Tuesday, 12 May 2020

Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver - The Lost Content


FRAGILE HISTORY


"You may have uncovered your past, but you know nothing of it."

The last single player entry from the LOK series has been released over a decade ago and while Square Enix has tried to resurrect the franchise several times during this time, all of its attempts ended up in vain in the end (notably Dark Prophecy by Ritual Entertainment, Dead Sun by Climax, and Nosgoth by Psyonix). We have only discovered recently about many various pitches offered to the company to either reboot or continue the franchise, so long dormant. However, despite their best efforts, all the game pitches have been rejected so far. What will the future hold for us, LOK fans, still clinging to hope that we will see an official release one day? Until that day comes (if it ever does), there is, however, something else, something ancient, something primal.

It is difficult to imagine that it really has been 20 years since the Soul Reaver (SR1) release. For me, that was the game which pulled me into all of this. I had no clue about its predecessor, Blood Omen (BO1), as it apparently wasn't required to understand SR1 and was still developing my English vocabulary at the time. In this regard, SR1 has been an invaluable resource. The reason I mention this is important – SR1 sold the most copies in the series and has been critically acclaimed by the public upon its release. However, me and many other fans knew something was amiss when we discovered that only one of the many promised elemental Reavers was in the game. The swift cliffhanger ending also arrived way too soon, just as we started to become powerful with all the abilities and glyphs collected, only for Kain to suddenly escape our grasp at the end...


A DARK COVENANT


"When I first stole into this chamber, centuries ago, I did not fathom the true power of knowledge."

A US gaming magazine back then discovered several unused files on the game's disc with lots of dialogue never heard during the plot of the game. A dedicated LOK fan, Ben Lincoln, realised this, founded the Lost Worlds, the best resource of LOK cut content to this date, and vowed to uncover SR1's mysteries. Later, he also discovered levels City 10 and 11 in the game's code which were both left unused. As the Chronoplast visions hinted at a different ending altogether, he gathered the available information and was able to demonstrate an alternate turn of events. I was desperate to know more and was visiting internet cafés just to download all this so I could read it at school as didn't own a pc at home back then.

Over the years, vast amounts of footage from the deleted SR1 content has emerged since, especially in the form of screenshots found in the old magazines. Many of these depict different textures, areas, bosses and abilities not present in the final release. I had to find the answers and so I have searched, determined to reveal more. One day, I have stumbled on a footage from an unknown SR1 beta build on YouTube. There was a footage from the May beta circulating around already by that point. The June build was in a more completed state but still included debug menu/walk on air capabilities and it was possible to finish the game from beginning to the end. Yet, none of these builds contained the elusive content which has been cut from the final game. 


By May 1999, the creators have already removed almost all traces of it from the disc. That was the case until the most recent discovery, in late 2019. Not one, but three alpha builds emerged from the depths of the abyss which finally gave us understanding of all the different iterations Soul Reaver had to go through before the final release. This article will further elaborate and analyse these builds as they contain crucial information about Soul Reaver's somewhat troubled development.


DESTINY


Our futures are predestined - Moebius foretold mine a millennium ago.”

The alpha reveal brings us back full circle to what Soul Reaver could have been if its team had enough time to finish the game. The game was subject to a legal challenge and was first scheduled to release in October, 1998 (May Gamepro 1998 and July OPSM 1998) but in August the release date slipped back to December. In the end, Soul Reaver hit the shelves in August, 1999, over half a year behind its original release date. I remember reading reviews of the game at the time, in February 1999, and wondering why has it been delayed, as some of reviewers already had full game at their disposal.

However, the alpha builds from January and February provide an insight that the game was largely incomplete and was still in a very early stage of its development. To this date I am unsure how did the OPSM write their review based on this alpha build alone. The US PSM even provided a full walkthrough written by one of the employees with eight glyphs, all the bosses (including Priestess and Turel) and six Reaver forges to collect. You can imagine the confusion of the players (myself included) when the released version had none of these features and only one elemental Reaver made the cut. Myriads of questions arose after the release to which nobody could find any satisfying answers. Until now.


REVELATIONS


Destiny is a game, is it not? And now, you await my latest move...”

Thus began a search in finding the “holy grail” of the unreleased builds of Soul Reaver by a small group of dedicated LOK fans. I was honoured to be a part of this hunt and was constantly biting my nails every time there was a slight mention or hint of being one step closer to our goal. Many times it looked like we lost the any leads but the discovery of the several previously unseen beta builds was the first success and proved that these efforts were not in vain.

One of the recently revealed betas contained a selection of all the movie rooms, levels which the developers used to enact the visions as seen at the end of the game in the form of cutscenes. We only had a limited scope of visibility thanks to the low quality FMVs present on the disc and this was the very first time we could actually explore what looked like Kain's Mountain Retreat, the Pinnacle of the Silenced Cathedral and an unidentified location where Ariel would willingly sacrifice herself.

