Legacy of Kain: Defiance (PC) review

The heroes (?) of the story.

The heroes (?) of the story.

Legacy of Kain: Defiance completely ignores the events of Blood Omen 2 and instead picks up just after Soul Reaver 2 via a time paradox.  Raziel has been sent back to the Spectral Realm after being absorbed by the Soul Reaver, while Kain searches for Moebius in the Physical Realm  to track down his former minion.  The two, each on their own, work to learn the truth about the prophecy that seems to regard them and the true history of where they came from.  Only by finding and aiding one another can Kain and Raziel finally fix the time paradoxes and return Nosgoth to its rightful state.

Things can be a bit confusing when first starting Defiance.  It’s not entirely clear where the game is picking up or how Kain and Raziel became separated (and as it never acknowledges the events of Blood Omen 2, I have no clue if they even consider it canon).  After an hour or two, though, it starts to make sense for those who have been with the story from the beginning.  The story treads water for a good while, focusing on those same events–Kain’s refusal to die for the Pillars, Raziel’s casting into the abyss, etc.– that have been talked about since the first Soul Reaver.  I found this a little tiresome at a point, even understanding how important these events are to the world of this series.

The plot, burdened by the inevitable confusion brought on by time travel, can seem a bit confusing at times.  It’s not always entirely clear why Kain or Raziel is doing what he is doing; hell, even they don’t seem have any idea, due to everyone they talk to being so damn cryptic.  Eventually, however, their intentions become clear and events start to move inexorably towards the conclusion.  Surprisingly, Defiance also manages to answer some long-standing questions I had about the series, such as the origins of the vampires and the true nature of the prophecies that have driven Kain through several games.  It didn’t answer all of my questions, but it certainly did more to explain itself than past games in the series.

The Pillars of Nosgoth, which keep the world in balance.

The Pillars of Nosgoth, which keep the world in balance.

I felt that the story, inconsistent as it has been throughout the Reaver games, manages to cohesively wrap things up in the end.  Even better, I think the way it wraps things up is quite smart and feels right in the context of the universe.  I obviously can’t explain why I feel this is the case without divulging massive spoilers about the game, but I really do believe that the way the events play out couldn’t have happened any other way.  The ending even manages to leave things in a satisfying place, with a bittersweet tinge of renewed hope.  It’s clear that there is more about Nosgoth and Kain to tell (which doesn’t get told, obviously, as this is the final game in the series to date), but I was perfectly fine with where things left off; as far as unfinished franchises go, this is easily one of the best resolutions a fan could hope for.

I also feel it is worth mentioning that both the sharp writing and excellent voice acting return.  I really can’t give enough credit to the writing, which brings a weight and gravitas to every cutscene.  The writers have truly crafted their own world with Nosgoth, one that I wish they had more time to explore.  All the key members return to reprise their roles and perform a remarkable job, giving intense and believable performances.  Listening to Kain and Raziel converse with one another is a true joy, one that is sadly brief and infrequent in Defiance; each scene with the two of them left me begging for more.  I would argue that this game features the series’ best work in terms of writing and voice acting; it was a constant treat to experience and had me riveted with every word.

In Defiance, you spend a good deal of time simply traversing the world.  The linear, level-based style from Blood Omen 2 has returned, switching back and forth between Kain and Raziel for each level.  These levels are quite straightforward, with only a few extra areas to poke into for stray collectibles which boost your stats or unlock concept art.  I also found that many of them were quite boring, filled with long, empty corridors of no consequence.  Even worse is that you visit several temples during the game (to unlock new powers for your Soul Reaver), each of which is nearly identical in design, with both Kain and Raziel.  I was extremely tired of the level design by the end of the game, especially after visiting many of the areas multiple times with each character.

This hilarious mechanic also returns from Blood Omen 2.

This hilarious mechanic also returns from Blood Omen 2.

