The history of Legacy of Kain
„New game is an illusion.“ (Kain after 8 years of being in retirement)
There is lot of debate, theories, and mysteries regarding this issue which is haunting all the Legacy of Kain fans out there for years since the release of Defiance. The purpose of this article is to summarize all the events which have ultimately led to the cancellation of Dark Prophecy after only three months of work in progress. This article will give a short description and insight into development of each Legacy of Kain title.
To know what exactly happened we have to go back in time, to 1992. In this year, Silicon Knights was founded. The following year, Denis Dyack conceptualized his ideas for a game which relied heavily on a dark, vampiric story. Dyack named his project „Pillars of Nosgoth“ and his co-worker Ken McCulloch wrote the script for the game.
The main concept behind the character of Kain, according to Dyack, was to depict Kain as an anti-hero, someone to whom mature audiences could relate to. The game raises the question of what really is „evil“, as all the characters in the game are not distinguished into typical black and white/good or evil division but are flawed, gray. Silicon Knights stated that the story of Blood Omen was influenced mainly by The Wheel of Time and Necroscope. The Pillars of Nosgoth was sent to Crystal Dynamics and they agreed to publish the game. The primary platform was PlayStation, later port for PC was made. The game was released in 1996 under the name Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain. The reviews in several game magazines praised the compelling storyline, open-world exploration and voice casting. On the other side, the frequent loading screens are the gameˈs biggest issue. To this day, Blood Omen is considered one of the best of the LOK series with its classic 2D rpg style and solid 30+ hours of gameplay with many towns, forests, mountains and dungeons to explore and secrets to discover.
What followed, only a year after Blood Omenˈs release, was a surprising twist. Silicon Knights accused Crystal Dynamics of stealing their concepts of Kain 2, because Crystal Dynamics were working on their own sequel of Blood Omen without Silicon Knightsˈ influence. The law suit was brought up in 1998 but both companies settled this in private. The result was that Crystal Dynamics gained all the rights to Legacy of Kain under the condition that they must regard Silicon Knights as the seriesˈ original creator. SK thus gave up their own sequel to LOK and started developing a new IP, Too Human for Playstation. After becoming a second party exclusive for Nintendo, Too Human for PlayStation was put to stop and company began working on Eternal Darkness for Nintendo 64.„When we were doing Legacy of Kain, we had a lot of research into vampire mythology and a lot of ideas on where we were going. Crystal Dynamics merged in this entirely different game that had nothing to do with the series and then slapped the IP on it, and that's where Soul Reaver came from. That was just a weapon in the game. Even if the developer's good, and I think Crystal Dynamics is not a bad developer, you get this dilution of the content, because the original author is gone.“(Denis Dyack for 1up.com)
Going back to Crystal Dynamics and their game, in 1997, Soul Reaver was Crystal Dynamicsˈ vision of a game based on Blood Omenˈs rich backstory and on the concept of another game, Shifter. Using entirely different technology (modified Gex engine) and swapping the rpg style of gameplay for a third person action-adventure, Soul Reaver became one of the most impressive games of PlayStation era with its detailed graphics and no loading times. Its development process was delayed several times (one of the reasons being SKˈ lawsuit) until its final release in August 1999 with Eidos as its Publisher. The game competed with Tomb Raider 3 on the thriving third-person adventure games market, together with Shadowman, Akuji the Heartless and many others. Selling more than 1,5 million copies since its release, Soul Reaver was a huge success and introduced Legacy of Kain story to new players, who previously have not heard about Blood Omen. To help the sales, Eidos poured 4 million dollars to promote the game in game magazines, television ads and comic books before its release. Together with Blood Omen, Soul Reaver is regarded as the peak of the series as it resembles Blood Omen with its non-linear style of gameplay where the player discovers new areas as he gains new abilities. The game also introduced its own new features – the shifting between two realms of existence in real-time and smooth passing between locations without the need to stop and wait for loading screens. Unlike Blood Omenˈs complex inventory system, Soul Reaver went its own way and the main character can carry only one weapon at a time. Despite the gameˈs length being up to 10 hours (the Dreamcast version claims 40 hours on its cover for some strange reason), the game was cut almost in the middle. Instead of pursuing Kain throughout the desolate Nosgoth as originally planned, Raziel follows him into the past, where the game ends. Overall, Soul Reaver was well-received both by users and game reviewers.
During Soul Reaverˈs development, work on Blood Omen 2 began by another team inside Crystal Dynamics. Soul Reaver 2 was in development right after Soul Reaver, having Crystal Dynamics two LOK games in production at the same time. This was possible mainly due to the sales of Soul Reaver which provided budget big enough to sustain future games. With most of the money going to the development of Soul Reaver 2 and securing the same voice actors, the budget for Blood Omen 2 was much smaller. The game became basically a modified version of a cancelled title called Chakan (a very similar situation to Shifter) with a very different game style from Soul Reaver. Blood Omen 2 has a closer camera, 3D control scheme, linear progression and a new chapter system. The engine which was used for Blood Omen 2 is from Mad Dash Racing (TLW) and not the modified Gex engine, as in the case with Soul Reaver 1&2 and later, Defiance. Blood Omen 2 is considered a black sheep by many (sometimes considered at the level of a fangame) in Legacy of Kain family, because it takes place on an alternate timeline. Together with its overal presentation, poorly designed and repeated character models, the blunt and blocky architecture gives a hint that the game had very low budget in comparison to Soul Reaver 2. It seems that even though BO2 was developed for two years longer than Soul Reaver 2, its team of developers could not produce a game which would be on par with previous titles, possibly due to limited resources from Eidos.
