lords of shadow 2

In Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2, the world is dark and dreary. Inside an oppressive castle, Gabriel Belmont lives on as Dracula. And he’s in a bad mood.

After all, in the original Castlevania: Lords of Shadow from 2010, his bride was killed and he tried to rescue her soul, only to lose his status as a holy knight from the Brotherhood of Light. In a hands-on preview, we tried out the sequel in advance of this week’s E3 trade show.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 is coming out on the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3.

In the opening scene, Dracula is sitting at a throne and drinking blood. Some knights bash down his throne room’s doors, and Dracula is quite stoic. He’s in the future, in the middle of a castle surrounded by a modern city, and some bad guys are after him. Or maybe it’s good guys, as the world is so dark and dreary there doesn’t seem to be any good in it.

“What a timely coincidence,” Dracula says, opening his red eyes. “I”m dying for a drop of blood.”

Then a tutorial proceeds, teaching you how to use how to use Dracula’s fearsome chain whip. You can engage in direct attacks against enemies or sweep a whole area. Dracula is at the height of his powers, says David Cox, the head of the European development studio Mercury Steam, in a press briefing. As Dracula, the player can clear the room quite easily. But you have watch out for different kinds of enemies. One can shield itself against your frontal attacks, so you have to use a different kind of attack. You also have to block some attacks and deal with unblockable melees.

The fighting is fairly formulaic and very much like God of War. You destroy every enemy in your path and then come up against a God Paladin, a bigger bad-ass knight, in a boss fight. You avoid him and take shots at him when he’s vulnerable. The nice thing is that there are no loading screens during the battles. While the first Lords of Shadow was linear, Cox said the new game is more like an open world. You can fight anywhere from six to eight enemies on the screen at the same time. If you fill up an energy focus bar, then every enemy you hit will drop blood. And for Dracula, blood is good. You get a little variety when you acquire a sword and take on enemies with that. You can switch among the weapons.

The biggest change from the past game is the free camera system, where you no longer have to view everything from a fixed angle. The frame rate is a solid 30 frames per second. And this game has more exploration. It features a new engine that keeps the game running smoothly.

I didn’t much care for it, as it felt very formulaic, like God of War in a Dracula setting. God of War: Ascension didn’t sell that well earlier this year. But if it appeals to the core group of fans who like this kind of game, then Konami will have another success on its hands. And if that happens, Cox said he’ll be “dancing naked  in the streets.”