Castlevania: Lords of Shadow was MercurySteam’s and Kojima Productions’ Castlevania reboot that brought the action series heavy with Quick Time Events (QTEs) to the current console generation. Such gameplay largely excluded gamers with fine motor disabilities due to the frequency of QTEs that required sequential button presses. In a turnaround, the Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 demo is playable without QTEs, now welcoming gamers with fine motor disabilities.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 was originally slated for a fall 2013 release but was recently pushed to February 25, 2014. For us Castlevania: Lords of Shadow fans who are not Nintendo 3DS players, the spring 2013 Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate on Nintendo 3DS received an HD update as a port to the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 to help alleviate the wait for February 2014. The downloadable game costs $14.99 and comes bundled with an exclusive demo for Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2. Here is a preview of what to expect in 2014.
*SPOILER ALERT: Discussing the Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 demo requires revealing Castlevania: Lords of Shadow’s ending.*
The demo immediately references the ending of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow where Gabriel Belmont defeated Dracula only to become the master vampire. An image of Gabriel as Dracula, poised in front of the familiar book that tells the Castlevania story, serves as the basis of the in-game menu. Frustratingly, the demo does not give menu access until the player is given in-game control. From the accessibility standpoint, subtitles are available, there are controller options to invert vertical and/or horizontal aim, and there is the all-important feature: a playable mode with no QTEs, that is not linked to a difficulty level.
In the demo’s opening, Gabriel as Dracula lounges on his oversized throne nursing a golden chalice with his bloody drink of choice, but immediately the assault on his location occurs with a pounding at the enormous door. Dracula tosses aside his goblet and stands to face the assault.
Using an elaborate ram in the shape of a fantastical beast, Dracula’s former friends, Brotherhood of Light soldiers, barge into the room. As the soldiers crowd in, Dracula picks up his goblet in anticipation of the fresh blood to drink, threatening, “What a timely coincidence, I am dying for a little drop of blood.” Surrounded by soldiers the player is thrust into an arena-type battle serving as a combat tutorial.
The biggest combat changes are quickly clear. The player has control of the camera on the right analog stick and moves Dracula on the left analog stick. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow infamously was an action-based game that kept utter control of the camera, creating difficulty when battling swarms of enemies. The required barrel roll for action-based combat is now a vampire-like glide away. Otherwise, the combat controls largely the same, with the controller’s face buttons used for area attack, direct attack, and instant kill for an enemy with low health. Combat does now require a press of a face button to quickly stand when knocked down, adding to the button presses for combinations.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow was largely inaccessible for gamers with fine motor disabilities due to the frequent use of quick time events (QTEs). QTEs remain prevalent, but now enabling “Play without QTEs” eliminates disability-related difficulties with QTE gameplay. I played through the demo twice, once with QTEs and once without. Without the QTEs, the game progresses with CGI sequences not requiring arbitrary button presses. With the QTEs, the familiar timed button presses, rapid single button press, and sequential button presses are required. Combat is action-based, employing sequences (such as the ethereal glide away) that require a left trigger pull concurrently with moving the left analog stick while forcing the player to remain ready for combat button presses with the right hand and blocking with the left trigger. Dracula’s final combat move is shown in slow motion, similar to Rocksteady’s Batman franchise.
The combat remains whip-like due to magic emanating out of Dracula’s hand. Void and chaos magic return, triggered by bumper presses. Void, or blue magic, creates a sword that replenishes health and chaos, while red magic activates dual claws that break through enemy defenses. In the original Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, I struggled with using the magic energies because the replenishing was slow, but refilling is noticeably faster in the demo.
After passing the combat tutorial, Dracula enters a rundown hall in his castle for a platforming tutorial. Climbing now includes pinpoints of light when pulling the left trigger to show nearby climbable points. Dracula shimmies up columns and across gothic room decorations reaching a door to the outside.
On an outside balcony, an oversized, steampunk mechanical boss confronts Dracula, and from the cross shape in its face, a golden-armored, winged soldier appears. The shiny Brotherhood of Light fighter battle is reminiscent of the previous fights but with a boss whose powers rival Dracula’s. The Brotherhood of Light champion eventually flies away and Dracula jumps upon the titan-sized boss. While onboard, the contraption rams the castle, trying to dislodge Dracula. If QTEs are enabled, timed button presses pop up in conjunction with Dracula’s platform ramming of the castle tower, and any button the player chooses to be pressed when two circles overlap is required to keep Dracula’s footing. Climbing the mechanical boss includes avoiding explosive arrow shots by the winged boss and jumping from moving gears with the correct timing so as not to be smashed.
With a similar feel to the ginormous bosses in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, Dracula must climb the boss to a series of platforms where he defeats a soldier swarm while convincing the flying boss to target rivets on the mechanical boss. On each platform, Dracula rips off a section of the steampunk machine until he reveals the enormous boss’s glowing core, radiating electricity. Dracula’s finishing move is all his own, he spews a fountain of blood onto the inner workings, and the entire apparatus crashes to the ground.
Now, we are free to sit back and enjoy a CGI teaser.
In the wake of widespread devastation after the mechanic’s fall, soldiers twitch and moan in the wreckage. Dracula arises and the flying golden soldier appears bolstered by cheers from his brethren. A series of shots teases a new showdown between Dracula and the Brotherhood of Light champion. The two stare at each other with various close ups until the screen goes black and the following words appear, “Blood is everything! February 2014, Pre-order now.”
A new CGI sequence begins showing a slow walking Dracula meandering through a hallway in his castle with a series of close ups featuring Dracula’s character model. Dracula reaches his balcony and is met with an innumerable number of Brotherhood of Light enemies grouped at his castle walls. Charging up his powers, Dracula takes on the horde by himself, bringing destruction upon the army with his Dracula magic whip powers while he whirls from group to group in a cloud of fierce smoke. Facing the army’s large war machines, Dracula drags a single soldier before the creature and feeds before morphing into a gigantic smoke dragon that flies shrieking into an enemy machine. The demo blacks out to the Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 logo.
The destroyed battleground appears with every soldier lying prone, and a new assailant appears. Long white hair blows in the wind, presumably Alucard, as he readies his sword against Dracula. Dracula stares across the wasteland with his own stylish hairdo, and the camera fades to black for the last time.
Overall, the Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 demo reveals a promising sequel. The possibility of an action franchise including the accessible feature of disabling QTEs is an exciting end to the current generation and hopefully a new standard for the next.