In comparison, Soul Reaver 2 was released ahead of Blood Omen 2 by 6 months. The game was initially developed for PlayStation from which a few screenshots exist, depicting Avernus cathedral area, before switching to PlayStation 2 hardware. Similarly to Soul Reaver, a Dreamcast version of Soul Reaver 2 was developed as well, but was dropped.
Soul Reaver 2 abandoned the concept of acquiring new abilities and open world gameplay system which were the trademark features of both Blood Omen and Soul Reaver. Instead, it focused heavily on the story and linear progression throughout the game. The concept of forging the Reaver with different allignments of energy was re-introduced into Soul Reaver 2 after it got cut from original Soul Reaver. Only four out of seven forge locations made it into the game though. Glyphs were also supposed to return in the form of pillar glyphs with the power to influence the game environment. As with previous games, these features were cut due to time constraints. The game sold pretty well, but did not come close to the huge success of Soul Reaver.
What firstly became known as Soul Reaver 3, was renamed into Defiance and hit the stores in 2003, two years after Soul Reaver 2. The game contains two playable characters first time in the series and a new combat and camera system. Defiance is an action oriented departure from Legacy of Kain series in an attempt to improve the gameplay mechanics. Ironically, the introduction of these all „new features“ which were promoted in several interviews and previews, made the game actually a Devil May Cry clone, however, with less complex fighting system. With almost little or no puzzles in Defiance, which were part of every game, Defiance tried to appeal to a wider consumer market by including more gore and heavy combat, and overall, trying to be „a really cool, intriguing, and, above all, exciting action adventure title with a lot of gameplay.“ as Lemarchand explained for Gamespot. This came at the cost of repetetive locations (especially the Vampire Citadel is one of the worst designed areas in the whole series), overdoing the forges concept (re-forging the Reaver for three games now), music (only one entirely new score, all others are mixes from previous ones), loading screens, too big focus on combat, no puzzles, practically the opposite of all the elements which were defining the series. Just as its Soul Reaver predecessors, Defiance ended prematurely due to lack of time.
The game was received by critics with various scores. Before the release, Henning described this new system in Defiance as following:
"We wanted the camera in LoK: Defiance to support the epic feel of the game, so we developed a scripted, cinematic in-game camera system, which captures the action from the best possible angle and distance as the player moves through the environments. The player no longer needs to manage the game camera in order to navigate the levels, and the game overall has a much more seamless, movie-like feel.“ (Amy Henning on Neoseeker)
This might have looked good on paper but the new camera actually was one of the most criticized elements of the game. While suitable for battles, exploration in Defiance became almost impossible thanks to the camera which was looking the way you did not want or worse, was locked, not to mention the jumping sequences with Raziel were now almost impossible to do (also because the mysterious lack of crouching and thus much difficult to aim his jumps).
"We felt that there were a lot of 'legacy' elements left over from the SR games that no longer applied, and that overall the combat had become a little too tedious and tactical.“ (Amy Henning on Neoseeker)
On the other hand, I found the combat completely satisfying and tactical as a plus in the previous games in contrast to slashing enemies for five minutes and not being able to avoid battles most of the time.
"Rather than having a broad and shallow set of combat mechanics, supporting a variety of mundane weapons, we've focused instead on creating a deep suite of combat moves for Kain and Raziel's primary.“ (Amy Henning on Neoseeker)
Another element of the game which was criticized was that both characters have literally the same moves and are forced to use only one weapon all the time as opposed to the rest of the series where the player could choose any weapon.
Ritual Entertainment, an external collaborator helping Crystal Dynamics with Defiance, was basically in charge of the development and this might explain why the series took a more action oriented direction. If we look up their previously published games, they were making shooters such as SiN and Counter Strike ports. Why did Eidos choose them to co-develop Defiance and work on Dark Prophecy?
Defianceˈs sales were dissapointing for Eidos (the game sold between 500 000 to 1 000 000 copies as seen here). Defiance had hardly any publicity (nowhere near in league with Soul Reaver massive campaign). Eidos tried to make the game more player friendly the result was somewhat confusing for both fans and regular players. Even though the works began on a sequel to Defiance, now entirely in the hands of Ritual Entertainment, the game was canceled by Eidos only after a few months of development. Subsequently, Ritual Entertainment got bought out by MumboJumbo, a casual game publisher. The published screenshots found in portfolios of people who worked on Dark Prophecy uncover that the game was supposed to be in the same style as Defiance. When we return back to Dyack, he commented on this new approach to the series by Crystal Dynamics as follows:
If we summarize this topic, there are many factors which gradually contributed to the premature end of the series. Firstly, when looking at the scores which the games received various magazines and sites, the score was lower with each new game. Legacy of Kain was always regarded as series with great story but weaker gameplay. Crystal Dynamics tried to reinvent the system for Defiance, but it only resulted in the seriesˈ cancellation. Eidos blamed it on the weak sales, but with the decreasing quality and not enough publicity (in comparison to Tomb Raider), the series relied heavily on its fans. Acquiring new ones is a hard task for games which focus heavily on complicated story and immersive storytelling as the consumer market has changed over the years. There is a big demand for shooters and action oriented games, which are easy to play, while games which require more thinking are dying out. It seems that all these things caused that publishing a new game which has certain audience nowhere close to the mass market, was too risky. Will we ever get an official continuation to the series? That remains to be seen, but as Crystal Dynamics are now fully occupied with all those Tomb Raider games which are being released and released (latest one looks pretty decent though), it might be possible for the LOK IP to be bought out by some other company, like Ubisoft. However, it is questionable if Square-Enix would let go of its IP. Kain concludes this article as follows:
„Our futures are predestined - Eidos foretold mine years ago. We each play out the parts sales have written for us. New game is an illusion.“