Blood Omen 2 - XB - Review
First you liked him, then you hated him. Then you hated him, and now you like him again. Yep, it’s definitely a love-hate relationship when it comes to the vampire lord known as Kain.
Of course the same can be said for the release of Blood Omen 2, a Crystal Dynamics and Eidos Interactive release for the Xbox. There are elements of the game that are quite enjoyable, and some that are either poorly done or are rather distasteful.
This game is rated for Mature players due to blood and gore, and violence.
The Legacy of Kain series began back in 1996 with the PlayStation release of Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain. Of course, Kain was the hero of the title. That title was followed by two Soul Reaver adventures, which continued Kain’s tale, but this time as the antagonist. Raziel, one of Kain’s former lieutenants was the protagonist of those titles. Soul Reaver 2 revealed more about the background of Kain.
Kain’s homeland of Nosgoth was protected by an oligarchy of sorcerers known as the Circle of Nine. Dark forces infiltrated the circle and the Balance Guardian was murdered. Kain, the son of a nobleman, was selected as the replacement. His was a destiny of power and righteousness, but he was ignorant of this. On a journey through the lands of Nosgoth, brigands killed Kain. But he did not die. He was resurrected by a dark sorcerer and he made a deal to return to the mortal realm. Kain soon discovered that the deal he had made was a dark one, and he was returned to the world as a vampire.
The tale of Blood Omen 2 takes place 200 years after the original Blood Omen, but several centuries before the battles with Raziel. Kain’s last thoughts were of a battle, and of defeat at the hands and sword of a powerful foe. Kain awakes in a bed in the ravaged city of Meridian. Another vampire, Umah, begins to awaken his memories. Kain was the commander of an army of vampires bent on ruling Nosgoth. A group of militant humans, known as the Sarafan, battled them. Finally, after years of warfare, the Sarafan Lord and Kain clashed one-on-one. The Sarafan Lord, emanating power, defeated Kain, took Kain’s famed weapon (the Soul Reaver), and threw Kain off a cliff to his apparent death.
But Kain did not die. An underground vampire resistance force, known as the Cabal, found Kain and kept him alive. Weak, with enemies all around, and stumbling through a world he barely remembers, Kain is the Cabal’s best hope to destroy the Sarafan Lord and destroy the grip the Sarafan have on the lands. Kain is thought to be dead, making him the perfect weapon.
That’s the setup for the game.
Players will get to explore the underbelly of the city, as well as the rooftops and streets. The controls are set up to be easy to use, but sometimes translate into slow response times. You may hit the block key (and the game features two ways to block auto-block everything or manually block each attack), and Kain will stand there rather than move into a defensive stance. You can take unnecessary damage. However, you can counter that with some terrific elements.
Kain is a formidable opponent in melee combat, and as he defeats those skilled in the dark arts, he gains their abilities. That’s when the real fun begins. When Kain gains the dark art of jump, he will be able to leap great distances (necessary to negotiate some terrain elements) and can even use it to attack. Watching him perform a gigantic leap and pile drive an opponent into a wall is great fun. The other dark arts include Mist (Kain blends into the fog and can stealth attack), Fury, Charm, Telekinesis, Berserk and Immolate.
When Kain does kill an opponent, he can suck their blood. This is rather nasty looking. Think of a fountain of blood, and a jetstream of red from the body into Kain’s mouth and you get the idea. And there are gender differences between how bodies react to the process. Males simply twitch in the upper torso. Female bodies are more involved in the process, and whether this was a joke perpetrated by the designers or just a flaw in the game’s design is unclear. But the gyrations are completely inappropriate for any game.
The game also fluttered in places, which may be an indication of stability problems. Clipping also presented its share of woes. A weaponless Kain may kill a guard, but he can’t pick up the weapon because it and the upper third of the guard are in a wall.
The more kills Kain gets, the more he increases his lore and his life. This is important as the foes become tougher.
