At a Soulcalibur V event I got to sit down and play a new build with all of the characters Namco Bandai announced so far. Ezio Auditore da Firenze, the guest character from Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed series, was the first fighter I tried.
Ezio keeps his weapons hidden and only draws his blades to attack. He’s a close range character who can change weapons during combos. One of his long range tools is his crossbow, which you can use to shoot enemies from far away. Bolts fly fast, but have limited horizontal range. It’s relatively easy to dodge these with a quickstep motion. I found I could trick other players by shooting low bolts, which would require players to guard while kneeling. Once Ezio gets up close he can chain one move into the next with ease, including finishing with a crossbow bolt. That’s actually what he does for his critical edge. "Full Synchronization" starts with overhead slices and ends with a slow motion crossbow bolt.
Critical Edges changed since Soulcalibur V, they’re more like super attacks from other fighting games. Each player has a Soul Gauge and using a Critical Edge drains one full meter. The Soul Gauge refills when you take and deal damage. Also as a comeback move of sorts, if you lose two matches in a row your character will glow red, charge up, and gain one Soul Gauge meter. Most of the Soul Gauge commands are similar to Street Fighter with rolls and pressing three buttons at the same time. The default controls also assign all three buttons to R2/RT. Ezio’s "Full Synchronization", for example, is QCF –> QCF –> R2. Characters also have a Brave Edge move, which takes up half of a Soul Gauge bar. You can use this mid-combo by pressing all three buttons during select attacks, like Hilde’s "Red Storm" (forward, forward, triangle + R2). Quickstep may be the most important move because you can dodge vertical attacks by double tapping up or down.
After I got the hang of Ezio, I tried Leixia out. She’s Xianghua’s teenage daughter and has a similar dance-like fighting style with circular motions. She doesn’t have all of her mother’s moves, though. The attack where Xianghua alternates with upwards and downwards stabs wasn’t in the build. I found Leixia to be most effective when quickstepping. After dodging an opponent’s vertical strike I could chain a bunch of horizontal attacks. Her Critical Edge, "River of Stars" starts with a flurry of sword strikes and ends with her making a cute pose.
Pyrrah fights pretty much like her mother, Sophitia, right down to her flip kick. She can launch enemies with a sword uppercut and hit enemies rolling on the ground with a quick stab. Patroklos, Pyrrah’s younger brother, has a different fighting style. He’s more aggressive, a bit faster, and I think he has a longer reach too. One amusing move to use was a speedy toe stab, which could cancel attacks from slower characters like Astaroth.
Natsu, Taki’s disciple, is probably the most agile newcomer. Like her master, she can leap over enemies and surprise them. Natsu has some kicking combos, but she’s just as effective with her two short swords. You can do a basic combo with two horizontal slashes and a vertical attack that ends with a thwack on the head. She can also launch enemies in the air with an explosion just like Taki and one of those moves is an unblockable. Once airborne, Natsu can finish them off with an Izuna Drop. Natsu also has a move that can confuse enemies where she flickers above them and on the ground before making a strike. Her Critical Edge, "Great Curse of Arahabaki" shoots vertical shockwaves in two directions. You can combo into this or hit enemies at a distance.
I’m not sure I got a good feel with Z.W.E.I. This new character has a sword with a cross-like handle, but he holds it like a tonfa. Z.W.E.I. also has a werewolf buddy that can pop out if you extend an a combo the werewolf, E.I.N., will deal the finishing blow. E.I.N.’s uppercut is useful as a linker since it lifts an enemy in the air. E.I.N.’s other moves sends players flying backwards out of combo continuing range. "Werewolf Confess," Z.W.E.I.’s Critical Edge calls E.I.N. out who grabs an enemy and slams them to the ground with a pile driver.
On the other hand, I got the hang of Viola. She has two weapons, a Freddy Kruger-like claw and a magic orb (a la Rose). When her orb is "equipped" Viola has a little more range, but in general she’s a very up close fighter. I said "equipped" because Viola can change stances and release the orb. It stays on the battlefield and you can call it back at anytime, usually hitting the enemy in the process. This move can distract an opponent and make them block or sidestep. The orb can hit either middle or low, if you want to play more mind games. The low orb strike tripped players up during matches. You can also use it to hit enemies knocked on the ground after finishing a combo.
"Arcanum Azrael," Viola’s Critical Edge, creates a radius of blue energy that sucks an enemy in. While they’re caught in the attack, Viola is free to strike them with combos. "Arcanum Azrael" launches wherever your orb is. If your orb is far away for your opponent it will completely miss, but I imagine clever players will use this like a trap.
Soulcalibur V comes out for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on January 31. Europe gets the game the same week on February 3.