Legacy of Kain Soul Reaver 2

Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Eidos

Soul Reaver featured a scale uncommon for games at the time, in fact, much of its plot and contents were removed and later reworked so as to fit a sequel. What would have been too much for Crystal Dynamics to handle for just one release became more manageable when spread out across multiple ones. From a narrative standpoint, this decision helped solidify the series' lore and story, as Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver 2 effectively manages to tie all preceding titles together in one, brilliantly written bow.

Yet, many gameplay elements were scaled back in this Playstation 2 game. What was once a a near-perfect blend of Tomb Raider and Legend of Zelda had now abandoned most its Hyrule roots in favor of a style more befitting our British archaeologist. While still not bound by levels or stages, Soul Reaver 2 is no longer an open-world title as its predecessor was. All paths are linear, with no secrets or hidden locales to explore. Moreover, Raziel no longer has to fight bosses nor does he gain abilities as he did before. Rather, he keeps those learned when fighting his brethren save for Dumah's constrict ability, though that particular skill was never all that useful to begin with. Even the glyph magic is now gone, with no available substitutes to earn or unlock.

For as many step backs as the game took in gameplay, it seems to have take twice as many when it came to story, character interaction and dialogue. There's a reason why Soul Reaver 2 is remembered for its plot and to put it simply; this game provides possibly the best time-traveling storyline ever written. As a newcomer to a different era, Raziel plays the perfect conduit for players, he is as lost in this world as we are, knowing only what we do from Blood Omen.

This vulnerability opens a web of lies, conspiracies and mistrust where neither player nor character know which side to trust. From the titular Kain to the return of the Elder God, Moebius and a few new characters, we are never sure on which side, if any is speaking the truth. Sadly, we are never given the option to decide for Raziel, rather we simply guide him as we platform, face enemies and explore long abandoned temples.

Combat also took a turn for the worse. No longer facing off against vampires, Raziel's foes are either human, spectres or demons all of which can die rather easily with enough strikes, so carrying impaling weapons, while still useful, are no longer a necessity. The Soul Reaver also gains increased prominence as it can now be used at any time regardless of whether or not our anti-hero is in full health. The wraith blade is as its most powerful here, becoming more powerful with use until it instantly kills enemies with just one strike. However, should it become over-aroused it will also start hurting Raziel, needing a cooldown period to recover. Regardless, combat hardly ever poses a threat, not once have I felt the need to properly learn it simplistic combo system as I never had any trouble dispatching even the toughest of foes.

Though Raziel no longer gains any abilities, the same cannot be said for the Soul Reaver. In order to progress, we are often required to explore ancient forges which grant upgrades to the wraith blade. These act as dungeons, all of which carry their own specific theme such as light, fire or air and require players to unlock several puzzles related to their element. Upon clearing a forge you are granted a reaver upgrade though their usefulness is limited. Rather than providing combat or exploration enhancements, they open specific doors or must be used in fixed/scripted points. Employing its power in these spots can create shadow bridges, light darkened areas or create wind torrents to better guide you, however, the fact you cannot use them at will greatly diminishes any sense of reward from acquiring them.

Thankfully, the puzzle design in Soul Reaver 2 is stronger this time around. No longer are we required to slide blocks, having to rely instead on thematic puzzle-solving and jumping. With no boss encounters throughout the experience, this is another point where Soul Reaver 2 feels hollow. In fact, the only reward for progressing is learning more of this carefully crafted tale.

Indeed the plot is without a doubt the main reason to play. All voice actors without exception perform their roles admirably as their characters come to life through their Shakespearean dialog. Not once will you ever question Raziel's motivation for what he does, but at the same time you question everyone else's as you never know who is an ally or if you even possess any. The game makes it clear there is much you're not being told, but it only drops you small bits of information as you progress, motivating players to press on further. While I won't reveal the ending, I will say it ends on both a plot twist and a cliffhanger and an outstanding one at that.

Throughout his quest, Raziel will travel through different time periods of Nosgoth. However, the portion of the world we see is but a fraction of the world size in Blood Omen or even Soul Reaver for that matter. Thankfully, the land is beautifully rendered, ranging from bright, vivid colors to dark, depressing locales and times. Still, one can't help but feel disappointed as to how little we get to see, which is made even worse by the fact that we are constantly re-visiting the same areas in different time-zones. To make matters worse, Soul Reaver 2 is criminally short, taking little more than an afternoon to complete it.

From a narrative standpoint Soul Reaver 2 is one of the best games of its time. A well-crafted dialog, enticing plot and engaging characters serves as the main motives to progress. Sadly, the gameplay itself is a hollow experience, sacrificing many of its predecessor's strongest elements in favor of dull combat, a linear world and no replay incentive.

Trivia: Did you know Soul Reaver 2 was originally going to launch for the Sega Dreamcast as well? Leaked screenshots showed it to be nearly indistinguishable from its Playstation 2 counterpart. Sadly, with that version was cancelled with the announcement of the console's demise

- Well-written plot with Shakespearean dialog
- Some of the best voice-acting output ever put into a videogame
- Possibly the best time travel story ever told
- Stronger puzzle design with no sliding blocks

- Combat has been simplified and is now useless at best and annoying at worst
- No longer an open world, Soul Reaver 2 is now entirely linear
- Unlike its predecessors, there are now no secrets to explore
- Zelda-like elements have been cast-off
- Short

Final Grade: B-

The Playstation 2 packaging ditches the hologram cover of the first one in favor of a more traditional model. I can't say I appreciate the box art as much as I did in the original game. Inside, you'll find the game, manual and an Eidos registration card.

Funnily enough, the back of the box is misleading, stating Raziel can earn new glyphs and physical abilities, something which never made it onto the final release. There's even a screenshot featuring Raziel performing an animation from Soul Reaver which isn't present in Soul Reaver 2 either.

The manual is pretty solid, effectively summarizing the events of Blood Omen and Soul Reaver while detailing the game's intricacies. The text is adorned by screenshots and the occasional artwork though sadly, all images are in black and white. Overall, I quite like this packaging, even without the hologram cover it's still a solid packaging.

Packaging Grade: B

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