Legacy of Kain: Blood Omen 2 (PC) review

Kain, the game's antihero. I greatly prefer this character model to the one in the Soul Reaver games.

Kain, the game’s antihero. I greatly prefer this character model to the one in the Soul Reaver games.

Legacy of Kain: Blood Omen places players back into the role of Kain, the vampire bent on conquering the world.  In what seems to be some sort of separate timeline, Kain has not yet attained control of the realm of Nosgoth.  His forces battle the Sarafan, a fanatical group dedicated to wiping out the vampire race forever, led by the mysterious Sarafan Lord.  Somehow, this being manages to best Kain in combat, stealing away the Soul Reaver and nearly killing him.  It takes 200 years for Kain to finally recover, nursed to health by a new vampire resistance.  The Sarafan has taken over in Kain’s absence and nearly wiped out the vampire race.  Kain vows to reclaim his lost powers, kill the Sarafan Lord and obtain his rightful place as ruler of Nosgoth.

For anyone who played Soul Reaver 2, this game’s events may seem out-of-place.  This game seems to take place in an alternate timeline, one that has little-to-no bearing on the rest of the series.  Having finished it, I’m under the assumption that if the events are completely superfluous, but I won’t actually know until I’ve played the next (and final) game in the series.  From my impressions, it feels like this game is completely non-essential in terms of the series’ story.  There is a bit of information about the precursor races of Nosgoth which may be interesting to learn, but the overarching story of the franchise doesn’t really go anywhere.

This isn’t the only problem.  It is immediately clear that Blood Omen 2 was not written by the same team as the previous two games.  Much of the speech lacks the eloquence and poetry that I loved in Soul Reaver 2.  The absence of Raziel is also sorely missed, as the other major players in the plot are dull and uninspired.  Even Kain seems worse off; for much of the game, he lets others walk all over him instead of taking charge as fits his character.  Multiple times, you reach a gate you can’t pass, guarded by a human, who won’t let him pass until he retrieves a passcode.  Instead of breaking the gate down and tearing out the asshole’s throat, Kain simply does as he is told.  It felt entirely out-of-character and made me lose all interest in the other events of the story pretty quickly.

Equal parts badass and hysterical.

Equal parts badass and hysterical.

Blood Omen 2 shares many of the same gameplay elements as Soul Reaver 2, but the game has become even more linear than its predecessor.  Instead of an open-world, you progress through straightforward levels with very little to explore in each.  Checkpoints are scattered throughout each level; dying returns you to the last one you found.  Unfortunately, these checkpoints are quite far apart, especially in the last few levels.  More than once, I died and had to redo about twenty-thirty minutes of progress.  More frequent checkpoints would have been greatly appreciated.

Kain is a vampire, so his strength comes from the blood of his fallen enemies.  He can drain blood from any dead body in a ridiculous stream that flies directly from the prone form to his mouth.  This was never not hilarious to witness.  Drinking blood restores Kain’s health and also fills his Lore meter.  By capping out this meter, you increase the size of your potential health bar and become stronger.  This meter can also be filled by finding special lore boxes scattered around the world.  It behooves you to look out for these boxes and to drain every dead body you come upon, whether you killed it or not.

Every so often, you are tasked with solving a puzzle to open the way forward.  These puzzles are some the simplest puzzles I’ve ever seen in an adventure game, most of them completely mindless.  You can push boxes around (extremely clunkily, mind you) to access new areas or weigh down boxes.  Oftentimes, you are tasked with routing Glyph energy through pipes to power doors or switches.  As you unlock various vampiric powers (super jumps, mind control, telekinesis), they are also worked into the puzzles in various ways.  Until the very last level, which has one or two tricky puzzles, I had no trouble figuring them out immediately.  I’d almost call them hindrances instead of puzzles, just making me run around and do busy work until the way forward was open.

There's also a light stealth element, anywhere there is mist on the ground.

There’s also a light stealth element, anywhere there is mist on the ground.

Combat in Blood Omen 2 is probably the sharpest it’s ever been in the series;  You lock-on to an enemy, block their attacks, and respond with your own.  There are various weapons you can pick up, which do a small (almost worthless, since they break) increase in damage.  As the game progresses, you unlock new combat powers which charge as you block enemy attacks.  Unleashing one of these attacks does a great deal of damage, with the final power (Immolation) outright killing any enemy you use it on.  The combat has a decent rhythm, trading blows back and forth until one of you falls over.  Blocking can also be fun, as there is a “skillful” blocking option (turned on in the options) that forces you time every block perfectly.  I enjoyed keeping this rhythm going, blocking a long string of attacks before retailiating.

Just because the combat is sharp, however, doesn’t mean it is perfect.  The problem with the combat comes from how hard it is to fight enemies without your combat powers.  Later enemies block nearly everything you throw at them; getting a hit in is nearly impossible.  It makes more sense to tediously block their attacks until ready to unleash a power move and use that instead.  Repeat this pattern ad infinitum for the entirety of the game.  As much as I enjoyed the active blocking, I was ready to switch the option back by the end of the game’s twelve hours.  There are a ridiculous amount of enemies and each takes so much time to fight that it eventually becomes an exercise in patience.

Boss fights have returned and resemble the puzzle style of Soul Reaver 2.  None of these fights are just a straightforward tussle with your foe; you are asked to use your powers in creative ways to overcome a particular challenge.  I enjoyed puzzling these fights out, although some of them can feel very trial-and-error until you alight on the right combination.  The one bad thing about these fights is that dying resets you all the way to the beginning, which can be a big pain in some of the later, longer encounters.  Still, I loved seeing these puzzle boss fights return and hope they remain in the final game.

Some early combat with a Sarafan soldier.

Some early combat with a Sarafan soldier.

Many of the problems I’ve been having with this series’ PC ports continued in Blood Omen 2.  This time, my controller did actually work by default.  My options for customization were limited, set up in a way that I didn’t like and couldn’t really change within the game.  I was forced to again use a third-party software in order to get the controls how I wanted them.  This is a small annoyance but one to keep in mind.  I also wanted to note that this game locked up on me no fewer than five times in my twelve hours of play, forcing me to end the process to escape the lock.  Considering how far apart the checkpoints can be, this has the potential to be disastrous.  I recommend saving often and being prepared to redo some content.

Legacy of Kain: Blood Omen 2 was a sad game to play through.  I actually was quite fond of this game back around its release.  It has been one of my better-remembered nostalgic games for many years, but replaying it has highlighted its many rough edges.  As much as I wanted to love it again, I just couldn’t get over the simplistic puzzles and laborious combat.  It didn’t help that the story, which was supposed to continue the cliffhanger of Soul Reaver 2, also seemed to go absolutely nowhere.  This is a hard game to recommend to anyone but those who need to play every game in the Soul Reaver series; everyone else is safe to avoid this dated, clunky mess.

This entry was posted in Reviews.

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