Status : Game complete, not 100% explored, but well above 90.
My first experience with the Legacy of Kain series took place about a year ago. I already had Blood Omen and both Soul Reaver 1 and 2, but never had the time to give the series a chance until a fateful replaying of Eternal Darkness : Sanity’s Requiem. In the mood to play something else developed by Silicon Knights, I gave Blood Omen a shot despite being put off by the horrendous load times. Somewhere down the line I fell in love as I realized that Blood Omen was essentially a western take on the Zelda formula, with a boatload of secrets, places to explore and overhead camera (Soul Reaver switches to the standard 3D view). Sure the combat was choppy at times, but there was a certain morbid charm to the whole experience. I felt let down when I discovered that only the first Blood Omen was developed by Silicon Knights and never felt the urge to continue the series.
That is until playing Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light with a friend having the Kain and Raziel character models turned on. I was pretty pissed off that I was stuck with Raziel, since he’s the character that corresponds to Lara who I happened to be controlling. Looking back, I’m still pissed I was stuck with Raziel… Here, my story comes full circle as that the puzzles in Guardian of Light were quite fun, and the game itself was developed by Crystal Dynamics, the same company who carried the Legacy of Kain torch post Silicon Knights. I just had to give the game a shot while waiting for my big April releases to start shipping.
To my embarrassment, I must admit consulting a FAQ on four occasions. Three because I was stumped and ready to throw something and once just to get a general idea of where all the optional areas are (I know it’ll be forever before I can return to this game, so once I realized there were multiple areas/mini dungeons that were entirely optional, I was actually motivated to seek them all out), but I did solve the puzzles myself in order to get the glyphs for the most part.
Essentially the game is one big series of puzzles with exploration in between. Combat encounters generally involve 1 – 3 enemies in a room, which if you can manage to hold on to your Soul Reaver long enough (full health required to wield it) ends in a matter of seconds. Even the boss battles count as giant puzzles. Rahab and Dumah particularly stumped me until I gave in (and feel all the stupider now).
It isn’t the puzzles themselves that made the game hard to enjoy, rather, it was the switching of planes often used in platforming puzzles. A single room in the game can represent everything that pissed me off about Soul Reaver. It’s in the Drowned Abbey, a point in the game where landing in water still dissolves your material form and forces you into the spectral plane. The goal itself is simple : find an obscure pillar that has a panel to spawn into the material plane, scale the wall right next to it, hop across some rafters, go through a small corridor, hop across some stone statues sticking out of a wall and land on top of a structure you need to land on before fighting Rahab. If you happen to fall into the water during any of this, it’s a trek back to the obscure pillar to do over. Simply put, the controls are terrible and I had to do it like 10 times because Raziel refused to glide or trying to turn around and face the next rafter, Raziel would run off like a jackass.
Even worse was trying to find out what to do in the fight against Rahab. You have to jump across a circular pattern of pillars, each slightly higher than the last. The final pillar has a material plane point, which leaves you on a tiny pillar trying to quickly find out how to damage the boss before he knocks you all the way back to the bottom. This dungeon proved to be my breaking point in the game, but at least afterward, water is no longer a hazard.
Soul Reaver also does a good job not explaining exactly where you’re supposed to go, instead offering few hints and leaving a huge open world to explore. Because of this, you end up exploring the same areas many times over for paths you couldn’t access or might have missed, some of which lead to entirely optional places to explore like the Human Citadel and Lighthouse.
Artistically, the world of Nosgoth comes in two varieties : The material plane, a world of browns and grays which while visually bland perfectly fits the nature of the game. Obscure paths and points are further obscured when the walls all look the same. The spectral plane is the exact same thing with a green and blue hue and some warped structures that might be required to access certain places (a staple in platforming puzzles). The very last room in the game brings in some nice purples and other colors, but by nature of taking place between few natural and many man-made structures, everything has a nice wood, stone and metal atmosphere. Despite that, the game has a great amount of variety and uses its limited textures well.
What Soul Reaver does especially right is successfully immerse the player into its world. This is done possibly by involving the player with the very architecture of the world : Moving blocks here and there, switching planes so that structures can warp and become accessible, Crystal Dynamics makes you really feel like you’re a part of their world, especially when there’s so many secrets that you begin looking at every wall for a loose block that you might be able to move or something else to interact with that may or may not open a new area.
The music also reflects this larger focus on the ambient, sounding more like hymns and other slow meditative pieces. Even the musical main attraction : Ozar Midrashim and its many variations comes off as sinister/placid. Like the Blood Omen soundtrack, sound effects are used in the music to great effect. Instead of the screams and lightning of Blood Omen, however, Ozar Midrashim uses horse sounds… it’s a lot more awesome than I just made it sound though, seriously. The problem is there’s a variation of this track for everything : The ruins of Raziel’s clan, the main theme, fighting against Kain, it’s everywhere with more or less of a pulse and emphasis on the horse. My favorite of them is here, although in a greatly reduced quality cause of Youtube and perhaps recording medium, but it’s still awesome!
Less attention grabbing tracks do the exact same thing, making the overall soundtrack perfect for the game it represents : absorbing and relaxing. One of my more memorable nights, I just left the game on overnight with this repetitive yet soothing track (again, in better quality) playing.
If you need heavy action and constantly tense battles in your games, this is probably not something you would enjoy, but if you’re a little more like me and don’t mind spending unnecessary amounts of time exploring a room to figure out how to progress, you should feel right at home. Soul Reaver might feel different because of the change in developers, but it’s still a great adventure that leaves me tempted to start up Soul Reaver 2… maybe during the summer when I’m not taking classes.