Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain (PC) Review

By Athanasios 22.11.2021

Review for Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain on PC

The '90s era marked the birth of the dark-themed video game. Doom's satanic, heavy metal-fuelled space invasion; Diablo's gothic, almost pessimistic story of a terrible, awakened evil; Phantasmagoria's ultra-gory, Clive Barker-ish point-and-click adventure; Silent Hill's Stephen-King-meets-Lovecraft land of mystery and terror. The industry was now more than just happy, colourful, child friendly tales of heroism and adventure, evident by the first step into the morally grey world of Nosgoth, with Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain following the titular vampire as he set off to murder his killers, right before becoming a pawn of a grand, and much more sinister scheme.

The story begins with the entrance of a vampire lord entering a fortress of some sort, who seems bent on slaying who ever crosses his path, making sure to drink as much blood in the process of it. Second scene: a knight is punished for failing to protect a bunch of wizards from the monster's attack, his soul torn from his body, and placed inside a set of armour, essentially becoming an eternal servant of the ones who survived. Third scene: a shrine maiden dies at the hand of a mysterious, unseen person, her hands leaving blood on the walls, and, for some reason, leading to the slow corruption of a strange pillar. This all is definitely hard to decipher yet, but it successfully sets the tone for the ensuing adventure; an adventure that marks the death of Kain, and the beginning of his legacy.

Once a nobleman in the land of Nosgoth, the titular protagonist gets brutally murdered in the hands of a few bandits. Tortured in a fiery underworld, with a sword still thrust in his chest, and his heart burning from a desire for vengeance, Kain is approached by a necromancer, who gives him the chance to exact revenge upon the ones who send him to hell. By accepting the offer, however, he becomes a vampire, and soon realises that, apart from the fact that sun and water scorches his skin, and his significant dietary change, he is now much stronger than before, and can even learn a few neat tricks, making him a dangerous, lethal powerhouse. So, before the end of the day, his killers are lying in the floor, most of them stripped of their own blood. Game is over. Thank you for playing…

Screenshot for Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain on PC

Actually, no, the game is far from over. This is just the beginning of Kain's journey into a dying world, with his vampirism being the least of this land's problems. In an attempt to offer a narrative devoid of traditional good-versus-evil tropes, Silicon Knights hit the nail on the head, and created a morally grey (at best) environment, where judging what's good or not wouldn't be so simple for the player. It's a pretty well-thought-out world too, as the developer has done a very good work in regards to the lore and general "mythos" behind Nosgoth, providing a real sense of place and history. Having said that, this is one of those games whose plot and world-building is much easier to appreciate, after playing its sequels, as the actual story here is simple and straightforward.

A core concept in the series are the Pillars of Nosgoth; a set of columns that disappear high into the sky, which represent several aspects of the cosmos, like Conflict, Balance, Death, Time, and so on. Tied to these are a group of corrupt magi that Kain has to kill in order to restore the Pillars to their "clean" state, and in essence heal Nosgoth. Interesting as all that might seem, this basically means that you just need to kill a bunch of folks before the end. For all this talk about lore and whatnot, Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain is really a simple Legend of Zelda action-adventure. One that's much, much darker and violent, but with the gameplay portion sharing some key elements, like a vast world to explore, dungeons full of traps, and "puzzles" that make use of the powers that Kain unlocks on his quest.

Screenshot for Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain on PC

Sadly, while a Zelda-like adventure, it's not one that is as good as a real Zelda game. For starters, this is a somewhat of a linear deal. Players are free to go back and explore past regions to find some the many secret areas where useful items can be found, or follow some small deviations from the main path - but make no mistake, this is mostly about that exactly: the main path. You go from A to B, find a key-ability and use it to move on to C, repeating the process until you reach the very end. Speaking of abilities, although it's exciting to be able to, say, turn into a werewolf in order jump over obstacles, you'll never use your head like you would in a Zelda title. Like with the story, the level design is very straightforward. Really a repetitive, 15+ hour-long array of the same few puzzles and obstacles, and their variations.

