Review by: Mike Laidlaw
Published: January 2, 2001
When it first debuted on the PlayStation and the PC, the original Legacy of Kain: Blood Omen was a cult classic. While its top down gameplay had been iterated countless times, and felt vaguely reminiscent of the NES version of Willow, the story had as little in common with that fanciful tale as Kain did with the diminutive Nelwin. Notable for its amazing voice work, Blood Omen eschewed the typical trapping of a fantasy adventure game and started with your character’s violent death and equally painful resurrection at the hands of Mortarius, a powerful Necromancer. Blood Omen proceeded to weave a complex tale of revenge, anger, betrayal and madness that chronicled Kain’s growth from a newly resurrected vampire to the last, and most powerful, of his kind. After a long wait, Blood Omen’s storyline, which left many, many tantalizing loose ends open in gamer’s minds, was succeeded by Soul Reaver, the next in the series. Again a tale of revenge, this second chapter focused on Raziel, Kain’s disgraced lieutenant. Anyone who played through Soul Reaver would be quick to point out the cliff-hanger ending as one of its most frustrating aspects. Now, after a few years of rapt anticipation, our favorite anti-heroes are back to do battle again in Soul Reaver 2.
To say that Soul Reaver 2 picks up exactly where the last chapter left off would be entirely accurate and also a grave disservice to the reader, as not everyone will have had chance to play the first. To provide a bit of history, we must note that Kain managed to seize control of his world, Nosgoth, after the events in Blood Omen, and ruled over clans of vampires, each headed by one of his lieutenants. As the first of these, Raziel held special favor in Kain’s eyes until the subordinate’s vampiric evolution led him to grow wings before Kain. Enraged at being upstood by an underling, Kain destroyed Raziel’s wings and tossed him into a vortex of water, which claimed most of the vampire’s body. His soul, however, lived on in agony until a mysterious creature known as the Elder God rescued Raziel and granted him a second unlife, this time not as a vampire who feeds on humans, but as a Soul Reaver who feeds on vampires’ souls.
The folks at Crystal Dynamics obviously have no kindness in their heart for game reviewers trying desperately to describe the plot, as they chose to introduce a second Soul Reaver to the mix, this time a sword wielded by Kain in Blood Omen and later used to attack Raziel. As Kain swings the sword, it shatters and fuses with Raziel’s dessicated form, becoming a blade of pure energy that could destroy vampires and mortals alike with ease. One of many abilities Raziel gains throughout his initial quest, the Soul Reaver remains a central plot device in this sequel, as Raziel finds himself traveling through time to encounter the blade’s still-unified incarnation as a mundane sword. This, of course, stems from the ending of Soul Reaver, which left players hanging as Kain leapt through a time portal once controlled by the Time Lord, a recurring and manipulative nemesis from Blood Omen.
Flung into the past and chasing down his master, Raziel’s quest undergoes a subtle shift. No longer just seeking revenge on Kain for destroying Nosgoth and condemning countless humans to unlife, Raziel begins to question his own motivations. At the same time, he begins to question the motivations behind the Elder God’s actions, and his movement back in time quickly introduces him to the Time Lord, who’s nature always leads to further concerns about morality, motivation and, of course, predestination. As far as characters go, Raziel seems the only being who refuses to accept a fatalist point of view, as all the others seem to be merely playing out the parts they have seen through their travels through time. As such, Soul Reaver 2 could be considered as much a quest for the hero’s identity and purpose as it is a quest to redeem his soul.