Legacy of Kain: Blood Omen 2

Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Eidos

To say the Legacy of Kain series had an inconsistent output throughout its iterations would be something of an understatement. Soul Reaver featured a brilliant execution on the aging Playstation, but it spawned a disappointing sequel while Blood Omen failed to deliver on its lofty promises. Yet, this vampiric franchise hadn’t truly hit its low point until Blood Omen 2, a title which seems to miss almost every mark set by its predecessors.

Upon Soul Reaver’s critical and commercial success, Eidos mandated that the franchise be split in two; Blood Omen which would be focused on a younger Kain before his rise to power and Soul Reaver which follows Raziel in his quest for vengeance. Sadly, Crystal Dynamics already had its hands full with the Soul Reaver games and so a different team within the studio was tasked with handling Blood Omen 2. However, in a story that is not at all dissimilar with past entries, Blood Omen 2 wasn’t created from scratch; rather, an existing project was adapted into it.

Many retro gamers may be familiar with a Sega Genesis/ Mega Drive action platformer by the name of Chakan: The Forever Man. What they may not know is that a Dreamcast sequel was in development before being canceled due to the console’s demise. In essence, Blood Omen 2 is what became of this project, taking many locations, characters and concepts, combining them with yet another unreleased title known only as Sirens.

This hodgepodge of ideas and game design had to be retrofitted so as to fit the Kain mythos all while being helmed by a different team. It’s true this story is similar to that of Soul Reaver itself and that it proved to a winning formula, but sadly, this was not the case here. Blood Omen 2 ignores almost every convention set by previous entries holding only the most tenuous of connections to the Legacy of Kain franchise.

Taking place between the events set in Blood Omen and Soul Reaver, we learn there was a period when Kain’s conquest of Nosgoth came to a sudden halt as the self-appointed vampiric monarch died by the hand of a newly formed Seraphan crusade. Thankfully, vampiric allies were able to resurrect a weakened and amnesiac Kain 200 years later during a time where this new force controls the entirety of Nosgoth and vampires have once again been driven to near-extinction.

Plot-wise Blood Omen 2 seems unnecessary, the setting doesn’t add value to the series' arching plot, making it seem like the entire adventure is a mere pit stop instead of a grandiose undertaking. Worse still, as the game progresses, many narrative elements raised contradict events in previous games. Characters who were killed off walk amongst the living once more with no explanation as to why. Important developments which should have affected previous (and future) games are raised only to never be heard from again upon Blood Omen 2’s conclusion.

Even the dialogs were massively scaled back, featuring none of the series’ florid monologues or long, theatrical character interactions. Actors who once shared great chemistry together now seem stiff and wooden though one can hardly blame them, even the best performer would struggle to draw any artistic flare from these conversations. In fact, Blood Omen 2 doesn’t have a story so much as it has people giving you orders.

The tone has changed quite a bit as well; if previous game entries felt as though they were written by someone who held extensive Shakespearean knowledge then Blood Omen 2 seems as though it was created while listening to Evanescene or some other edgy band. This isn’t to say there is no artistic value in this approach, but the tonal shift is staggering and not at all positive. Kain is now (even more) needlessly aggressive, spouting cheesy one-liners and generally acting more like an aggressive teenager rather than a centuries old vampiric nobleman.

Changes were not limited to intangible elements as Blood Omen 2 now braves into a more action focused gameplay. The open words of past entries have now been replaced with linear stages, players are expected to go from point A to point B with little to no exploration ever being encouraged or even rewarded. More often than not, veering off the beaten path results in hitting invisible walls. Instead, Kain is expected to force through enemies and guards, most of which will attack on sight.

Battles have little variation to them, as players are only given a handful of possible moves, including a simple three-hit combo, blocking, side-stepping and throwing. Weapons may also be picked up, but these bring no new moves and generally only add incremental damage. This of course means once you’ve weilded a weapon, you’ve weilded them all, adding to the feeling of repetition.