Occasionally, you are tasked with some light platforming, such as navigating across some water by hopping from pillar to pillar.  For the most part, this platforming is simple and quick; certain sections, however, are absolutely frustrating.  In more than one level, you are asked to jump up some ledges via extremely small pillars, pillars that are hard to simply land on.  Your character also has a good bit of momentum on his movement, meaning that a simple nudge can cause you to slide off and start over again.  Certain jumps that require you to grab ledges to pull yourself up are a bit finicky.  I had my character refuse to grab a ledge more than once simply because I wasn’t at quite the right angle.  Thankfully, the platforming is rather uncommon throughout the game; prepare to pull your hair out when it pops up, though.

To make matters even worse, the camera in Defiance is absolutely atrocious.  Since you don’t actually control the camera directly due the game’s fixed camera angles (think God of War), you never know exactly what it will do.  It can point in entirely the wrong direction when you’re trying to navigate some platforms or get clipped into a corner as you’re trying to fight some enemies.  It also has a tendency to hide doors and pathways, making you fumble around looking for the way out of a room.  The worst example of the poor camera that I experienced was when the camera didn’t follow me into another room, instead staying locked to its previous fixed angle.  I had to navigate my invisible character until I found the door back into the previous room in order to get the camera to reset.  I’ve seen worse cameras in games but not by much.

Also noteworthy are the few sequences that are timed, such as activating a series of platforms to traverse.  Each of these is so ridiculously precise that any mistake whatsoever will have you doing them again.  You are given just enough time to do what you are asked and can’t waste a second of it.  These can be pretty damn frustrating, especially if something like the camera or touchy platforming also gets in the way.

Fluidity has finally come to the series' combat.

Fluidity has finally come to the series’ combat.

Combat has again changed to a slightly different system.  A lot of the clunkiness has finally been alleviated as Deception has adopted a style not entirely unlike the God of War series.  It is far from being as fluid as those games, but it is leaps and bounds above any of the other Legacy of Kain games.  You are no longer forced to lock-on to a foe before being able to attack him.  It’s easy to simply point in the direction of an enemy and attack, switching targets with ease.  Dealing with more than one foe is no longer the hassle that it once was.  There’s not really much too it, and it becomes unbearably repetitive by the end of the game, but I found it occasionally enjoyable.

Most of this enjoyment was derived from the telekinesis power that both protagonists have.  You can tap a button to fire a TK blast and knock an enemy flying, or you can hold that button and lift him up before throwing him in any direction (not unlike Psi-Ops, actually).  There are various hazards scattered around (fire, spikes, water) that enemies can be tossed into, but the tactic I enjoyed employing was actually throwing enemies into myself.  By doing so, they bounce off directly in front of you, leaving them open for a juggle combo.  In fact, Defiance has several opportunities for juggling enemies in the air thanks to a dedicated launcher button.  While the combat certainly isn’t as tight and fun as something like Devil May Cry, I couldn’t help but laugh as I juggled an enemy endlessly in the air as their health plummeted to zero.

As you progress through the game, you also unlock various elements for both Kain and Raziel’s Reavers.  These elements manifest in combat through a special attack, dictated by a meter that fills by attacking enemies.  Holding the attack button down with a full meter unleashes the attack attuned to the meter.  Nearly all of these either damage all nearby enemies or impair them in some way.  I didn’t really find these attacks all that effective, with even the weakest enemies able to sustain a couple of them without falling.  I actually preferred to leave my meter fully charged, as this kept the Reaver temporarily imbued with the corresponding element to buff my attacks.

Telekinesis gave me so many Psi-Ops flashbacks.

Telekinesis gave me so many Psi-Ops flashbacks.

Offensively, you don’t really ever have much trouble handling the enemies; your defense is where things start to falter.  There is no block button in the game, but this also applies to your enemies.  Your only option of avoiding damage is to use the dodge function to get out of the way.  Sadly, this dodge is extremely inconsistent, rarely seeming to work at all.  I couldn’t count the number of times I tried to avoid an enemy’s attack and didn’t move at all or still managed to get hit.  This dodge was so poor that I found myself ignoring it entirely, just taking the hits and soldiering onward.  For the most part, it worked out well, but a few of the longer fights got quite dicey as I took hit after hit with little chance of avoiding them.

