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The Legacy of Kain Series: Blood Omen 2 (Windows)

74
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3.8
MobyScore
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  Dr. M. "Schadenfreude" Von Katze (590)
Written on  :  Aug 29, 2003
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  3.71 Stars3.71 Stars3.71 Stars3.71 Stars3.71 Stars

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Summary

A minor installment on the Legacy of Kain series, but one hell of a fun game anyway.

The Good

I got this game after a recommendation from some friend, as a 'funny 3rd perspective game'. At first I totally HATED it; specially the control interface, in which you can actually smell its console roots. There was no sidestep! wha—? I NEED sidestep!! I always thought of sidestep as a MUST since WOLFENSTEIN 3D (um, did WOLFENSTEIN 3D actually have a sidestep key?).
I just put the game down for a few weeks and almost forgot about it.
Then one day I decided to give it another shot, before I decided whether or not to uninstall it and definitely forget about it... turns out that I got used to the controls, and they weren't so bad. They still suck for the basic movement, but the combats are managed in a way I thought was original and very user-friendly.
Upon playing it for a few days, it started to grow a lot in me, I ended up LOVING the voice acting (a thing I never paid any particular attention to in other games); eventually there started to appear some characters from previous games, and intriguing references were made to those games... on top of that, Blood Omen 2 had a preview of SOUL REAVER 2, which looked amazing. So, out of wanting to know what was the whole story about, I bought the whole saga. Even the ancient first BLOOD OMEN.
Today, I LOVE the Legacy of Kain series. The storyline has to be one of the better stories I ever read. It's just ENORMOUS, it's full of interesting characters, smart twists, conspirations, deception... It's not only imaginative as few things I know, but it also has such a strong foundation that surpasses a lot of movies and even books.

Blood Omen 2 is set about 400 years after the first BLOOD OMEN, thousands of years before SOUL REAVER.
Blood Omen 2 shows a young vampire Kain (he still looks almost totally human, except for his claws, which anyway are still five and not yet three) who is still fighting his way towards the complete domination of the land of Nosgoth. In the intro sequence we see Kain and his armies taking over Nosgoth town by town, until they stand before the walls of Meridian, the capital city, home of the vampire hunting order of warrior priests known as the Sarafan. Armed with the Soul Reaver, his almighty sword, Kain fights the Sarafan Lord, a strange man with flames coming out of his head. Unexpectedly, Kain is defeated and falls to what seems to be his death.
However, we see him waking up in some sort of hideout, with a vampire female called Uma taking care of him. Kain is told that he slept for about 200 years, and the Sarafan are almost done with their goal of completely wiping vampires off the face of Nosgoth. Uma is part of a small resistance group called the Cabal, which needs the legendary power of Kain in order to be able to fight the Sarafan.
Weakened after his near-death experience and the long recovering slumber, and without his sword, Kain will have to make a long journey to recover his powers, memories, possessions, and ultimately retake his conquering plans. In the way, he will discover some dark secrets regarding the Sarafan, the mysterious Sarafan Lord, and the reason why he was defeated quite easily 200 years ago.

Blood Omen 2 is a minor installment in the series, I understand it's intended as some sort of side-story and the actual storyline isn't nearly as complex and intriguing as in any of the other games. Nevertheless there ARE some interesting secrets to unravel, and even some events that might clear up a few points of the whole series. In fact, after playing this game I played SOUL REAVER 2 again and, as I suspected, I just understood several small points that got unanswered and some even passed unnoticed my first time through.
Anyway, I definitely believe this one shouldn't be called Blood Omen 2, since such title is very misleading in several aspects. I'll go deeper on that later, but for starters, this game is mainly an action game, from a 3rd person perspective, with very few puzzles to solve and none of the RPG'ing of the first game.

Graphically the game is very good. I found it slightly below SOUL REAVER 2 but that doesn't mean it's bad at all, SOUL REAVER 2 is only too amazing. In Blood Omen 2, character design, textures, and special effects in general are above average and take advantage of the DirectX 8 pretty well.
The game takes place mostly in cities, which are amazingly well designed, working a lot for a grim atmosphere.
As it happened in the first game, Kain also changes clothes a few times (although this time he does it by himself with no option to choice from the player) and all his models look amazing. I specially love the suit he wears in the last level, when I saw it I was like 'alright! now bring that Sarafan Lord! I'm all dressed up for the ocassion!'.
Most of the enemies we'll meet are human, and although there is not much to be done with human models, it has to be said that the clothes and armours are very well designed, in fact I like these more than the Sarafan warriors from SOUL REAVER 2.

When it comes to music, again the game does good but not reaching the level of the awesome SOUL REAVER and SOUL REAVER 2... in fact, I even prefer the music of the first BLOOD OMEN.
On the other hand, the sounds do shine with a very powerful light, once again, specially for the voice acting. Just the fact that we're playing Kain in this game puts it slightly above SOUL REAVER and SOUL REAVER 2 in this dept, because I just love this guy's voice, and we get to hear it all the time.
As I said in other reviews, the voice acting of the Legacy of Kain series count among the best voice acting ever. It's my personal favourite cast of voice actors, no doubt.

As I said, Blood Omen 2 is mostly an action game, and although there are a few puzzles to solve, those are so simple that they can barely be called puzzles. 'Stallers' might suit them better.
The combat interface is a slightly reworked version of the one in SOUL REAVER 2. You have an 'autoaim' button which makes Kain lock on a given enemy, when you move with this button pressed you do it around the enemy (which allows you to perform a quick side-jump to avoid attacks, for example), and of course the button also lets you attack and cover from attacks. The autoaim can lock on an enemy at a fairly big distance, unlike SOUL REAVER 2 where you needed to be pretty close for it to work properly, and while you have the button pressed there's no way you 'miss lock' of the enemy, which often happens in SOUL REAVER 2.
I personaly like the interface —although getting used to it took a little while, since it's not the classic FPS-like interface— and I find it pretty suitable for the fights. Anyway, it's still not as good as the one in ONI, my all-time 3rd-person-action favourite control interface.

