Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but in the case of Raziel and Kain, that meal will probably come with a seething side order of contempt. The two anti-heroes of the Legacy of Kain and Soul Reaver series have tracked their enemies (and each other) across Nosgoth and even time itself, seeking retribution for the crimes committed against them. But this is much more than a simple vampire story. Eidos has crafted four stories that have dealt with death, betrayal and manipulation on a heightened metaphysical level. Their latest title continues the intellectual and physical bloodletting with Legacy of Kain: Defiance.
Building upon the previous plots in the series, Defiance effectively acts as a culmination of both storylines. Way too convoluted and detailed to go into right now, I’ll simply say that newcomers to the series should probably run out and track down the other titles before jumping into this title, because you’re missing out on film quality storytelling. To distill both the plotline of those games and give you some kind of a set up for Defiance, here’s an incredibly quick summary. Kain, a Nosgothian nobleman who’s murder and subsequent resurrection turned him into a vampire, single-handedly doomed his world to darkness after the acquisition of the Soul Reaver, a mystical sword of immense power.
Choosing to defile his enemies by creating lieutenants from the remains of their greatest heroes, Kain permitted his subordinates to acquire new powers only after he himself had developed these talents. One day, Raziel, one of his more impressive minions, developed wings before Kain, resulting in Raziel’s damnation within the Lake of Lost Souls. Raziel, in turn, makes a deal with an entity known as the Elder God to gain his revenge upon Kain for his unjust murder. Chasing each other throughout time, space and the ever-changing world of Nosgoth, Kain and Raziel each find themselves manipulated and trapped by forces outside of themselves.
Thanks to their supernatural abilities and incredible longevity (vampire vs. spectral soul eater), both Kain and Raziel have amazing powers to eliminate their enemies and navigate each world. Both are mentally skilled, able to project force bolts of mental power from their hands to knock foes backwards. They can also use telekinesis to grab, suspend or throw creatures onto spikes. Both wield two separate versions of the Soul Reaver, which can be used to lethal effect against anyone who closes in for combat and imbued with a number of powers. Not only can these swords be powered up to unleash a strong area attack, but also can be used within a number of damaging combos. Many of these combos (triggered in the game a la Street Fighter II control scheme) will be acquired throughout the game, and these even include a juggling mid-air attack that many fighting game aficionados will recognize. While they can’t regenerate health when damaged, both Kain and Raziel can feed on injured enemies; Kain will draw blood, while Raziel will literally rip the soul from a body. Both fighters are incredibly fast, and can dodge blows easily. This elusiveness can also be used to pass through gated doorways, and, in Raziel’s case, to enter the spiritual realm, which can be used to solve puzzles or circumvent barriers.
Character models for Kain and Raziel are definitely sharper in Defiance than they’ve ever been in a Legacy of Kain or a Soul Reaver title before. Large and detailed, the main characters are beautifully drawn, whether it’s a cutscene or actual gameplay. Similarly, many backgrounds are impressive, with plenty of attention paid to building architecture and environmental scenery, imparting a dark, desolate world. There are plenty of particle effects to be found, primarily in the use of fire and flames, which are very well done. However, for all of the eye-catching images found within Defiance, there are still some issues to be found within the game’s graphics. First of all, the sometimes sudden and illogical camera angles that are chosen to display some of the game action allows for a number of times where you’ll find yourself attacking invisible opponents. There are also quite a few instances of collision detection issues, such as locking onto enemies that aren’t in the same room, running into and through some walls at random times, or taking damage from attacks that don’t physically land on your character.
Fortunately, sound has always been strong within the Kain and Reaver games, and Defiance is no different. All of the voice actors from the previous titles have returned, so hearing Michael Bell and Simon Templeman’s intonations gives anyone a sense of just how awesome these two main character’s are. Unfortunately, while the voice acting is incredibly solid on all fronts, the sound effects are the same as those from previous games, and the music is rather lackluster. As an example, the spectral realm doesn’t really have a soundtrack, just a lot of moaning that quickly gets old.
The gameplay isn’t exempt from significant flaws either, the greatest of which is the non-distinct play for each character. Eidos and Crystal Dynamics had a great opportunity with Defiance to establish a new benchmark within this game by capitalizing on the strengths of Kain and Raziel’s individuality. Unfortunately, as stated earlier, each character winds up playing like a mirror image of each other. Many of the abilities gained or learned in previous games seem to have been lost in favor of basic common denominators. Even worse, the combos and combat system are incredibly basic and lacking in depth, which will result in players running away from most conflicts not because of the danger, but because of boredom. With the exception of feeding on unfortunate souls to keep your energy up, the thrill of unleashing a combo quickly wanes. In fact, some players will be hard pressed to finish the game because of this, with the exception of hardcore fans really wanting to find out what happens at the end. Defiance has an unnerving way of seeming biased to the dedicated fan, with little to no recap of previous games or situations. To this end, players that have come in somewhat late into the series won’t fully understand what’s going on in Defiance, simply because they’ve missed so much up to this point. While it won’t completely ruin the game, it is unfortunate that it isn’t more accessible.
Puzzles, more commonly found within the Soul Reaver series than the Kain series, still abound within Defiance, and are just as annoying here as they were within Raziel’s adventures. Unfortunately, the spirit realm, where a majority of these riddles take place still has its issues of being too large with too few enemies to keep active interest and too many wide open areas with little to no distinctions or information to help players. In fact, this is probably one of Defiance’s other major problems, that of a serious lack of information as to whatever your character is supposed to be doing during a certain level. Considering that there’s no map function, checklist of objectives or reminder list of completed tasks, players will inevitably journey across a level aimlessly without fully knowing what they’re supposed to do until they stumble upon a cutscene. This is just poor planning for a game. What’s more, since some of the levels require simple fetching of objects from point A to B, or switch hitting, there should’ve been clearer information for players.
Defiance is one of those titles that won’t necessarily be for every gamer, and indeed, not even for every Kain or Raziel fan. Similar gameplay for both characters, aimless objectives and technical issues strangle and mar what would otherwise be a solid addition to an excellent series. Despite that, however, the plot is still well done and answers a number of questions that fans have been looking forward to. Unless you’re hanging on pins and needles for the latest from Nosgoth, you may want to give it a rental to see if you’ll like the bloodsucking, soul-rending action.