Some light platforming, puzzle and stealth sections are used to diversify gameplay, but these, much like the combat itself, are often unsatisfying. All of them are under-developed and pose no challenge, often employing the same trick countless times between levels. For example, all stealth sections require players to traverse through limited, foggy areas, stand behind their foes and perform a killing blow. Puzzles often require you to either press levers, push blocks or both. Even the platforming sections are overly simplistic and manageable, with the greatest challenge stemming not from level design, but from Blood Omen 2’s stiff controls.

It wasn’t uncommon for me to try to and jump forward only to see Kain jump straight up with no forward momentum. Other times I had trouble walking where I wanted to, dodging strikes or even picking up weapons.

Every couple of levels Kain must face-off against a boss, whose defeat grants the titular character a new ability similar to what we’ve witnessed in Soul Reaver. These can either be powerful combat moves which must be charged by blocking strikes or puzzle/platforming skills. They were my main motivator to progress through the main campaign though towards the later stages frustration and boredom had become a common mainstay.

Unlike previous games, death is a real threat. Should kain fall into water, a bottomless pit or die from combat, all progress will scale back to the last checkpoint, reviving all foes and resetting any puzzles or plot events. Most of these tasks are already monotonous by themselves, but they become truly egregious in later stages due to particularly aggressive and defensive NPCs.

Upon striking a killing blow onto an opponent, Kain may draw their blood to replenish the player’s health. Feeding accumulates ‘lore’, acting as a make-shift experience bar, when filled, players win a permanent health bonus, though anyone hoping for skills points or the ability to improve existing skills will be sorely disappointed.

Adding insult to injury, Blood Omen 2 is not nearly as technically sound as Soul Reaver 2 despite launching a year later. Graphically, character models have taken a step back from their detailed, expressive selves. In Soul Reaver 2, dialog sequences were lovingly adorned with facial expressions for each line, whereas now, those very same characters are as dull and lifeless as the lines they speak. This Playstation 2 version also suffers from persistent framerate stuttering as the console struggles to stream each level without needing to pause the action in order to load. Oddly enough, even the stages and environments seem smaller and claustrophobic when compared to the large open spaces traversed by Raziel.

As a Legacy of Kain title, Blood Omen 2 is a farcry from its predecessors featuring none of their strengths be they narrative, artistic or gameplay-wise. On its own merits, it's still a below average title, suffering from repetitive combat, an overabundance of bland puzzles and uninspired platforming coupled with a barely coherent plot, needlessly edgy dialog, unlikable main character and framerate issues. At the end of the day, Blood Omen 2 bares few redeeming features.

Trivia: Did you know Blood Omen 2 originally began as a sequel to Chakan: The Forever Man? The finished product also threw in elements from another game called Sirens and added the Legacy of Kain lore onto it

- We finally get to play as young Kain in 3D
- Interesting locations
- Good character design

- Framerate issues
- Repetitive combat, uninteresting platforming, puzzle and level design
- Story, characters and voice acting are a farcry from previous games
- Barely feels like a Legacy of Kain game

Final Grade: D

For all my criticisms of the game, I have to say this is a fine cover. Not only is it eye-catching, it manages to properly convey what Bloog Omen 2 was aiming for. My only criticism here is that Kain is weilding the Soul Reaver, something which won't happen until the last few minutes of this title.

Inside you'll find an Eidos catalog, a manual featuring an alternate cover, the disc and a registration card. It's interesting how Eidos was hoping to entice gamers to register by giving away a pair of VR goggles, I can only hazard a guess as to how akward these must have been if we consider the fact this technology still has a long way to go over a decade later.

I was satisfied with the manual, it held a pleasing design that fit with Blood Omen 2's theme. It accurately summarizes events leading up to the game and manages to give detailed instructions on how to play. Sadly, it contains a few minor spoilers by providing bios for characters who will appear in later stages, but considering how Blood Omen 2's plot was never great to begin with, no great loss here.

The catalog features several titles both published and developed by Eidos including Deus Ex, Time Splitters 2, Soul Reaver 2 and of course, Blood Omen 2. Most games shown here include a quote from the media and I couldn't help but chuckle when Power Magazine stated Blood Omen 2 was a "blockbuster in the making", AH! Hardly.

Overall, I was quite pleased with the packaging, it's a step above of Soul Reaver 2's, if only I could say the same for the game.

Packaging Grade: B+

No comments:

Post a Comment