Infinity Blade 2 Hands-On Preview

Making a follow-up to a game as successful as Infinity Blade is a tricky proposition. Gamers want a sequel that stays true to the formula of the original, but with enough new ideas to keep the gameplay fresh. In this respect, Infinity Blade 2 feels just right. It keeps the basics of the original, while expanding the game’s universe in a number of areas. In other words, it’s like a deeper, roomier, more immersive take on one of the best gaming experiences available on iOS.

Infinity Blade 2 starts off with a playable intro that doubles as the game’s tutorial. You’ll face off against a number of increasingly hulking enemies while being reminded of how to bock, dodge, parry, slash, and use magic. Just like in the original, the fighting is based on watching your enemy wind up to attack, and timing your defensive moves accordingly. After successfully avoiding a few attacks, you get an opening to swipe frantically on the screen, which makes your character, Siris, hack away at the enemy.

While the fighting feels just like the original, the enemies and environments are new. The tutorial takes place in a traditional Japanese setting, with lush vegetation and thatched-roof temples in the background. After the tutorial, you’ll move on to a castle that’s a lot bigger than the one in the original. In our first hours with the game, we encountered lanky swordsmen, sturdy giants in masks, and a female who could send pillars of flames out of her sword.

As you can tell from the screenshots, this game looks incredible. It has cinematic camera movements and graphics so detailed that some of the environments almost look photo-realistic. Sure, one reason the game looks so good might be because they saved some graphical power by not letting you move freely through the environment. But if you’ve played the original game, you’ll know that the pre-set paths are a game design choice rather than limitation.

If you’ve played the original, you’ll find a number of new tweaks to the gameplay and inventory system that add a surprising amount of depth to the game. For instance, you’ll discover gems that you can insert in specially-shaped slots in your equipment. Early on you’ll receive a water gem that you can place in your sword to imbue your attacks with a magical boost. Bags of gold are placed throughout the environment much more generously this time around, so you’ll always want to keep your eyes open between fights.

Now some of the fights give you bonus experience points for meeting optional goals, like making it through a battle without blocking or achieving a combo with a particular number of hits. Your choices in equipment have been bulked up as well. If you don’t mind foregoing a shield, some weapons can be dual-wielded for faster attacks. Heavy weapons require you to use two-hands, but they deliver harder hits.

The original Infinity Blade was heavy on atmosphere but light on story. This time around, there’s much more dialog–all of it’s spoken–and so you get a better idea of your character’s motivations. Some of the references went over our head, so if you want to immerse yourself fully in the world of Infinity Blade, you should play the original and read the novella Infinity Blade Awakening, which ties the two games together. But don’t worry: Even if Infinity Blade 2 is your first dip into the series, you’ll still find plenty to enjoy.

Infinity Blade 2 is a universal app that supports iCloud game saves, meaning that you can boot it up on your iPhone or your iPad, and pick up exactly where you left off on your other device. There’s a ton more to say about Infinity Blade 2, but we’ll have to save it for the review. The game will cost $6.99, and will release on December 1.