The environments are very good. While the entire environments are not interactive, each level has a number of areas to explore, and Kain will have to use all the abilities he has to succeed.
Each level has checkpoints. Should Kain die, he will resurrect at a checkpoint. However, any weapons he may have had will be lost. The majority of the animation is well done. The battle sequences are good (don’t try for a higher-ground advantage in a fight, it really doesn’t work) and some of the effects, such as employing the dark arts, are very nice.
The game has a number of cutscenes, which you won’t be able to avoid should you repeat a scene without saving at a checkpoint, but which propel the rich storyline along. While this is a melee-combat game, Kain’s history and the history of Nosgoth continues to unfold in rich tones.
The game’s puzzles are somewhat simplistic, and if you get in the habit of looking up and around, you will see all the elements you need to solve whatever you face.
The sound is driven by Simon Templeman’s vocal portrayal of Kain. It is very well done. And yes, that is René Auberjonois (Odo of Deep Space Nine) you think you hear in amongst the principle voice actors. Some of the effects are well done (the Mist effect is very cool), and while the battle elements skirt the range of average to good, this game is solid.
In some ways, Blood Omen 2 is a simplistic, action-rich game. However, the story of Kain and Nosgoth, and the way the creators of the program unveil it is a drawing power. Kain is brutal, and will laugh evilly when dispatching helpless citizens begging for mercy. He is the embodiment of an antagonist portrayed as the protagonist.
In spite of its flaws, Blood Omen 2 is a game that will sate the appetites of fans of the Legacy of Kain series. Because the game does not rely on a back-history, newcomers to the genre can pick it up and get right into the history of Nosgoth.
It would be easy to compare this to other Legacy games on other platforms, but this is a review of an Xbox-platform game. In that regard, and because it doesn’t have any major competition in its particular niche yet, this game does have drawing power, and sustains interest if animated blood and gore do not bother you.
Those who are easily offended should avoid this game.
The game is beset by simplistic puzzles, rife with cutscenes (which do a good job of advancing the intrigue of the storyline), and plays out over a huge mapboard. However, as Kain passes through checkpoints, the game gets an autosave. Should he fail in what he is doing, he resurrects on the checkpoint. That is where the linear nature of the game comes into play. If forced to repeat a level, you will find things as they were before. Guards are in the same place, puzzles unlock exactly they did before, and little has changed.
This game has some clipping problems, and fluttered at times (rarely, but this is an indication of stability problems). The animation ranged from very good to distasteful. The blood sucking is akin to sucking from a water-jet fountain, but the treatment of body attitudes of the victims, based on gender, wasn’t inappropriate. The environments were huge and very well. Some of the effects were excellent; others were merely average.
The voice acting by Simon Templeman, as Kain, is excellent. Introspective, brooding, arrogant, vindictive all underscore the narrative. The combat sounds range from excellent to average.
There is a trick to defeating each of the bosses, and once you understand that, and exhibit a little patience, you can prevail. The controls aren’t quite as responsive as needed, especially in combat. You may stab and hold a key to have Kain either turn to face his foe or to block, and he doesn’t do it. He just stands there to take the blow. And dodging attacks seems somewhat slower than the speed of the attack. You have to anticipate and move before the actual attack arrives. For example, when battling Faustus (one of the first traitor vampires you will face), if you wait until he glows red and begins his motion toward you (as Kain) to begin to dodge the attack, you will be too late.
The story of Kain is evolving and treating gamers to a wonderful story that spans centuries. While mostly a melee game and linear, the one thing that will keep players involved is how the story unfolds.
There are elements of the game that are inappropriate for younger players. But for mature players who can look past some of the silliness, and graphical flaws, this is an action-packed ride through a fantasy realm where the line has been blurred between good and evil. Blood Omen 2 has a lot of nasty blood spilling, and you will need to set sensitivities and sensibilities aside. Or, as Kain so eloquently states: "Spare me the moral anecdote, direct me to the throat."