Legacy of Kain: Defiance

Game Description: Follows the epic drama of three major races, vampire, human and Hylden, fighting to control the world, each pursuing their idea of the true prophecy., The next chapter in the epic Legacy of Kain series is a cutting-edge action or adventure game featuring more action than ever before. Take control of two powerful and highly evolved vampires: Kain, an all-powerful demigod, and Raziel, a demonic angel of death. Each equipped with a legendary sword, Kain and Raziel must battle through a world loaded with conflict and intrigue as they attempt to unravel their destinies and defeat the dark forces that seek to condemn their world to eternal damnation.

Legacy of Kain: Defiance – Review

The last time I reviewed a game in the Kain series (2002's Blood Omen 2) I was appalled at how poor an effort it was. This darkly gothic series starring vampires, intrigue, and pathos has never been home to top-level gameplay, instead being driven by its strong voicework, memorable characters, and sheer cool factor. Despite that, it was such a lousy piece of software that I claimed one more game as shoddy as that one would most likely force me to jump ship and abandon the series. After playing through Crystal Dynamics' most recent installment, Legacy of Kain: Defiance, consider me swimming for shore.

The factual breakdown: The game stars two characters: vampire tyrant Kain and spirit wraith Raziel. They are carbon copies of each other functionally, able to dish out rapid sword-slash combos while dodging and jumping around the battlefield. Think "Devil May Cry Lite" and you'll have a clear idea of the breezy, mash-heavy combat featured here. Each character also boasts limited telekinesis powers for tossing enemies into environmental hazards or over cliff edges. Building on the last four games in the series, this installment was billed as an "ending" of sorts, bringing to a head a number of twists and turns, mostly involving time travel and Machiavellian puppeteering.

With a greater emphasis on action and the goal of delivering dramatic goods to the faithful who've stuck with the series through thick and thin, the stage was set to have Legacy of Kain: Defiance assume the role of series savior. However, there are just so many things wrong with this game that I don't even know where to begin. I find it very interesting that the Kain series' gameplay has been practically reinvented with each new installment, yet Crystal Dynamics has yet to hit a real home run with each new attempt feeling rushed and plagued with problems. It's mind-boggling that over the course of the last four games (the original was by Silicon Knights, not Crystal Dynamics) the people in charge have yet to achieve any significant results.

Far and away, Legacy of Kain: Defiance's most heinous offense is the way it shamelessly doles out its own sloppy seconds, thirds, and fourths in place of actually creating tasks and challenges that would be interesting or engaging. The operative concept? Overzealous recycling.

The first ten or so hours (out of roughly twelve) are made up of long strings of locked doors that are accessed by finding every item imaginable that could possibly function as a key—fancy daggers, glowing magic spheres, trick shields, five-foot pieces of brass in the shape of an eagle you name it, it's in here. Throwing any pretense of believable architecture and locksmithery out the window, players will find themselves doing the same basic key-fetch/backtrack routine for hours on end while hacking and slashing the same generic mobs of enemies that come their way.
In the game's worst sequence, when players need to find and talk with an ancient vampire, instead of walking in the front door or creeping in through an upper balcony, what's required is going on a ludicrously long sequence of finding three magical spears to impale three special statues, gaining a new special power for your sword to put out the small fires in a few braziers (never heard of water?), solving one puzzle room where you light lanterns and then another one where you extinguish them, and finally after all that, you go into the vampire's backyard and have a chat with him. After all that nonsense I simply had to laugh, and not in a good way.

Over-reliance on key fetching must be one of the oldest, most stale and creatively bankrupt tricks in the book, but what makes this even more insulting is that besides scavenging these random museum pieces (any of which would be right at home in the Resident Evil universe) the swords of both Kain and Raziel also function as keys—and guess what? You need to find pieces for those, too.

Not limited to the mechanics, the environments are endlessly re-used as well. I was flabbergasted when I realized that Crystal Dynamics had taken one cylindrical temple housing an "elemental forge" (the sword type of key) and very nearly cut and pasted identical versions of it into the game time and time again! In fact, I actually lost count of how many times they re-used it. The colors and locked door layouts were slightly different, but essentially you were revisiting the same area every single time and doing the same things—solving a few moronic puzzles, defeating the same palette-swapped pair of bosses in each location, and then gaining another element for your sword which boiled down to letting you open a different kind of portal. Unbelievably, this same kind of "enhance the sword" scheme was used in three of the last four games as well, but never as repulsively transparently as it was here.