After the tenth or so dungeon, you've already grown tired from how this plays. Push lever to open, door or use a spell to activate distant level; turn into a shade to run past danger, or make enemies kill each other; drink blood to regain health… or drink some more just for the sake of it. Battles follow the same basic concept. Apart from lowly humans and beasts, this is mostly about using the right tool for the job. Want to kill swiftly? Use the sword you begun the quest with. Afraid of accidentally killing enemies with an unwanted, extra hack? Use the mace to stun them, and calmly sip your drink. Unfortunately, repetition soon kicks in here as well, especially as combat isn't exactly that fine-polished, since it feels a bit clunky, and the hitboxes are a frustrating mess sometimes, with Kain frequently hitting air.

Screenshot for Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain on PC

The gameplay can be summed up as something that's somewhere between mildly enjoyable, and lacklustre - and even at its best, it leans more towards the tedious side of the scale, rather than the exciting, and addicting one. Even the fact that you are free to kill everything on your path turns out to be mildly entertaining. Yes, Kain can enter a village, and murder everyone. So? Does a feeling of power, excitement, disgust, sadness, or anything like that accompanies this act? Not really. One could argue that this is thematically correct, as Kain now sees humanity as mere cattle, who are there to quench his hunger, but it's a bit sad how he rarely has the chance to interact with another character, and exchange a couple of them words. Then again, Kain is great at speaking with his own, darn, blood-thirsty self.

Kain acts as the narrator. And he likes to talk. A lot. He'll make short comments on characters and locations, in essence providing the bulk of the world-building, but he'll also explain how newly acquired items and abilities work. Surprisingly, this is actually a big part of Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain's charm. His Shakespearean delivery is close to that line that could make it sound silly, but it never truly crosses that line. The writing, combined with the stellar voice-acting make this simple narrative technique work wonders here, transforms this into something more than just a simple action-adventure. Now, if there was a way to make Kain stop shouting "Vae Victis!" with every hack or slash he makes, or laugh like a comic-book bad guy every chance he gets, things would be much better…

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To be perfectly honest, the greatest pleasure here is the dark, foreboding atmosphere, the world-building, and Kain's narration. Other than that, Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain is far from the classic gem its fanbase makes it out to be. It's not polished enough, nor as clever or fun in terms of gameplay, and is also very repetitive, thus this barely manages to be a cult classic at best. It's not even a title that has stood the test of time audio-visually. Whereas it's contemporary, Diablo, or even age-old masterpieces like A Link to the Past still hold up, the sprites here are a pixely mess - not ugly, but certainly far from beautiful. As for the OST, it's nice and fittingly ominous, but you are basically hearing the same two tunes over and over again, and again, and again.

It should also be mentioned that this is practically an abandonware title, with no Steam or GOG versions available. You can either buy a PS1 copy of the game if you find one… plus a PS1 system, or you can search for an equally rare PC copy - but good luck managing to play it on a modern system. For the sake of this article, a fantastic piece of community-made software was used in order to run it on a Win7 environment, which also fixes some of its issues, and improves some of its aspects. Oh, yeah, you also need to note that this runs pretty bad if left unpatched, with lots of framerate drops, and a gazillion of loading screens for pretty much everything, from going from one scene to the next, to simply opening (and then closing) Kain's inventory.

Screenshot for Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain on PC

Cubed3 Rating

6/10
Rated 6 out of 10

Good

'90s PC gaming was full of dark fantasy titles, with many of them being timeless classics. Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain is definitely great when it comes to the dark fantasy aspect, but in terms of gameplay it's mediocre-to-decent. It's strong gothic atmosphere won't be enough for most to keep on playing till the end, and even fans of the series will find it hard to enjoy this first step into the, otherwise fascinating, world of Nosgoth. A collector's only piece of software.

Developer

Silicon Knights

Publisher

Crystal Dynamics

Genre

Real Time RPG

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  6/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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