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Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 - the Belmont saga rages on

Dracula, Alucard and the prospect of a next gen release

We do our best to avoid plot spoilers, but Lords of Shadow 2 doesn't leave us much choice. If you still haven't played 2010's surprisingly entertaining epic - the recipient of an OXM 9/10 - close your browser and get involved. For everyone else, let's crack on.

Despite the best of intentions (and some rather overdue divine intervention), things didn't pan out all that well for Gabriel Belmont, slayer of supernatural beasties, in the first Lords of Shadow. Since then, life has taken a turn for the even worse: Gabriel has become a vampire. Dracula, to be precise. Oh well, at least he can turn into a dragon.

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The plot leaves plenty to the imagination right now. After a few centuries' worth of chill-out time in the first game's vampire castle, Gabriel has to contend with a brand new threat that announces itself by - somewhat predictably - removing all of his powers. In a thrilling callback to classic Castlevania design, you'll have to probe the structure's secrets to regain your abilities. Can't beat a classic bit of old-school interior exploration, particularly when there are necks to chomp on by the wayside.

Konami describes the game as the "shocking conclusion to the Lords of Shadow saga". We're tempted to object that 'saga' is a bit much for a series that's only got two games to its name - but then again, Lords of Shadow is twice or thrice as long as the average action-adventure, comprising two discs full of gigantic and wonderfully varied levels (Update: as Adam Miller points out, there's also the 3DS spin-off Mirrors of Fate). Assuming the sequel follows the usual bigger-and-better commercial logic, it should be a gargantuan escapade indeed. We're told that the story will spread across multiple eras, giving rise to hopes that we might even explore a few modern day cities.

There are flashes of this breadth in currently available trailers, which show Gabriel at both the height of his powers and in the wake of his embarrassing deterioration. At one point, he confronts a mysterious silver-garbed swordsman with white hair. Could this be Alucard, Dracula's part-mortal offspring and a former Castlevania protagonist? And if it is, are there two playable characters in Lords of Shadow 2?

In terms of the combat, Lords of Shadow 2 looks like business as usual for the most part - arena brawls against small fry like ghouls, building to gargantuan face-offs with mile-high Titans and gilded insectile automatons, all indebted to the films of Guillermo del Toro. Gabriel appears to have retained his old Combat Cross, but you'll also get to wield new weapons like an enchanted sword. Oh, and you'll be able to drink blood, presumably to regenerate health.

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The lack of a solid release date makes us wonder about the possibility of an Xbox 720 release - Capcom's decision not to hold its annual Captivate Event this year suggests that it's building up publicity-muscle for E3, where next generation games will be out in force. Regardless of the form it takes, Lords of Shadow 2 is worth getting very excited about. MercurySteam proved itself a top-notch contender with its first stab at the franchise, and we can't wait to see how it's come along since - and how much of the older Castlevania DNA it'll restore, having made this treasured IP relevant again.

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