After being ushered into a tiny dark room in the back of Namco's E3 booth with three other journos and several reps from the publisher (several from Project Soul, specifically), I watched the same initial presentation of Soulcalibur V that you watched on Joystiq back in mid-May (seen above). I once again marveled at Namco's insistence on pushing the game's ridiculous story over its gorgeous new game's engine, not to mention the improvements to Soulcalibur's core mechanics that distinguish the upcoming sequel from its predecessors by focusing on a "more elegant" combat system.
In real-world terms, this means that battles in Soulcalibur V are intended to be faster, more fluid, and heavy on offense. And in my experience, it was just that -- a noticeably early build, sure, but already showing an extra layer of smoothness in motion that felt far less stilted than past titles. One Project Soul team member took up nondescript arcade sticks to demonstrate this new focus against computer opponents, playing as two classic characters (Siegfried and Mitsurugi) and two brand new contenders (Pyrrah and Patroclus).
Each character lept around on the 3D axis that Soulcalibur has long-employed ("8-way running"), though each step the character took felt less distinct than it did in previous entries. Mitsu and Siegfried employed their signature stances, and I was told each was being balanced accordingly with the enormous new roster.
Both new characters did little to distinguish themselves during the demo, and, as you can see in the gameplay video above, each plays a little bit too much like a derivation of Sophitia. It stands to reason that Patroclus will have to differentiate himself, given his position as main character (a la Raphael in SC2), but his fighting style is given impetus by something silly: the story. He's apparently Sophitia's son, as the game is set 17 years after the events of SC4, which explains his similar fighting style. For a series with guest characters ranging from The Legend of Zelda's Link to notorious planet destroyer Darth Vader, I'm quite honestly befuddled by the adherence to a story conceit here.
Getting back to what matters in a Soulcalibur game -- mechanics -- I was told up front that both Critical Finishes and the Soul Gauge systems have been removed. This is an effort to push offensive play to the forefront, it seems, and it reminded me of the the good ol' stripped down fighting days of Soul Blade. As the Namco rep mashed buttons, it became clear that the series' usual frantic action will be once again at the forefront, laced with a heavy dose of franchise nostalgia for good measure.
I'd love to have spent more time with the game for a more thorough idea of the changes Project Soul has implemented, but what I did play was fast, fun, and goofy as ever. I'm looking forward to seeing -- and especially playing -- more before the game's planned 2012 launch.