Mercury Steam’s crowd-pleaser prepares to go contemporary, and certainly doesn’t lack ambition. Catherine Cai fangs Dave Cox and Enric Alvarez for the future memories.
“Don’t worry, we’re putting the same care. Even more. Because now we have a free camera and we need to build 360 degrees around the character. This was probably the most important challenge we faced in this game, because we have to keep the quality even higher. At the same time, we need to build ten times more polygons and textures than in the first game. Yeah, it’s going to be a city and it’s going to be a castle.”
Despite popular conception, sequels, or at least good ones, aren’t easy to make. There are always expectations to live up to. A sequel must be able to appease old fans, juggle a storyline that’s simple enough to draw in new fans, and bring in new mechanics that keeps the experience fresh… but not so fresh that it’s completely unlike the first.
Mercury Steam and Konami had quite the challenge ahead of them with Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2. Developing the sequel to such a large and ambitious game isn’t an easy task. Then again, if easy was what Mercury Steam was looking for, it wouldn’t have taken on the mountainous task of rebooting a franchise with as rich a history and big a fan base as Castlevania. And rather than re-tell the age-old tale of a Belmont storming Dracula’s castle to defeat him for yet another generation, Mercury Steam steam decided to give the series a new focus on Dracula himself.
So really, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Mercury Steam’s vision for Lords of Shadow 2 is ambitious. The original was already an enormous game—one could easily sink in twenty hours into the game even when avoiding exploration. The developer decided to think even bigger and made Lords of Shadow 2 an open world game, a change that was in response to an overwhelming fan response for increased exploration options in the game. Unfortunately, the gameplay demo that was shown off at the Konami booth at E3 didn’t showcase the open world options, as it was restricted to the tutorial level that occurred in Dracula’s castle, which really didn’t offer up many chances for exploration. I had a chat with producer Dave Cox and Mercury Steam co-owner Enric Alvarez to discuss the changes that they had implemented to offer a better Castlevania experience for the sequel.
Combat mechanics and the open world
“People really like the strategic combat, the light and shadow magic,” said Cox. “People said that they wanted a bigger exploration aspect. They wanted to have the platforming be quicker, more responsive, more interesting… more things to do in terms of platforming and exploration. So this was something that we were aware of when we finished the first game… something that we decided to tackle on this particular game. We wanted to improve those aspects. We wanted to refine and build upon the combat, but make the exploration side of it a bigger priority. That really meant going back to the drawing board in terms of our technology, in terms of the engine, and starting the engine from scratch.”
For the most part, despite the open world aspect of the sequel and the re-worked engine, Cox explained that the combat mechanics were largely similar. “You have the Void Sword and the Chaos Claws,” he said. “They play a very similar role to the light and shadow magic. We had them in the previous game. They have a lot more depth. So the Void Sword, what is used to recoup health, and the Chaos Claws, which are used to dish out damage but also to break enemy’s defenses—these additional weapons also have their own combos attached to them as well, which is something you didn’t have in the previous game.
“We also have the mastery system which encourages players to use the combinations and to master that particular weapon. In the Void Sword you can purchase combos for that particular weapon. As you use them they fill up a gauge within the game and then that experience that you’ve earned in the game on that particular combo goes and upgrades that weapon and makes that weapon more efficient at what it does.”
The introduction of the Void Sword and the Chaos Claws is meant to add to the combat strategy part of the game that fans liked so well. Rather than simply upgrading and buying combos for the Combat Cross, players will now have to choose between three weapons to improve. “You’re going to be confronted with the decision of “Okay, what weapon do I want to improve? Do I want to improve my Chaos Claws or my Void Sword or my whip?”" explained Alvarez. ” We have approximately triple the number of combos that we had in Lords of Shadow 1. Most of them make sense depending on the enemy you are fighting. This is another big, big difference, because now enemies will—not only are they more intelligent—have shields or armor or specific behaviors that will force you to think about what weapon do you to use against them?”
A new, modern setting
One of the biggest concerns I had with the sequel was the modern setting. One of Lords of Shadow’s biggest draws was its fantastic art direction and gorgeous environments, something that I was worried wouldn’t translate in a city. Though the frozen lakes and lush forests may be gone, both Alvarez and Cox assured me that the environment would be just as satisfying to explore as the original.
“While the game takes place in a city environment, in that city there are many other different environments,” said Cox. “The game—in the castle—every corridor has a different look and feel. We wanted to keep that variety and artistic diversity feel that was in the first game. We didn’t want to lose that.”
The focus of the original game was Gabriel’s journey and his descent into darkness. Of course, this translated visually, as the game’s environments grew darker to reflect Gabriel’s inner transformation. “Now, things have turned very dark [in Lords of Shadow 2],” said Alvarez. “It’s Dracula’s turn right now. The world is going to change. You’re not going to get your sunny forests again, because they don’t exist anymore. There’s no place for that.”
While Lords of Shadow 2 marks yet another new direction for Mercury Steam and the Castlevania series, it’s one that Cox and Alvarez are confident will make the series even more enjoyable.
“Don’t worry, we’re putting the same care. Even more. Because now we have a free camera and we need to build 360 degrees around the character,” said Alvarez. “This was probably the most important challenge we faced in this game, because we have to keep the quality even higher. At the same time, we need to build ten times more polygons and textures than in the first game. Yeah, it’s going to be a city and it’s going to be a castle.”
However, he concludes, there’s nothing for fans of Lords of Shadow to fret about, “Every little section is going to be treated with the same care.”