I have a hard time believing that anyone at Crystal Dynamics honestly thought this was compelling gameplay. The visuals are nice, but they don't make up for this insipid structure, and the flashy battle engine is both shallower and more limited than it has been in the earlier games. Truthfully, I couldn't even finish the game by myself because I was so turned off. I actually had to call in my brother to trade off with me after each level, and if not for the brief mental vacations I was able to take thanks to him, I doubt I would have completed the game at all. (And if you're reading this, I owe you a steak dinner, man maybe even two.)

After all that ranting, I'm sure you won't believe that I actually have something positive to say about the game, but I do; the last two hours or so were actually fairly good. Cutting back on the item-fetching, adding some exciting boss battles and finally getting to substantial segments of the plot, anyone who can bear down and endure through the tripe will see secrets revealed and learn the ultimate resolution to the series. Is the payoff worth it? I'd have to say that the plot itself was probably the best anyone could have hoped for given the twists, turns, and meanderings that have accumulated during its convoluted history, but it's debatable whether the final denouement was reward enough for being forced to sit through ten of the most painfully inane, moronically repetitive and wholly unfulfilling hours I've ever had the misfortune to experience.

It's a shame that to enjoy the unique story and memorable characters, players need to put up with some of the most uninspired and pointless gameplay in existence. Who could possibly forget the deep, throaty growl of anti-hero Kain as he cleaves through legions of cowering mortals, or the eerie green glow streaming from Raziel's dead eyes as he glides his way through the netherworld? These characters are without a doubt some of gaming's finest. It's just too bad that they're bigger, better and more well-rounded than the games they inhabit. The game is rated 4 out of 10

Disclaimer: This review is based on the PlayStation 2 version of the game.

Legacy of Kain: Defiance – Second Opinion

I was primarily disappointed with Legacy of Kain: Defiance for reasons that Brad lights upon. For me, the game fatally stumbles where it fails to demonstrate any meaningful improvement over its prequels.

Despite our general agreement about gameplay however, Brad does gloss over what I felt was a notable triumph—the game's compelling gothic landscape.

Lush visuals have been a watermark of the series since Soul Reaver, but Defiance establishes a new pedigree, at least when viewed statically (the animation often stutters in open and populated areas).

At times I found myself genuinely captured in the structure and minute detail of Nosgoth. Archaic, crumbling buildings and unkempt organic growth coalesce in outdoor environments to produce imagery reminiscent of gothic film and literature. On a similar page, indoor areas range from the condensed and cryptic, to the grand and opulent, with the two often placed in immediate contention. For example, the first segment of Kain's adventure occurs within a winding stone fortress. Cramped and shadowy hallways connect illuminated outdoor courtyards along a path that eventually leads to an impressive baroque cathedral. In terms of both scope and architectural diversity, the games graphics develop the world of Nosgoth beyond its previous iterations, granting an alternate glimpse of landmarks and terrain familiar to fans of the series. In fact, Defiance's well-crafted environments mark its only significant offering to the series.

That such visual prowess is obscured by sloppy gameplay is almost tragic.

Prevailingly linear environments offer scant exploration and puzzle sequences, leaving a simplistic combat engine to pick up the slack. As a zealous follower of the series, I found the sudden dearth of compelling puzzles especially, well, puzzling. Why did the developers derail an element that not only worked well in the past, but has become a staple of the series? Given that previous Legacy of Kain games have positioned the environment as adversary rather than set piece, the world depicted in Defiance feels comparatively passive, emphasizing simplistic combat sequences to the exclusion of environmental challenges. Throughout my time with the game, I consistently felt as though it demanded less of me than its prequels had.

A sequel implicitly promises more than its progeny, and in this measure Defiance falls short. I'm with Brad on this one. Rating: 4.5 out of 10.

Disclaimer: This review is based on the PlayStation 2 version of the game.

Legacy of Kain: Defiance – Consumer Guide

According to ESRB, this game contains: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence

Parents will probably do well to choose a different title for young ones. The play is repetitive and simplistic, and the lack of maps and impenetrable storyline will most likely leave kids scratching their heads. There are no sexual situations or any questionable language, but the swordplay can get a little messy at times—and you kill a lot of things in this game.

Fans of the Kain series will undoubtedly play the game, but it's not one of the better entries, in my opinion. The weapon-specific combat system has been dropped (along with the weapons) and there are about thirteen million locked doors taking the place of a real quest. I'd prefer a non-interactive DVD with the cutscenes on it next time, thanks.

Action gamers don't have a lot to sink their teeth into here. Usage of various vampire powers is tightly restricted except for the unimpressive Telekinesis, and the combat system is extremely shallow. You'll have seen basically everything the game offers after an hour of play.

Deaf and Hard of Hearing gamers are completely screwed. There are no significant auditory cues for the gameplay, but the game does not feature one iota of text during the spoken voiceovers. The game is boring enough despite the semi-meaty storyline, I can't imagine how wretched playing it must be without access to it.