"I think we felt a little bit vindicated." Dave Cox, current holder of the titles of Konami producer and, potentially, world's most tired man, is speaking in a cramped interview room at GamesCom. It's the last interview of the day, and despite the punishing schedule he's still - enthusiastically, of course - explaining how he and his team at Mercury Steam felt when the original Lords of Shadow came out. Pre-release, among the deserved excitement for what would indeed prove to be the best 3D Castlevania game ever, there was an undercurrent of cynicism about LoS. Memories of Castlevania 64 lingered. People had been burned before.
"There was a lot of pressure on the team [for the original Lords of Shadow]" Cox tells me. "A lot of negativity."
Said negativity dissipated upon release: the team's effort was a critical and commercial hit. Now, there's a different kind of expectation. Not just to prove the naysayers wrong, but to build on what went before, and continue to cement 3D Castlevania as something that not only can be done, but has longevity.
"We want to surprise players, we want to deliver the unexpected. So yeah, I think there's pressure this time."
The unexpected element is certainly present: a fair chunk of Lords of Shadow 2 takes place in the current day. The gothic themes are, of course, still there. This being the end of the trilogy, Dracula must defeat Satan to end his own immortal life, one which is haunted by the memory of his wife and child. But the GamesCom trailer also showed Dracula crashing down into a crowded metropolitan area, filled with taxis and onlookers. Suit and tie-wearing vampires make an appearance, presumably coming from their jobs as night-shift insurance salesmen.
It's quite a change, but one that Cox and company are eager to justify.
"I think we've nailed the gothic styling but with the modern sensibility. It still feels like a Castlevania game" he says, when asked about fan reaction. "The game takes place about 60 per cent in the city and about 40 per cent in the castle, and you can go between the city and the castle at will [once you reach] a certain stage of the game. As the world opens you have the freedom to go back forth to both."
And what about that other, super-powered, night-prowling gothic avenger that has a couple of hit games under his belt, and another one out this year? Despite potential similarities, Mercury Steam doesn't see Belmont and Batman in the same vein. "We didn't want to make it Gotham City, and we didn't want to put Dracula in the middle of Times Square. We thought that would be ridiculous."
Other concerns have also been addressed, with concessions and improvements made to the flaws of the previous game. The locked camera has been banished, thankfully, and framerate problems - in the demo I saw, at least - have been mitigated. The build here was early - it's not out until early next year - and texture-wise rough around the edges. But Mercury Steam has nailed the overall look and feel of Dracula's castle. It retains that classic Castlevania feel.
One thing it doesn't retain, however, is Lords of Shadow's structure. Now that Belmont is Dracula, he'll be able to saunter around the Prince of Darkness' enormous, crumbling castle, unlocking more and more areas as he does so. Cox isn't eager to call the game 'open world', but he does admit that the template is far less constrained than before, tying back into the constant evolution of the character.
"Because it feels more seamless it's more enjoyable to go back instead of having to load a level and then go back. There's more reasons to explore. For example, having the Mist ability, you'll suddenly realise in that area on the other side of the city there's gratings. I wonder what's on the other side of those? And now I can go there, there's a whole new area to explore and there's more story elements that I haven't seen the first time around."
Combat has also had an overhaul. The aforementioned free camera is an obvious plus, and the feedback loop being proposed by Mercury Steam sounds very interesting. Fighting well will give you XP, which can then be spent on combos. Said combos themselves can then be leveled up with use, and when maxed out will give buffs to certain weapons. It's the developer's way of trying to keep you from using just one weapon or a single string of moves.
The presentation was hands-off, so I couldn't test this claim, but the on-screen brawls are certainly entertaining. The blood of Dracula's castle isn't too keen on him leaving, and forms enemies for him to fight, such as a giant stone gollum. Although players will have magic at their disposal - such as the void sword's ability to constantly regenerate health - they'll have to play well to use it.
Fighting without getting hit increases the player's focus bar, which powers their abilities. Get on the receiving end of a smackdown and the focus is broken, so skilful play is encouraged. Combined with the leveling model, combat should be of the same high standard as the rest of the game.
The only real question, then, is why this isn't coming out on next-gen consoles.
"When we started the game in 2010 we didn't know about next-gen. Nobody really knew what was going on. Rather than bang out a sequel cheap as chips and just do more of the same we really wanted to make big changes", Cox tells me. "When the next-gen consoles got announced we did think about [making the game for them], but then we said we don't really have to start again. We'd already gotten so far down the line we just thought, this is the path we've served ourselves, let's do it. We want this to be one of the last great current-gen titles. That's what we wanted to do.
"We want to end the Lords of Shadows series with a bang."