Konami and MercurySteam switched gears with Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2.  In the prequel, Gabriel Belmont was a true warrior with a whole-hearted soul, seeking to bring his wife back from the dead.  In the forthcoming Lords of Shadow 2, however, he's changed for the worse – or better, depending on your perspective. 

With the sequel, Gabriel has accepted that he's a vampire – essentially Dracula.  Not only is he able to fend off enemies with a blood-doused whip, but he can also suck blood. 

His journey won’t be easy as he travels through his own castle, which is under siege by a horde of angelic knights and their huge medieval battle droid.  In addition, he explores a modern day city where he squares off against Brotherhood of Light agents as well as Satan’s forces.  

With a 20-minute hands-on demo, we were able to see what elements MercurySteam brought back from the original Lords of Shadow, as well as compelling new features that take combat to a higher level.  Like the original, Gabriel uses both ranged and direct attacks with his whip, hitting those around him with ease and finishing off an enemy with a devastating blow.  He can also stun enemies and finish them off by plowing his teeth into their necks, regaining a little health in the process.

There's a tighter focus on combat this time around.  Along with being able to use his whip, Gabriel can also conjure magic and utilize one of two skills, falling back on Void and Chaos channeling abilities.  With Void, he can summon the Void Sword, a glowing blue blade that can easily cut enemies, especially combined with whip attacks.  For more heavily armored foes the Chaos Claws prove useful, as they easily cut through metal, leaving bad guys vulnerable to Gabriel's other attacks.  Combining these together has a really cool effect, particularly when you're surrounded – which happens often in Lords of Shadow 2.

Dodging feels more natural than the previous game.  As before, you can use the right analog stick to roll out of harm's way, which you'll need to do to avoid getting stabbed from behind.  From there, you can counter and land a fatal strike using a circle-timing system similar to the original Lords of Shadow.  If you mis-time the hit, however, the enemy will knock you off and force you to repeat the process. 

There are platforming segments in the game similar to the original, where Gabriel climbs along fences and walls to reach another area.  In fact, the second half of the demo had him jumping between spinning gears as he ascended the large medieval walker.  For good measure, a devastating angel knight made things even more difficult by shooting arrows from a distance; one direct hit will send Gabriel falling.

Thus far, the game features impressive stage design, particularly with the aforementioned walker. Eventually you reach a point where you can attack the walker's key parts, but first you'll need to get past vulnerable screws.  Thankfully, the angelic knight will do the work for you, as you stand over the screws while he fires the arrows.  From there, simply chip away at the creature’s energy source.

We'll have more strategies on how to use this battle system to your advantage, as well as Gabriel's additional vampiric abilities in the months ahead.  On that note, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 will arrive later this year for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.