STAFF REVIEW of Legacy of Kain: Defiance (Xbox)
Sunday, November 30, 2003.
It is obviously the season for high-profile media franchises to tie up all the loose knots and come to a halt. Already the Matrix finale has come and gone, Lord of the Rings is soon to reach its climax and now the long running Legacy of Kain gaming franchise is about to end. The series has been around for longer than a lot of gamers who might actually play this game. The original game, Legacy of Kain: Blood Omen, made its appearance on the PC long ago as an overhead 2d game which introduced us to Kain and his quest to rule the world of Nosgoth. Soon the popularity of the game brought sequels appearing on Playstation, Dreamcast, PS2, Gamecube and Xbox. With the arrival of Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver we were introduced to Kains undead lieutenant Raziel.
If you havent played the Legacy of Kain games, you are missing out on a lot. In a day and age when plots run thin and gameplay rules all, the Legacy of Kain series will surprise you with its in-depth story and intriguing plot twists that will compel you through one game and build your anticipation for the next in the series. In the previous four games you alternated between playing as Kain in one game and as Raziel in the next. As many of us have found out by this point Kain and Raziel are for the most part mortal (well, actually immortal) enemies and for good reason. Raziel was one of Kains best Lieutenants, but when Raziel evolved faster than Kain, Kain became jealous and had Raziel murdered. Raziel was then resurrected by the god of their world to take the role of a devourer of souls. Of course this existence isnt what Raziel wanted; he was more interested in taking his revenge on Kain.
Around this base plot there is interwoven another grander plot involving a race of creatures called the Sarafan, but by explaining them I would be ruining a lot of plot for this game so if you are interested, then go out and play some of the previous Legacy of Kain games. The main focus of this final game though is Kain and Raziel. Finally after numerous installments the battle between the two will come to an end in one of the most epic video game adventures since some past game that was fairly epic.
The gameplay has taken a drastic turn away from the focus of previous Legacy of Kain games. In most of the previous games (excluding the first 2D Kain game) the biggest focus was placed on environmental puzzles. To progress through the levels you had to solve series of puzzles involving crate pushing, switch flipping and other various acts to open doors and allow further progression. Even the bosses were beat not by beating the un-living crap out of them, but rather by finding the secret of how to beat them that usually involved using the surrounding environment and your vampiric powers. Well for this Legacy of Kain game, the developers obviously said to hell! with that idea and instead decided to focus on the fighting system.
In past games there was an emphasis on smart fighting. This involved sneaking around, using stealth kills and employing your powers to defeat enemies without ever having to touch them. LOK: Defiance has taken a slightly different approach which makes it feel less like a Splinter Cell type of game and more like a Streets of Rage filled with vampires. While it is nice to see a change, it is not all for the better. On the plus side, there is now a massive combo system where you could possibly rack up dozens of hits on an enemy without him even touching you. This is cool and all, but what it means is that the fighting is going to get uber-repetitive rather quickly.
They tried to balance the gameplay out by adding sword powers which let you cast devastating spells after charging up a meter. This meter is filled by beating up enemies. The problem is, by the time youve defeated enough enemies to fill it, there are only going to be 1 or 2 in the group making it practically worthless and after you charge your sword it will empty if not used relatively quickly. What this means is that the whole super-cool sword-spell casting system doesnt really matter until the latter levels of the game where enemies are plentiful. Of course a plentiful amount of enemies doesnt mean youll have fun killing them. Defiance really seems to skimp on the total amount of monsters there are available to kill, and after slaughtering your 10,000th Sarafan demon you will quickly grow tired of fighting and opt to run right by them instead.
The bosses can be described much like the enemies. Except for a select few bosses, most of them seem ridiculously similar. Not only that, but all you have to do is usually run towards them and beat them up. As I mentioned a few select bosses hearken back to the olden days of Kain where defeating someone required you to identify their weakness and exploit it. Unfortunately for this game, the weakness you need to exploit is usually not too obvious at all. There were many times I about gave up even trying to defeat a boss until I stumbled across the solution. This is hardly rewarding though, as I didnt think of the solution myself and just happened upon it.
Speaking of not rewarding, did I mention that there is no sense of accomplishment when finishing a lot of game areas? This is because many of the areas are recycled versions of others. By the end of the game you will be so sick of being in the two story vampire cathedral that it wont be funny. This is a really bad flaw for a few reasons: One reason is because it makes progressing through certain areas of the game incredibly dull to the point of not being worth it. The other disadvantage is that certain textures are so overused that you will frequently get lost and have no idea where to go because everything you see looks like everything else. This would have been an easy problem to solve just by adding some more textures as I bet there is plenty of room left on that big ol DVD.
Visually the game looks great for a Legacy of Kain game. If youve played Blood Omen 2 for the Xbox you will know about what to expect. Legacy of Kain games dont look to redefine the realm of graphics, but they put enough work into them to keep the game flowing and add to the atmosphere. You will come across vivid texturing, decent shadowing and some great visual and environmental effects. It is up to Crimson Skies standards? Not even close but it does look better than Blood Omen 2 and wont have you cursing the art team that worked on it.
The one area of the game that was noticeably off was the voice synching during cut scenes. Nowadays the idea of a CG movie in a game is getting to be more and more of a moot point. Game systems have the power to generate good movies on the fly, so why waste the space and money to create some encoded video for a game? Of course, if you are going to do cut scenes in a game with the graphics engine you might want to make sure that their lips match up to the words. Saving money is one thing, but you need to keep the quality up at the same time.
For a game that had a simultaneous release across all three consoles the game looks fine. After a bit of playing you will notice that the Xbox version didnt seem to get any extra loving, but as most people will play this game for the story line it really doesnt matter that much. Of course with some high profile games around the corner such as Deus Ex, let us hope that Eidos isnt going to be making a habit of this and realizes that the Xbox is capable of a little more than they are throwing at it.
Now usually I hate writing about game sound issues because for one it is boring, two it is usually difficult to totally screw up, and three, there isnt a whole lot of writing that can be done about it. Of course Legacy of Kain: Defiance is the first game Ive played in a long while that really shines here. The greatest feature of Defiance is hands down the voice acting. Ive always loved Kain games for this reason, but Defiance goes above and beyond to deliver believable dialogue that actually adheres to the characters personas and dispositions. There was more than one time when I could actually feel how upset a character was just by the way that they spoke. Kudos to the entire voice acting team for a wonderful performance. Oh, and make sure to check out the unlockable voice acting outtakes in the bonus features section!
So all in all it stacks up to be a decent game. For Kain fans out there this game has been a long time in the making and has finally been delivered to us. If you played any previous Legacy of Kain games, then this is one you will have to pick up. For anyone else out there, if you are looking for an action game that is easy to get into and has a compelling plot, this isnt a bad one to try out. Eidos, thank you for finally delivering on this. Though it isnt the greatest game out there, it finally lays to rest my questions about the fate of Kain and Raziel. I can now sleep a content man!
Overall: 7.2 / 10
Gameplay: 6.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 9.2 / 10