The original Castlevania: Lords of Shadow was one of the best games this generation. Featuring an intriguing story line, fascinating cast of characters and the best elements of gameplay from several popular franchises, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is a game that you need to play.
So when MercurySteam and Konami announced the sequel, we became intrigued on how they can possibly better the original? In order to find an answer we got in touch with Dave Cox who is the head of UK Studio at Konami Digital Entertainment and producer of the Castlevania: Lords of Shadow series to find out how the sequel is shaping up to the biggest game in the series.
Ravi Sinha: So this is the big one. We know now that Gabriel Belmont is indeed not Gabriel Belmont but Dracula this time around. How does that influence the connection players will have to game since they’re effectively playing as the villain from the outset?
Dave Cox: It’s not as clear-cut as that, to be honest. There are two sides to both Gabriel’s personality and abilities in the new game. The Dracula we first encounter him when his castle is under siege, sees him in full possession of all his powers and available weapons. As such, players are given a taste of the incredible powers and range of attacks he enjoys, from replenishing health via sucking the blood from his adversaries, to smashing enemies’ defences with his new chaos claws ability – all key attributes.
However, for reasons that are explained in the prologue, the Dracula that is transported to our time is stripped of all these abilities. This changes the tone of the story because as an immortal in modern times and, although Dracula is still more powerful than mortal man, he will need to enhance his abilities if he is to defeat the ultimate evil that is threatening our world. He may be evil, but there is a greater evil.
"Fans of the first game cited the fixed camera as something they wanted to be changed, and we knew that to show the sheer scale in the new game that we would need an all-new game engine. As such, the new Mercury Engine was always built to allow the user to view the action from any angle at any time, but is also tied into to the sheer size of the stages we have created."
Ravi Sinha: The free-roaming camera is a new edition to the series. What motivated the need to give players full control of the camera, and what changes does this introduce to the core gameplay?
Dave Cox: It was one of the first things we turned our attentions to. Fans of the first game cited the fixed camera as something they wanted to be changed, and we knew that to show the sheer scale in the new game that we would need an all-new game engine. As such, the new Mercury Engine was always built to allow the user to view the action from any angle at any time, but is also tied into to the sheer size of the stages we have created. We want people to explore the worlds we have built, to find things they may have missed – and the new camera is integral to this.
The camera also adds a fluidity to the game, and allows the player to sense the scale of the environments. The fixed cameras made parts of the first game unintentionally difficult, as items were hidden – by accident, not design! The city, however, is a perfect environment for hiding things in sneaky places, so now the reward for finding something is deliberate!
Ravi Sinha: Along with the Blood Whip, how will the Chaos Claws and Void Sword be mixed into combat? Can players freely switch between them during combos, a la Devil May Cry or will there be a more methodical pacing in the fights?
Dave Cox: The system works in a similar fashion as the previous game, players need to play well by hitting enemies and avoid being hit in order to fill a focus bar…when this bar is filled enemies drop blood with each hit and then players can channel that blood to their weapon power container as they see fit. The Void Sword thus is used to steal life from those it hits, while heavily-armoured foes can be weakened using the Claws.
The reason for this is that we want players to use skill and timing during combat – not just mashing buttons to progress. The biting element is then used for a rapid top up of life during combat and is most useful when you don’t have any void power available to use the sword.
Also, continuing with the theme of skill being used to progress, players cannot use their magical abilities unless they are focussed. This means if you play with skill, you have more tools at your disposal during combat to deal with enemies, however if you spam the buttons or don’t play well or with skill, you will find the game very difficult.
"The story started on the current generation of hardware, and it is only right that it concludes on it. We knew from the outset where we would take the sequel, and didn’t want to just keep churning out new versions."
Ravi Sinha: How do you balance the game when dealing with something like the power of Dracula? How hard was it to make enemies challenging enough but still just right so that players could feel like ripping things apart as the Dark Lord? Or was there a completely different direction in mind for controlling Dracula?
Dave Cox: It’s vital to the game. That sort of balance can make the difference between fun and plain irritating. The emphasis in CLOS2 is very much one of exploration, combat and selecting how to forearm Gabriel/Dracula for future challenges via individually tailored ability power-ups. You basically choose how Dracula adapts – and can shape your attacks to match the challenges that await.
Ravi Sinha: Will any classic Castlevania characters like Alucard be making an experience this time around? Will Lords of Shadow 2 introduce other “rebooted” elements like the original did?
Dave Cox: All will be revealed very soon…!
Ravi Sinha: Given that Lords of Shadow 2 is releasing fairly close to the next generation of consoles, what motivated the decision to keep it on the current generation of consoles?
Dave Cox: The story started on the current generation of hardware, and it is only right that it concludes on it. We knew from the outset where we would take the sequel, and didn’t want to just keep churning out new versions. This is the story of a man seemingly behind redemption faced with the ultimate evil. Where do you go from there!
"The scale of its levels are more epic, its combat system is hugely expanded and adaptable to different playing styles, and its city is a more open experience that we want people to immerse themselves in. Everything about the game is bigger, but it has to be – we have a big story to tell."
Ravi Sinha: An open world approach is being taken with Lords of Shadow 2. Will there be plenty of secrets to explore? Will the game still be broken up into chapters that players need to progress through in a linear fashion or will there be enough freedom for side-quests as well in between?
Dave Cox: The game is one flowing adventure, but players can explore freely. CLOS2 will be bigger than the first game. But not just in terms of size. The scale of its levels are more epic, its combat system is hugely expanded and adaptable to different playing styles, and its city is a more open experience that we want people to immerse themselves in. Everything about the game is bigger, but it has to be – we have a big story to tell.
Ravi Sinha: The enemies of the game are a bit different from the usual Castlevania foes, as apparently we need to expose their weaknesses and use strategy to defeat them. How does this affect the pace of the combat, and what kind of dynamic does it introduce into the typical Lords of Shadow formula?
Dave Cox: It stops the game getting repetitive. There is still furious combat, but where’s the fun and skill in just slashing repeatedly to progress? The adversaries now require a certain logic to defeat them, which ties in to the building of Dracula’s powers as the game progresses.
Rashid Sayed: Does the game feature any leveling up for the main character? Any skill sets the player can unlock?
Dave Cox: The city is now open to explore and, unlike the previous game, players can now return to areas they have been in. Thus, as Gabriel picks up better powers and more abilities, there will be parts of the city that he previously could not access. These will play host to little bonuses, and reward the player for exploring this complex location.
"The whole QTE thing has been cut back, with the Titan fights now far more expansive and involve full control by the player as opposed to timed presses."
Rashid Sayed: How long with the campaign be? Is it going to be bigger than the first one?
Dave Cox: It’s a huge game, but it has to be as we have an epic story to tell. We’re guessing it will be at least long as the first game.
Rashid Sayed: The first game featured some amazing boss battles. What can you tell us about the ones we are going to face in the sequel?
Dave Cox: We’re more evil if anything! The whole QTE thing has been cut back, with the Titan fights now far more expansive and involve full control by the player as opposed to timed presses. We’ve gone for a far greater level of control during every part of the game now, but Gabriel can refuel as it were by draining those around him of their blood – the benefit of being a vampire! We feel the gameplay is more balanced than in the last game, and as a result makes for a more fluid and natural challenge.
Rashid Sayed: Last question: What kind of magical powers will the players have access to this time around?
Dave Cox: Dracula lore shows that Vampires can drink blood, glamour people, and transform themselves to move around. Expect those at the very least, and many more…