Reviewed: February 16, 2004
Released: November 18, 2003
The Legacy of Kain series has the uncanny ability to draw in a huge crowd of blood lusting gamers then leaving them totally hanging with epic cliffhanger endings. They did it with Soul Reaver and once again with Soul Reaver 2, driving the gaming public into a fever pitch. Having written strategy guides for both of those games I was the unlikely recipient of more than two-thousand fan messages asking me what was in store for Raziel after the time paradox ending of his last adventure.
Well, Legacy of Kain: Defiance is here to answer all your questions and probably leave you with a few more before you are done. In a bold move, Crystal Dynamics has brought Kain and Raziel together for the first time, both as playable characters. Previously, Raziel has been the star of his own Soul Reaver games while Kain stayed in his Blood Omen titles, but now you get to bounce back and forth between the characters and enjoy a much more diverse style of gameplay.
In addition to our pair of unlikely heroes, Defiance also features a new combat system that rivals a lot of contemporary action-combat games and certainly exceeds anything previously seen in the series. Youíll control Raziel and Kain as they partake in an epic quest dealing with the ongoing rivalry of Vampires, Humans, and Hylden and their quest for world domination.
The story in Defiance is huge, perhaps as long and complex as the entire saga leading up to this fifth installment in the series. Youíll learn the history of all the races, the Elder God, Moebius, and several of the demonic races than haunt the lands. Most importantly, youíll bring the various conflicting plot lines of Raziel and Kain to their ultimate conclusion. For those who havenít played the previous games, the story is recapped nicely in a two-page section of the manual as well as a timeline featuring key plot elements from the entire epic series.
Razielís adventures have always focused on puzzles while Kain has revolved around fighting, so bringing these two characters together gives us a wonderful hybrid of action-adventure-combat. The game is divided into chapters and each chapter is assigned to either Kain or Raziel. These paths are parallel, each in their own unique time frame and quite diverse in their approach to gameplay.
You start off as Kain, engaging in plenty of combat, sucking the lifeblood from your victims as you navigate the massive levels. Razielís adventure includes plenty of puzzles, mostly environmental ones where you get to use your phase shifting abilities to warp to the spectral realm to cleverly morph the level into something you can navigate.
Both characters share a fondness for combat, using hand-to-hand combat, the Reaver blade, and some exciting new Telekinesis attacks. This new mind-control power is cleverly integrated into the combat system so you can combine it with other types of attacks to juggle your opponents or extend your attacks into lengthy and deadly combos. There is something sinfully delightful about tossing your opponent into a nearby wall and watching him crumple to the ground in a heap. There are plenty of environmental hazards like fire pits, spears, hooks, and such that can be used as targets for your mental attacks.
You can increase your combat and other abilities by locating Talismans for health and Runes to increase your telekinetic powers. There is an underlying RPG element to Defiance where you earn experience for each monster you kill. The more combat you engage in the better you get and the more new moves you can add to your roster. There are five special moves as well as Arcane Tomes that unlock special powers that will give both your characters exciting new potential for fighting the more powerful monsters later in the game.
But we mustnít forget the Reaver, the powerful sword that is able to charge itself into various forms for unique and pleasing combat effects and results. There are nine elemental modes for Razielís blade and Kain has six modes for his version of the Reaver. These not only help you in combat but powering your Reaver with the proper magic will allow you to solve puzzles and unlock doors to new areas. To keep things simple and intuitive, both Raziel and Kain share the same set of commands and similar moves and abilities.
Bouncing back and forth between the two characters is a seamless process, but each character has their own unique rules they must adhere to. For example, while Raziel now has the ability to swim, water is quite deadly to Kain, even the slightest touch.
Defiance is gorgeous with some of the best textures and colored lighting currently on display for the Xbox. There is so much going on in any given scene, with dozens of creatures, particle effects, flames, rippling water, smoke, snow, fog, reflections, and all sorts of magical effects, that the game seems like a tech demo at times. Crystal Dynamics has truly unlocked the power and potential of the Xbox.
The level design is massive and architecturally stunning with gothic streets, towering castles with spires and battlements, gorgeous interiors with arches and columns. These interior sections are decked out with ornate furniture colorful fabric wall hangings and rugs, all rendered with real-time lighting and shadows. When Raziel enters the spectral realm the world does that creepy morph into an aqua color scheme and everything has a blur effect added to give that otherworldly look and feel.
While the camera control is quite good there are times when problems arise, usually during the heat of combat. The camera can often get stuck behind an object or wall and rather than going transparent you simply cannot see what you are doing until you move the camera. The lock-on system for combat helps get past some of this but often you will be fighting enemies off-screen. There were even a few instances where the walls didnít register as solid objects and I locked onto a target in the next room even though I couldnít fight them.
The movies are all rendered using the game-engine. While I dearly loved the CG pre-rendered movies of the previous games I have to admit that these movies are stunning in their own right and blend seamlessly with the gameplay.
The Legacy of Kain series has always been known for its all-star cast of voice actors. Michael Bell, Tony Jay, Simon Templeman, and Richard Doyle are all back to reprise their roles from the previous games. This is great for continuity across the games but the simple fact is that these guys are excellent actors and deliver an award-winning performance.
Sound effects are totally atmospheric with haunting screams and supernatural sounds of magical and conventional combat. There are excellent environmental effects like echoes and 3D surround thanks to the Dolby Digital mix.
The music is just as creepy and atmospheric as the rest of the sound package. Itís very gothic with choral chants and haunting themes that totally enhance the emotional impact of the gameplay. This score is worthy of a feature film.
Defiance is linear by nature. You get to switch between characters but you never get to choose your character and the game unfolds the same way each time you play. Even so, you are in for one supernatural thrill ride that will easily last 20+ hours.
Fans of the previous games are obligated to get this game if for no other reason than to answer all those burning questions that have been building up for the past five years. Defiance will give you the answers you seek and perhaps leave you with a few more questions hinting at yet another installment in this amazing series.
Soul Reaver hooked me and Soul Reaver 2 kept me going despite some questionable gameplay elements. Blood Omen 2 was pretty dismal and I couldnít muster the motivation to even finish that title, but Crystal Dynamics has delivered a truly unique gaming experience with Legacy of Kain: Defiance.
For the first time ever you get to play both Kain and Raziel in the same game and experience their own unique abilities and gaming styles. The story is excellent, the visuals amazing, and when combined with the professional voice work, improved combat, and new telekinetic powers, you wonít find a more captivating or exciting action game on your Xbox.