Review by Ramza_686

Reviewed: 07/05/06

Terrific Story and New Gamplay Elements Make Defiance the Best LOK Game Yet.

The Legacy of Kain series is a strange beast as far as videogames go. It is a series that is driven by its strong storylines, memorable characters and the incredible talent of its voice actors. These elements have been able to bring the series to life and emotionally invest the player in the world of Nosgoth. In contrast to the consistent quality of the aforementioned elements, the gameplay has gone through many changes over the course of the series. The series has evolved from a top- down action/RPG in the vein of the early Legend of Zelda games in the first Blood Omen, to the Tomb Raider-esque 3D adventure games of the Soul Reaver series and to some extent, Blood Omen 2.

However, for the fifth iteration of the Legacy of Kain (LOK) series, the developers have seemingly become tired of the slower, adventure-themed pace of the previous games and adopted a fast, action oriented style of gameplay, bearing some similarities with Ninja Gaiden, both in terms of pacing, combat mechanics and the light RPG elements that develop as you progress through the game. Another important change is that, unlike the previous games, Defiance allows you to control both protagonists, Kain and Raziel. In light of these changes, the question for every fan becomes: "Did you break my beloved series with your newfound love for action?" My answer? An emphatic NO, and as you read on, I'll explain why I think the newest chapter is potentially the best one, if not my favorite of the series.

I'd have to say that one of the driving elements of LOK: Defiance is its gorgeous presentation. Graphically, the game is quite solid and grants the already dynamic characters an extra layer of depth and detail, which I argue aids a great deal in telling the story. One of my favorite elements is the work done with banners, cloaks, and any type of flowing robes. For example, Kain has a type of sash draped over his shoulder, which ripples and sways in a realistic fashion as he moves about. This also works well for Raziel, who relies on his vampiric sash to cover his throat, and instead of having a leather-like rigidity (as it appeared to in previous games), it actually behaves like a cloak. Another notable aspect of the graphical power of Defiance is the ability to grant both Kain and Raziel articulated claws, which really shine in some of the game's cutscenes, such as the additional degree of suspense created when Raziel is shown to tensely cling on to a ledge. Rather than showing his whole hand holding on, he is shown to be holding on with a single claw, significant both to the storytelling and also to the realism of the character, as his hand both looks and functions like one, with independent digits.

I won't go into tremendous detail in regards to the sound, as I can quite assuredly state that it is as impressive and moving as it has always has been. From small details like the clicking of claws on stone and the clanging of swords against various surfaces, to both the power and subtlety of the game's score, Defiance, like its predecessors, does not disappoint with the impressive quality of its sound. Most importantly, the voicework done by Simon Templeton as Kain and Michael Bell as Raziel is, in my opinion, the single greatest aspect of the LOK series, with particular emphasis on Simon Templeton. The sheer power of Templeton as Kain really pulls the player into the world of Nosgoth and, love him or hate him, he provides an unforgettable experience that few games can rival.

At the risk of being incomplete, I won't go into detail regarding the plot. I'll say this: it's engaging, it's presented extremely well, and it's can't miss. In fact, it's so good that I won't talk about it, for fear of spoiling it. Putting it simply, if you loved the story of the previous games, you'll love this one, without question. In fact, because there is little to no opening exposition refreshing the player about past events in the LOK saga, I would go as far as saying that if you either did not enjoy the story of previous LOK games, or have not played the previous games, you'd be better to ignore Defiance until you can grasp more of the story. Besides, playing through the past games certainly isn't a chore, and I'd recommend doing so before launching into Defiance.

Of course, the best graphics, sound, and story in the world won't make up for awful gameplay, and luckily for LOK fans, the gameplay, while distinctly different from previous games, does not disappoint...much. As I previously mentioned, the designers were apparently tired of the slower paced LOK games and decided for the fifth game to speed things up and focus on combat. While this isn't always a good thing (PoP:WW anyone?), I'm in agreement with the designers, namely, that a change was needed, and the faster pace is, I feel, a welcome one. The emphasis on exploration is toned down in Defiance, replaced with some additional combat. I feel it important to note that there still are puzzle elements and the need to explore the environment, but it is admittedly less significant and less difficult in Defiance than it has been previously. The combat system has been retooled to be deeper, granting both heroes experience bars which, as the game progresses, unlocks special combat moves. I should also mention that both heroes have a permanent weapon, the Soul Reaver, that can be upgraded as you go along. Gone are the days of picking up spears, swords and torches, and having them fall apart after repeated use. It is, in a sense, a hearkening back to the original Blood Omen, in which the user is not a scavenger of various mediocre weapons. This is also a welcomed change to the combat system.

As a sidenote, I have to give enormous thanks to the developers for using a save-anywhere system rather than save points. There's nothing I hate more than having to tell somebody: "Hold on, I have to get to a save point", and thankfully, Defiance doesn't require me to say that.

Of course, every game has its flaws, and Defiance is certainly no exception. While the change in focus and mechanics solves some earlier issues, several new ones unfortunately crop up. The primary problem, which should be no surprise to veterans of 3D action games, is the camera. Excluding the first Blood Omen, Defiance's predecessors employed a third person camera that could be rotated to suit the player's situation, which, while not always perfect, allowed the player to firmly control his view of the environment. In Defiance, the camera is fixed, and can only be slid from side to side. This is a double-edged sword, because while this alleviates the need to constantly readjust one's perspective, it also limits the player's ability to adjust the perspective, meaning that if you get stuck behind some enemies or you are behind a wall and the camera doesn't follow you, you're out of luck. Frankly, I don't like the camera in Defiance, and I think the fixed angle causes more problems than it solves. Sure, you can click the right stick to go into first person perspective, but it doesn't help when you're in the middle of combat. While this may be a controversial statement, I think Defiance should have a camera similar to that of Ninja Gaiden, which could be readjusted quickly with a simple button press or finely manipulated with the right stick. While not a gamebreaker by any means, the camera is quite irritating and detracts from the experience.

Another issue I have with Defiance is the game's difficulty, which is pitifully easy. Now, I'm not asking for an incredible challenge with every game I play, but I should have to do more in combat than casually hammer on the X button. That goes for puzzles as well, which are generally uninteresting and predictable fetch quests, getting an artifact or upgrade to overcome an obstruction. Like the camera, this difficulty issue doesn't break the game for me either, mostly because the storyline is so engaging, so in that regard, the difficulty, while irritating, can be forgiven.

The final issue with Defiance seems to be characteristic of all LOK games, and as such, I don't fault Defiance too heavily in this regard. For me, replayability has always been low for LOK games, unless I'm going back after an extended hiatus to enjoy the story all over again. In particular, Defiance's linearity, which is important to the telling of its magnificent story, unfortunately doesn't offer much incentive in terms of going through the game a second time, much less for a third.

Despite issues with camera, difficulty and replayability, Legacy of Kain: Defiance gives LOK fans a memorable chapter in the saga, along with exciting combat and a beautiful environment to tell it in. As I said in the opening of this review, the LOK series has been driven by story, and its fifth chapter excels in this area, making the gameplay issues negligible. While the game is rather intimidating to newcomers because of its richly nuanced plot, Defiance still provides a stellar experience and should be experienced by every Legacy of Kain fan.

My score: 8/10

Rating:   4.0 - Great

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