I also hated how often you are forced into combat–get used to watching a barrier appear over the area’s doors so that you can’t leave until all enemies are defeated.  Some levels use this over and over and over again until I just wanted to shut the damn game off.  The combat doesn’t have enough depth or enjoyment to it to warrant being forced into so many encounters, especially against the frustrating and hard-to-kill late-game enemies.  It eventually became an exercise in patience, the tedium wearing me down until I couldn’t stand it anymore.  At this point, being done with the game, I’d be happy to never touch it again, even with its occasional bout of fun.

Puzzles in Defiance are as simple as ever, rarely stressing your puzzle-solving skills to overcome.  In fact, calling them puzzles seems a bit generous, as they often just have you doing the only available options to progress.  Many of these “puzzles” have to do with manipulating parts of the environment, such as braziers or orbs, to open doors and progress forward.  Your Reaver powers each do something unique that helps you to solve puzzles, such as freezing a waterfall to climb up a wall with the Water Reaver.  While I think using these powers in their unique ways has the potential to be an enjoyable mechanic, the puzzles never demanded enough from my attention to make them feel worth solving.  I never felt smart for solving a puzzle; instead, I just felt hindered on the way to my next story beat.

There’s also quite a bit of backtracking in the various levels as you find a key or emblem you needed for a door earlier on.  Considering how dull the environments tend to be the first time, I really don’t think it was smart for the developers to focus so much backtracking; it either feels like a waste of time or an annoyance as you try to find the correct path back through the similar-looking hallways.

You light, and extinguish, a LOT of braziers in Defiance.

You light, and extinguish, a LOT of braziers in Defiance.

As someone who has just played through this entire series (well, nearly–the original Blood Omen is still on my list), I found it strange that Defiance actually changed some of the established rules from previous games.  Dying in the Physical Realm as Raziel no longer teleports you back to the Spiritual Realm, instead just giving you a game over.  Climbing walls as a spirit, previously impossible due to Raziel’s inability to interact with anything physical, is now not a problem (although you still can’t open doors, for some reason?).  You can even switch to the Physical Realm with full health.  While these are all small changes that don’t really affect anything about the game, I thought they were really weird changes to make nonetheless; why bother at this point?

I again played the PC version and was happy to finally find a stable game.  I only had one crash to desktop in my ten hours with the game, and no other problems materialized whatsoever.  I also think the game looks quite nice for its age and was happy to finally see the inclusion of subtitles as an option.  Once again, I had to use a third-party program to get my controller to work in the manner I wanted.  Trying to use the game’s built-in drivers made my triggers unusable and didn’t let me change the sensitivity of the movement, making it impossible to play without Joy2Key.  Even with this third-party program, I still felt the control was quite twitchy in the movement.  Not knowing how the original played, this may have just been my deadzone settings at work.  Finally, I thought that the sound mix seemed strangely off at times, as if channels were simply missing.  It’s also possible that this was a problem with my rig, but I have no way of knowing for sure.  On the whole, I feel I can recommend this port for anyone interested in giving it a try..

Legacy of Kain: Defiance is the game I’ve felt the most conflicted about in the entire series.  While I love the story’s conclusion and the characters who inhabit it, the gameplay nearly reaches Soul Reaver 1-levels of frustration and annoyance.  As much as the combat has improved, it still becomes unbearable by the end of the game.  Puzzles introduce some neat mechanics that are squandered and poorly used.  I really think the story in this series, particularly the way it ends here,  is something everyone should experience, but I have a hard time suggesting anyone play through the rocky ups-and-downs of the various games.  On the whole, I think Defiance is the strongest game in the series overall, but it still has several weaknesses that any potential player needs to watch out for.

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This entry was posted in Reviews.

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