Last time we got our hands on MercurySteam’s Lords of Shadow 2, Dracula defended his castle against an army of holy knights. By the time this short demo concluded, the Belmont-turned-vampire had destroyed a gigantic holy robot and bested a golden-winged warrior. Konami has supplied us with the next few hours of gameplay, which picks up right after this dramatic battle. Our hands-on time [by editor Tim Turi - Ed.] includes encounters with the Devil’s servants, a journey through modern times, and an intense faceoff against a gigantic Gorgon.

The action picks up with Dracula taking on a paladin who begins praying for God to save him from the Prince of Darkness. Belmont, formerly a warrior of God himself, begins to mockingly pray along with the warrior. Dracula’s blasphemous act causes a tremendous explosion that can be seen from a zoomed-out shot of the planet. The battlefield is seemingly leveled and the story jumps forward to the modern times teased during the post-credits sequence of the original Lords of Shadow.

A withered, drained Dracula stirs in his throne room as he remembers his former conversation with Zobek. His former ally threw him through his castle’s tremendous stained glass window into a busy downtown area. In this preview we finally stepped onto the city streets for the first time. Unlike the bright, bustling city life we saw at the end of Lords of Shadow, the streets are riddled with detritus and poor souls. I control a weakened Dracula as he shambles past beggars and drug dealers. A young boy in blue appears, beckoning Dracula to follow. The boy’s identity isn’t revealed in the demo, but it’s likely Trevor, which Lords of Shadow 2’s intro (along with Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate) reveals to be Gabriel Belmont’s son. Following the young boy leads to a battle with a demon lurking in the shadows. Dracula attempts to slash at and dodge the twisted monster. Given his weakened state, the legendary vampire falls. He maintains consciousness long enough to see an armored figure slice the demon in half with a huge sword.

Once Dracula comes to, he’s in a room with a captive family. A father and mother attempt to shield their child from the waking vampire. The view shifts into first-person for this brief sequence as the thirsty monster feeds on all three. Color returns to Dracula’s skin and his appearance changes to one more in line with the Gabriel Belmont we know from the first Lords of Shadow. Zobek reveals himself as responsible for saving Dracula. The mysterious man needs his help combating the legions of Satan, which are attempting to take over the world and convert Dracula’s remaining forces. Zobek’s bargaining chip to gain Dracula’s allegiance is offering him an escape from torturous immortality. 

Dracula’s first target is a pharmaceutical company Zobek suspects is under the control of one of Satan’s acolytes. After venturing through a portal, Dracula ends up near the building’s loading docks. Parked vehicles and piles of chemical barrels are fenced in by a barbed wire fence. An occasional car drives by in the distant streets. Taking control of Dracula, I lift a metal gate and proceed inside. A bulky armed brute guards the first door. Dracula is no match for him yet. I sneak up behind the foe and use Dracula’s power of possession to take control. Guiding the brute allows me to pull a few switches and enter the facility.

A little further in I’m confronted with a guard I cannot possess. A nearby shadow indicates that I can morph into a cluster of rats to sneak by. I enter the air ducts and weasel past the deadly enemy. Get too close to a bad guy and they’ll stomp the rats under Dracula’s influence. These stealth sections are simple and spread out in the short preview. Don’t be fooled into thinking Dracula is becoming the next Solid Snake; these sections feel more like brief environmental puzzles to mix up the action.

Speaking of action, Dracula has a few new tricks up his sleeves. Similar to Gabriel’s dual light and dark magic from the first Lords of Shadow, Dracula has a void sword and chaos gauntlets at his disposal. Hewing down enemies with the sword refills his health, but also lets him freeze objects from a distance. This ranged freeze attack allows Dracula to turn waterfalls into traversable walls and slow down speedy enemies. The chaos gauntlets pack a harder punch and also let the Prince of Darkness bust through shields and other tough barriers. These weapons are fueled by special orbs that players accumulate by performing well in combat (avoiding damage while dealing lots of it). Charging either weapon depends on which analog stick you press down.

The bulk of combat occurs when you travel through an enigmatic portal into Dracula’s castle. Harpies and hammer-wielding hulks are among the enemies lurking the dark hallways. A trigger allows Dracula to dodge or deflect attacks, which is handy for delivering devastating counters. Weave in a freeze attack on a harpy to ground the annoying beast for a thorough beating. The big guys carrying hammers are most vulnerable on their backside, making heavy attacks with the chaos gauntlets the best call. The blood whip acts as Dracula's effective neutral weapon. The action feels as fast and responsive as the original Lords of Shadow. My major stumbling points come from failing timed blocks or positioning the controllable camera in the correct direction. Like the first, Lords of Shadow 2 can be challenging, but the hard knocks are worth it when you’ve cleared the battlefield. 

The preview is capped off with an intense battle against Medusa. The mythical gorgons are usually under Dracula’s control, but the corrupting blood of Satan flowing through the castle morphs them into one gigantic abomination. This boss battle harkens back to the large-scale enemies from the first Lords of Shadow. Dracula must dodge huge swipes from the beast’s claws and cut down tentacles to regain weapon energy. The void sword is used to freeze Medusa’s hand to the ground, allowing the vampire to climb up her and attack one of the three heads. Boss fights is one of the series’ strong points, and this Medusa battle lives up to those standards. The fight ends with Dracula tearing a sedan-sized heart from the boss’s body, which quickly turns to stone and crumbles to reveal a mysterious red gem. We’ll have to wait until the game’s release to find out what the artifact does for the legendary vampire.

MercurySteam’s third entry in the rebooted Castlevania series is shaping up to be a great time for longtime fans and action enthusiasts in general. Occasional camera problems and a few too many quick-time events distracted from the fun a few times, but I’m still excited to continue Belmont’s dark adventure. Lords of Shadow 2 hits PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC February 25.

For more screens check the media gallery below. And for more information on Dracula's vampiric powers click here