offer): "What we can tell you is that Dracula will eventually accept the deal. And the rest, you'll have to discover".
But surprises are not just in the new and versatile multi-weapon combat. Bragging about detail and atmosphere, Álvarez manually rotates the camera multiple times, showing the player's new freedom of view. "If you leave it untouched, it turns back to auto so it still provides the best angles", he explains while playing.
It's a new PC/consoles engine for a completely new game: 360 camera, no loading, new streaming for free exploration (you can get back). It didn't look like a pre-alpha PS3 demo. At all.
New design choices aren't limited to the new free camera, either. Exploration and platforming sections are now bigger and more prominent. From the corridors of a Castle that "is a character itself" to the streets of a modern city (but which doesn't lose the gothic style).
The section demoed, getting out of the castle, shows an agile Dracula who scans the structure of the hall in a move that recalls the latest Batman games, and who highlights possible anchor points (a visual aid that will be switched off in hard mode).
The speed and accuracy of jumps is further evidenced during the battle against a Titan that closes the demo. The enormous walking stage who's goal is to end the castle's siege, presents the Dragon with the first true challenge: fighting on top of moving parts or timed leaps among mechanisms, all while the Golden Paladin - a winged knight who could've been taken from Saint Seiya's roster - fires his arrows from the air.
The Titan tour makes the design and camera work shine again. It's termination, with Dracula vomiting the blood of those killed on an orb, serving as another reminder of who this game is about. It's also made crystal clear to the Paladin, after a last multi-weapon flurry of combat and before the worst of endings for leading the siege. "Your God showed me a different path", concludes the Prince of Darkness when dealing him.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 truly impresses on both a technical and gameplay level. If the spectacle holds while combat and exploration deliver their renewed promises, it'll become one of the most biting titles of the year. The Dragon's confidence and insolence are absolutely justified.