Legacy Of Kain: Blood Omen 2
Kain, the king of vampires, arrives on Ps2. And it's blood, fun, and evil slowdowns.
I love The Legacy Of Kain series, because it's an ambitious project, and it's filled with passion, skill, love, with an atmosphere worth of a Shakespearean drama. Crystal Dynamics was able to deliver something that remains unique in the history of videogames, even five years and three episodes after the first game of the series.
Soul Reaver 2 was released in a period of the year when other more awaited titles were hitting the shelves. I'm speaking of games like Metal Gear Solid 2, Devil May Cry or Silent Hill 2. That's why many players haven't played it yet. And that's bad, because it's one of those games that anyone with a Ps2 should have, or at least play. The game was a Ps2 exclusive for North America; leaving aside the extraordinary story, the result was, despite some bug, also a technically smooth game, with no loading times (the data was continuously streamed off the disk), and a graphic engine able to recreate the world of Nosgoth in a way I could just dream in the Psx era.
Blood Omen 2 takes place several centuries before the Soul Reaver series and two hundred years after Legacy Of Kain: Blood Omen, the game which started this epic saga. For the ones new to the series, The Legacy Of Kain games narrate the story of two vampires, Kain and Raziel. Kain, once a rich nobleman killed by a band of plunderers, was given the possibility to come back in the earthly world and have his vengeance. He accepted, but he was condemned to roam in eternity as a vampire, a creature whose existence depends on the blood of the innocents. In the first Blood Omen, Kain became one of the most powerful creatures in the world of Nosgoth; in the Soul Reaver series he has become the ruler of Nosgoth thanks to his army of vampires, guided by his lieutenants. One of them was Raziel. Kain condemned him to eternal damnation, because Raziel evolved into a superior form before his own master. But Raziel was able to come back, tortured in mind and body, in seek of his vengeance on Kain. You can find more details on the story of the Legacy Of Kain series in our special feature.
Blood Omen 2 narrates events that happened before Kain gained his power over the land of Nosgoth. Since the events of the first Blood Omen, Kain had become a commander of an army of vampires, with the plan of ruling the land of Nosgoth. An army of humans, the Sarafan, was created expressly to defeat the scourge of vampires. The war ended, and the Sarafan Lord, a mysterious figure leading the Sarafan army, defeated Kain and deprived him of his sword, the Soul Reaver, in a mortal combat. But Kain's body was found and revived by a group of vampire rebels after two hundred years. When the story of Blood Omen 2 begins, Kain has almost no memory of his former self. He awakens in the hostile city of Meridian, capitol of Nosgoth and he has lost his sword and all of his powers, the dark gifts.
At first, Blood Omen 2 seems very similar to Soul Reaver 2 in its conception. In reality, proceeding in the adventure, many differences become more and more evident.
First of all, exploring the city of Meridian is very different from the free roaming 3D experience that Soul Reaver 2 is. In Soul Reaver 2 the various environments are all connected, there is no evident division; the world of Nosgoth can be explored in any direction and Raziel has also the possibility to explore it in two planes, the Material plane and the Spectral plane. In a different way, in Blood Omen 2 Meridian is clearly divided in sections, each corresponding to a chapter in the game. The city has the impressive 3D structure of the environments of Soul Reaver 2, and you'll have to pass through streets as well as jump from one roof to another or explore the sewers of the city. But strangely, you always know what's your next step.Most of the doors in Meridian are mere ornaments; Kain can't enter the houses of sleeping peasants and noblemen during the night. Players have to follow a path that despite the apparent gothic complexity of Meridian remains always very linear. This gives the game an arcade feel, which while not necessarily bad, could disappoint players expecting another Soul Reaver.
Surviving in Meridian may seem difficult for a vampire. A vampire needs to feed on the blood of his victims to survive; without blood, he would die soon. On the left side of the screen, a meter that slowly depletes as time passes indicates how much blood remains in Kain's body. Kain has to continuously kill humans to suck their blood. But don't worry; it's difficult to find a street in Meridian without at least a couple of enemies or a group of innocent peasants. Kill them, and you'll have the blood you need.