While the Pinnacle and Ariel's room where mere made to look like unknown surroundings by reusing older assets (the Smokestack and Raziel's clan territory, respectively), Kain's movie 6 room hinted at something more and every surface was ornately decorated. However, due to the spot lighting in the room only illuminating the Kain symbol on the floor in the middle, it was impossible to see all these murals and hidden details in the background. It prompted several questions – if this was just one room of the Retreat, what did the rest of it looked like? Was this its main gates? Would the final fight with Kain take place here or elsewhere? Ariel was supposed to manifest at some point and aid Raziel in his struggle to defeat Kain. Her spirit was consumed to enhance the Soul Reaver further and Raziel thus gained the Amplified Reaver, capable of even killing the dark god himself. Not many other secrets were divulged at the time of this finding, however, and so the hunt continued.


The search finally was unexpectedly successful just last year. Beyond all hope and against all probability, the alphas that we so much sought after, were in our possession. Tears of joy and excitement were almost hard to contain when the news hit us. The amount of effort and resources required to get this far, however, were almost insurmountable and not without dead end leads and many difficulties. When I took my first step into the Undercity, Smokestack and the Retreat, I finally believed this was all real and not some crazy dream. I finally understood where did those pre-release screenshots come from and discovered amazing architectural room designs for PlayStation standards which ended up all on the cutting floor. It is a huge shame to see the amount of work which got put into this and how much sacrifice was required in order to finish the game on time. These builds will be forever testaments of the great designs the team had planned but had to instead focus on fixing the bugs and issues plaguing the game in its early stages.


THE FATEFUL DILEMMA


Fate promises more twists before this drama unfolds completely.”

It is a huge relief to finally be able to share this knowledge with you and allow you to see these amazing findings. We can now observe how the designs of Soul Reaver evolved over time (link to beta comparison here) and how the layout has been restructured and re-organized to match the new Chronoplast ending, with almost one third of the game removed. As a consequence, parts of the alpha layouts are distinctively different to what we received in the retail version and is more logical. Areas which overlap in the retail do not generally suffer from the same problem (there are some exceptions, though) and less corridors are S shaped, which was a later addition to aid with the slower level and texture loading on PlayStation. 

However, game development is ruthless and these cuts were made in order to be able to ship in August. Thanks to the May, Jun and July beta builds, we are aware that the game only started to work correctly around June/July. May beta has frequent memory issues, constant crashes and texture problems. All of these issues had to be solved and subsequent builds display further progress and stability of the game.


Below you will find an outline of each area and the detailed changes found in the alpha builds. These are also explained in-depth in the Lost Content youtube series and the Alpha Screenshot Comparison article (links will be provided at a later time). The Lost Worlds also have an extensive coverage of this content together with the fabled Mama Robotnik, known for his deep analysis of Soul Reaver and  the Dark Prophecy. The Legacy of Kain Fandom also provided updated articles and screenshots which can be found here. It is time to indulge ourselves in the long lost blood fountain of knowledge.

The Smokestack



The scope of the Lair/Morlock levels is massive and it appears all the levels are accounted for (23rd Jan lacks Turel's audience chamber and the cistern). In 16th February build, these levels are pretty much fully functional and you can activate the updraft in the main chamber of the smokestack which would have led to Kain's retreat. Unfortunately, no cutscene triggers, however, this is more than enough to confirm the way Turelim territory has been constructed. What is also surprising is the entrance to the Turelim territory is in the same place where there is a large door entrance to the Oracle's cave in the final version. The entrance to the territory would have likely required possession and the nearby ledge left of the entrance might have been the key to grant passage. The Smokestack was towering over the snowy valley and it even contained a ledge with a doorway leading to nowhere, possibly an alternate exit.

The central room houses an impressive looking orrery mechanism (aptly named tri-force in its code name – three circles, three pillar symbols, three fans) and features three transparent windows overlooking it. No images of the orrery has ever been witnessed before so you can imagine the shock of finding it. It is fully animated and its circles will rotate once the puzzle has been solved, allowing Raziel to constrict the orrery as well. There are also three closed doors, not counting the doorway Raziel just came into this area, and they would have unlocked as Raziel constricted each dial above the orrery.


Taking the only path upwards, there is Lair 1, the main area of Smokestack with lava floor and giant turbine mechanism with blades in the middle. This area is positioned directly above the room with orrery. Three stationary blades served as bridges for Raziel to jump into the tunnels leading to the additional areas. Turel's chamber was accessed through Lair 4, a tall room, seen in several trailer videos and on the back of the CD case with a single Turelim in the middle of a raised platform. There is a large double door at the top of this room and a longer tunnel leading to the cistern. The cistern has a lever located on an unreachable ledge with a Turelim guarding it where possession skill would have been used.