The fights are in a 99.99% close-hand, and you can use either your fangs, or weapons like swords, axes, et cetera, which you take from dead enemies or you find laying around.
You also have a set of special vampiric abilities called Dark Gifts, some of which can be applied in combat. You will get to fight a number of bosses, all vampire traitors who are working for the Sarafan Lord now, and after defeating each one you will be rewarded with a new Dark Gift.
The boss fights are pretty original, since they are divided in two or three stages, in each of them the boss will attack in a different way, which will require you to use a different approach, since straight-beating-up is not always the best solution. This is interesting, since it makes the boss fights challenging in a smart way, not just because the guy is so damned tough, as it usually happens in many games.

As a vampire, Kain can of course draw blood from his dead enemies in order to restore his health. Note that I say 'draw' and not 'suck', since (as it happened in BLOOD OMEN he does it through telekinesis, without touching the body of the enemy (what's with that anyway? you're drinking their BLOOD, it's not like this way is more 'antiseptic' or anything).

The Bad

The main drawback of the game comes hand in hand with its very name. As I said, calling this game Blood Omen 2 is VERY misleading, since it's nothing like the first one. The name 'Blood Omen' is a VERY big responsibility to bear, and with all its bright sides, this game just doesn't qualify for such name.

Although the combats are fun, and they are actually more fun than the ones in any of the other games of the series, they are just about all you're going to do. I already called the puzzles 'stallers' because they are practically pre-solved for you and hardly deserve to be called puzzles, the 'pieces' are usually in a range of 10 walking steps and they are so stupidly marked to stand out, that I often felt like playing a game meant for 5-year-old kids... no wait, not even that, in fact I felt like it's meant for plain MORONS. All you do is to move the 'pieces' to the proper location which is the only thing you can do (say, moving a box to a certain place, which is THE ONLY place where you can move it to; or pull a given lever, which is THE ONLY lever in a 100 miles area). The only time you spend in a given puzzles is the actual gameplay time, with no thinking to do at all. In fact, most of the times I found myself solving puzzles in a lever-pulling-spree even before I realized WHAT was I actually doing.
I definitely would have liked a more mature approach, make me DO some actual thinking.

All the best things of the first game have been brutally stripped off: no disguising to fool enemies, no choice of weapons for a reason (other than pure aesthetics), no spells (the Dark Gifts barely can count as spells, and they are just about 7 of them), no side-exploring nor secret areas (which practically takes out any replayability value), no shifting into animals or any other form whatsoever, no weather effects (no rain, no snow, nor anything), no daytime-to-nighttime switching, no replaying of cutscenes, no pre-rendered cutscenes...
The game is better than its predecessor in the way that it's almost 5 years more recent, and the technological gap between them is huge, but from a totally objective point of view, BLOOD OMEN is way better than this sequel.
All of these drawbacks would have been easily worked out just by naming the game to something else, clearly stating that this is a 'minor side-chapter', so people wouldn't expect an actual full-scale sequel.

Moving onto another area, I said that character graphics are very good —which they are— but I feel that the amount of polygons used is pretty low, you still can see some 'too polygonal' forms in some characters.
Also, some (luckily few) characters are badly designed. Uma looks awful from ANY point of view, which is specially bad giving the important part she plays in the game. Not even her clothes look any good.


The ages-old and always helpful trick of the dense fog has been used left and right in order to cover the far clipping plane, thus being able to create big environments at very low performance cost (and the fog fits the grim atmosphere also, which is always good), but at a few points the fog gets pretty annoying and spoils the picture. There's a scene near the ending where Kain stands in front of the huge building in which the main boss is waiting, and it is supposed to be a magnificent view, with a striking music and all, but the fog hides the building so much that you barely can get a glimpse of its silhouette. It's like 'what´s with the ominous music and all the camera action? what am I supposed to be so amazed at?... oh, there it is, it looks like there´s a big building behind all the fog...'.

The use of in-game graphics for cutscenes is —as usual— sort of a mixed bag. Even though the graphics DO look good enough as to make a good cutscene, animation still needs some workaround, and it clearly tells in some scenes that look really awful, specially the ones that involve physical contact between two characters.

Finally, there is a terrible bug in the game which triggers after you've been playing for a while (an hour or so), where the game bounces back to the desktop with no warning or message whatsoever. This is indeed a useful way of telling you 'hey, you played for quite a long time already, don't you think it's enough for today?', but I like to make those kind of decisions myself.

The Bottom Line

Blood Omen 2 is a minor installment in a major series. This is not bad at all, and it hints the possibility of other 'minor side-chapters' appearing in the future (Vorador is shown alive already in the intro cutscene, which raises a question that might ask for a new game to answer it).
As a lover of the series myself I think it would be great to have a new 'small Legacy of Kain' game every now and then while we wait for the next MAJOR chapter.
On the other hand, calling this game Blood Omen 2 might lead people to think this is actually a sequel to BLOOD OMEN, for which I don't think it qualifies.

All in all, the game looks great, the controls are pretty smooth, the voice acting is still the best, and above all the game is FUN, and that's the important thing. While it hasn't got a plot as intriguing and profound as any of the other Legacy of Kain games, this can be forgiven anyway keeping in mind the 'minor installment' thing.

The only thing a future 'minor installment' would NEED is more challenging puzzles. Let's face it, most of the people playing a Legacy of Kain game are grown ups, and anyway kids also deserve a harder challenge than these puzzles.