Vampires have a long, rich history in the world of video games.
From the platforming action of Castlevania to the buxom madness of BloodRayne, we gamers have had our fair share of bloodsuckers. Whether you’re stepping into a vamp’s shoes or slaughtering waves of the toothy freaks instead, they’re ideal fodder for gaming: they can work in any time and place, have well-known weaknesses to exploit, and can possess almost any ability the developers can cook up.
Without doubt, Legacy of Kain is one of the greatest series of vampire games ever made. Rather than simply aping the Dracula myth or going for a modern-day setting, Silicon Knights (and later Crystal Dynamics) created an original mythology for their games, populating a brand-new world with all kinds of creatures of the night. From the PS1’s early years to the latter days of the PS2, the Legacy of Kain series evolved from a top-down hack-and-slash RPG to full 3D action-adventures with gorgeous, immersive worlds.
In an age of reboots and HD remasters, there’s plenty of space for a fresh take on the classic Legacy of Kain games – or a new title altogether. The closest we got to this in recent years was Nosgoth, an online game from Dead Sun, a planned sixth instalment pulled after three years of work. Nosgoth never actually got past its open beta stage, but the disappointment fans voiced over the abandoned Dead Sun showed there’s still interest in the franchise. This was reinforced around a year ago, when a senior designer at Crystal Dynamics said a sixth game in the series may well hit the Xbox One or PlayStation 4. Fingers crossed, fans!
So, we thought it was high time to celebrate the Legacy of Kain series, and highlight its finest moments …
Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain
This 1996 gem introduced gamers to Kain, the morally-ambiguous figure who goes on to become the scourge of humanity. Silicon Knights created the game to appeal to adults, with a strong narrative, an intense atmosphere, and elements of dark-fantasy. They succeeded, as anyone who played the game will know – it’s a pretty unforgettable experience, giving you control of a bloodthirsty, unapologetic vamp.
After nobleman Kain is murdered, he’s swiftly resurrected by Mortanius the Necromancer (a cool name, if ever we heard one), and slowly begins to accept his place as a blood-sucking beast. The complex plot takes Kain across the dark world of Nosgoth, and introduces characters with such epic names as Vorador, Moebius the Time Streamer, and King Ottmar.
Throughout the course of the game, Kain picks up more and more skills, such as the ability to control humans’ minds, transform into a cloud of mist, and even shift shapes to become a wolf or bat. This is the kind of stuff you want from a vampire game, and Blood Omen hits the proverbial nail right on its head.
While the visuals might be a tad dated today, Blood Omen’s still got plenty of impressive qualities, and stands as a fantastic start to a unique series.
Oh, and fans of Breaking Bad might like to know that Anna Gunn, who played Skyler White, lends her voice to Ariel.
Coming in late 1999, around three years after Blood Omen, Soul Reaver is a completely different type of game.
The story starts with the assumption that players chose the ‘bad’ ending at the end of Blood Omen, choosing to have Kain take over Nosgoth as its undead ruler rather than sacrificing himself to wipe vampires out for good. Rather than playing as Kain again, players take charge of Raziel, one of the head vamp’s lieutenants.
After Raziel has the cheek to evolve wings before Kain does, he’s mutilated and killed, before being resurrected by a weird entity named the Elder God. It’s a neat set-up for a game, and puts you in Raziel’s corner straight away.
The most immediate evolution from Blood Omen is the shift to 3D: the graphics are still impressive today, by PS1 standards, and Nosgoth looks beautifully ravaged after more than a millennia of vampire rule.
However, Soul Reaver is more than just another third-person adventure game. The dual-plane structure splits gameplay across two different worlds, allowing Raziel to slip from the material to the spectral realm. In the former, he’s as solid as any other character, but in the latter, he becomes a ghostly wraith instead.
In his spectral form, Raziel can access spaces usually cut off from him, and the entire environment shifts to a darker, more twisted version of itself. It’s a brilliant way to make a game feel unique and otherworldly.
Raziel’s a blast to control, thanks to his agility, ability to glide with the remains of his wings, and his claws. Like Kain before him, Raziel unlocks new abilities during the game, but can actually absorb the souls of his enemies instead of simply drinking their blood.
Soul Reaver is a terrific example of a team trying new things and allowing a series to genuinely evolve, rather than simply regurgitating the same experience again and again.
Soul Reaver 2
With Soul Reaver 2, Crystal Dynamics set out to mix things up a little, with a more cinematic style and fresher puzzles than before. While the game might not have ended up exactly as the team had hoped for, it was still a success with fans, and pushed the overall story in some pretty bizarre directions.
For a start, time travel plays a big part, with Raziel exploring different periods from across Nosgoth’s past; this led to plenty of revelations about Raziel, vampires, and Nosgoth itself. It’s a twisty, turny plot, with paradoxes causing havoc left and right, which may leave some of us scratching our heads. But what about the gameplay?
Well, Raziel can slip between the material and spectral realms again, and he has many of the same abilities, such as climbing walls and gliding.
While Soul Reaver 2 was praised, it didn’t quite live up to some people’s expectations. Still, Raziel eventually came back for one more game …
Blood Omen 2
After two outings with Raziel in the lead, Blood Omen 2 put us back into Kain’s shoes.
Blood Omen 2’s set between the first game and Soul Reaver, but follows on from the time-meddling-shenanigans of Soul Reaver 2. Kain is just as much fun to control as he was first time around, with plenty of vampiric powers and that lovably-ruthless persona.
Like Blood Omen, this has a creepy atmosphere, with gothic castles, bloodletting, and human-slaying aplenty.
While Soul Reaver 2 had put greater emphasis on solving puzzles, Blood Omen 2 is focused more on action and adventure. Kain feels incredibly strong and powerful, and as he has access to sinister abilities like transforming into mist again, Kain has that same godly feel that made the original game so much fun.
There’s lots to enjoy in Blood Omen 2, though it doesn’t really innovate or move the series on much, at least at a technical level. Still, Blood Omen 2 nails the feel of being an unstoppable vampire as brilliantly as the original did – there’s nothing quite like swiping at some unsuspecting civilian with your claws before draining their blood!
Legacy of Kain: Defiance
The fifth and, so far, final game in the Legacy of Kain franchise, Defiance mixed elements from the previous four.
Now, players can take the reins as both Kain and Raziel, and the game actually offers fans some resolution after previous cliffhangers. The story sees the two anti-heroes separated after the events of Soul Reaver 2, with both working through their own quests: Kain’s tracking down Moebius the Time Streamer, while Raziel’s campaign is set in Blood Omen’s era. For anyone looking to jump into the series, Defiance is definitely not the best starting point from a plot perspective, but being able to be the two chief characters in one game is a treat for anyone who played the previous four.
The game builds to a gripping end, and gives both characters decent closure. If a sixth game does surface, it’ll be interesting to see where the team takes the story!
Which is your favourite Legacy of Kain game? Let us know!