Kain seems more powerful than Raziel. He is a two meters tall vampire, with a terrifying strength that can let him kill armoured opponents with his claws. The R1 button is used to lock on an enemy; you have to hold the button for the whole combat, because the attack buttons work only while you are targeting an enemy. In Soul Reaver 2, Raziel was able to attack also without using the lock-on button, and that was useful especially in battles against two or more enemies. Anyhow, Blood Omen 2 is more focused on 1-on-1 fights. In fact, even if you encounter two or three enemies, they will rarely attack you simultaneously. There is no need to say that this makes most of the battles easier, and I think that Crystal dynamics wanted exactly this result. In fact, unlike Soul Reaver, Blood Omen 2 gives the player the sensation of being much more powerful than any soldier, thug, guard, or knight you can encounter. Proceeding in the adventure you actually sense the savage power of Kain increasing, and it's an addictive sensation that makes you want to go on, and find out what comes next.
Anyhow, at first you could have some problem mastering the combats. The Square button is used to attack, while L1 is used to block an enemy's attack. Blocking is fundamental to survive. At the beginning of the game you can select between two types of blocking options. "Assisted" blocking works like the one in Soul Reaver 2: you hold the blocking button and all attacks will be blocked. "Skilled" blocking is more difficult, but also much more fun. In this mode, you have to tap the blocking button to block each attack individually. Certain attacks cannot be blocked; you know when an enemy is performing one of these attacks when a red glow appears around his weapon. In these cases, you can only avoid the attack, and this can be done sidestepping (directional stick + x) or jumping. While the importance given to blocking adds depth to the combat system, on the long run it may get boring, mainly because the A.I. system is very limited. Enemies of the same type always attack in the same pattern; once you've learned their movements, blocking their attacks becomes way too easy. Things changes when it comes to boss battles, which are always challenging and rewarding. There are 5 vampires you have to defeat, five traitors who passed on the side of the Sarafan, and all of them are hard to beat. You always have to figure out a strategy, a way to move and use your dark gifts to defeat them.
Killing enemies and defenceless humans can be done in many ways, and all of them are extremely gory. Actually, there are few other games showing violence like Blood Omen 2 does. There is no pity here. As Kain, you can kill, or better, you have to kill, thugs, knights, demons but also poor innocent women and men. This is exactly the game that parents shouldn't buy for their kids for Christmas, but that adult players will love. The triangle button is used to grab the enemy and pick him up by his throat. At this point, you can do what you prefer. You can throw him, pressing again the triangle button. You can strangle him with your bare hands or if you have a weapon, you can finish him with it. According to the weapon you have, Kain will perform a different move. If you have a heavy sword, he will use its hilt to smash the enemy's head; if you have a smaller sword, he will stick it right into his belly. Once the enemy is dead, you can drain his blood holding down the Triangle button. As I said, all of these things can be done also to poor peasants. The difference is that they'll try to escape, screaming desperately.
Dark Gifts are special powers that Kain can use during the adventure. At first he can use only two of them, Fury and Mist, but killing the five vampires he will encounter during the game, he will absorb their Dark Gifts. Many of them will require a full Dark Gift bar to be used (the bar can be filled only blocking enemies' attacks), while others can be executed in any moment. Dark Gifts are fun to use, and add variety to the game. Fury is simply a stronger attack; Mist makes Kain invisible into the fog and lets him perform a special instant Stealth Kill. Among the other gifts available, Jump and Charm are probably the ones I prefer. Jump can be used to jump great distances, and Charm can charm other characters and take complete control of their actions. For example, if you are closed into a prison, you can charm a peasant and make him open the gate.
Puzzles like this are brilliant, but unfortunately Crystal Dynamics preferred to insert boring, uninspired and senseless block puzzles, not different from the ones of the Tomb Raider series. Also from this point of view, Blood Omen 2 shows its difference from Soul Reaver 2. Soul Reaver 2 offered puzzles that were perfectly inserted into the environments; they had a sense to exist in the world of the game. In Blood Omen 2 block puzzles are scattered here and there; they are never difficult, and they are never amusing to solve.
But overall, the game system of Blood Omen 2 works. It's more an arcade experience than an adventure game like the Soul Reaver games, but the good combat system, the dark gifts, the blood sucking action, the genuine "immorality" of this game, the great atmosphere are all reasons to enjoy Blood Omen 2.
The real problem is something I wasn't really expecting in a Crystal Dynamics's title: continuous slowdowns and a general feeling that you are playing a game that the developers weren't able to complete. The framerate drops drastically below the 20fps in nearly any possible situation during the game, and many players could end hating this game for this reason. Besides, the game is filled with other minor bugs. Three or four times I remained stuck into a gate, and I was forced to resume the saved game. What's worst, these problems are not caused by hardware limitations.