Once pressed, Raziel could turn the crank and flood the room. This will raise the water level and Raziel can now swim through the pipe and reach Turel's audience chamber, where likely the cutscene describing it would have taken place. Raziel would then be interrupted by Turel as he tried to leave and Raziel would have to lead him to charge large pillars supporting the ceiling. Once all the pillars have been destroyed, water from the cistern would pour in onto the unsuspecting Turel. Raziel would then leave through the large double doors which he could now open with his amplified telekinetic projectile. This corridor would lead back to Lair 11 which connects to Lair 4. The connection to Lair 11 hasn't been finished yet, however, so in these builds it only leads to blank space.

As Raziel progresses towards the last lever, he stumbles upon a suspended platform over water with what appears to be a cracked wall near the ceiling. There are several pupating Turelim on the platform, so Raziel could either sneak past them to avoid being ambushed or alternatively, he could use his amplified TK on the crack and let in rays of sunlight which would scorch the Turelim (Daniel ref here). When all three levers have been activated, doors to the dial rooms would open. After three dials were constricted and then finally the orrery itself as well, the blades of the turbine would start to spin, allowing Raziel to ascend to Kain's Mountain Retreat.

The Undercity


The entrance to the Undercity is, as expected, via City 9 which leads directly to City 10/11. The large water reservoir then has a long pipe leading into Undercity itself which was designed as a large water cistern with water walkways capable of flooding the main chamber when progressing to the higher levels of the room. The Undercity, unlike the Smokestack, has also its own warp gate accessed via Undercity 2. Unfortunately, no symbol is present and it is unclear what it would have been.

The main room is split into two parts – Undercity 1 and Undercity 22. Next to the warp gate on the bottom floor level Raziel found the first flood gate which flooded the main chamber of the Undercity. This allowed him to swim further up and discover another opening, accessed via suspended wooden bridge. This room had a large ornate walls with a cage like structure in the middle. There were also slanted ramps for Raziel to push the block up to the top and then drop it down, freezing it in mid air by shifting to spectral. This has been mentioned in the previews of SR1 a lot but it actually never made it into the final game. Once in the cage, Raziel could push a second block off the ledge and wedge it under the floodgate mechanism and flood the main chamber once again. The last stage of this puzzle involved a tall temple building with "OIFIC" mural and using shift at will at various parts in the room to reveal hidden platforms. Once at the top, Raziel would have to shoot down a block and use it on the floodgate mechanism. This would flood the Undercity in full and allowed Raziel to reach the up most area.



At the top there was a tall tower with a winding staircase leading into the Priestess' temple. The Priestess was supposed to be on the upper level, summoning Melchahim and other vampires to stop Raziel from climbing the wall. In the alpha builds, she only spawns at the bottom. There are several doorways on the base level, which would have opened to release a vampire to attack Raziel. There was an opening which allowed Raziel to escape without going all the way back to the warp gate and would have lead back to the City 9 level through a tower which has been deleted in the beta and later builds. Screenshot explanation of the whole puzzle is found here.

Kain's Mountain Retreat


This highly decorated half-circular corridor (potentially meant to be a full circle just like around the Pillars main throne chamber) is adorned with archways bearing warrior etchings, certainly evoking a grand feel to this final set of levels. The middle part of the corridor leads Raziel into Retreat 2, the antechamber to the main boss room. There are several alcoves with nothing in them which could point to the suits of armour and other relics that Kain has collected over the course of the time (link to Daniel here).

While Retreat 3, the boss room itself, is not textured, there are several magazine shots which display a dark blue/white colour scheme, same as the one seen in the final Chronoplast area in the retail version. There are stained glass windows around its dome and Kain's throne is situated above a staircase. The middle section looks like would have had a lit brazier. It is not clear how the events here would have progressed and which part of the conversation with Kain would have taken place here and if the Chronoplast vision of a courtyard area in the Retreat was connected to these sets of levels in any way. It is possible that the courtyard was added after February, but it is not possible to know without further information.

Silenced Cathedral and the Pinnacle


The Cathedral is the largest area in the game but even then it leaves an impression that there was something more planned for it. Thanks to the deleted dialogue, we knew that Raziel was meant to return here after killing Kain and open all the sounding pipes, effectively exterminating all the vampiric life in Nosgoth. However, this could have played out two ways – according to Daniel Cabuco, there would be no gameplay after Retreat and the ending would have been done in an FMV sequence.

However, the alpha builds also suggest another alternative, a playable option instead – there are many sounding pipes throughout the Cathedral and there is even a giant stone valve which suggest Raziel could control the flow of the air by constricting the valve. These sounding pipes are found at each level of the cathedral and Raziel would have presumably been assaulted by an army of Zephonim trying to stop him. This would have escalated in a visit to Zephon's chamber and Raziel could then unlock the door behind him with his Amplified Reaver and reach the top of the Cathedral where presumably the final pipes would have been opened. Elder God would then congratulate Raziel on exterminating his own kin. Some time later, Raziel would have realised this was a big mistake and travel back in time. It is unclear if Raziel would meet Moebius in the past or perhaps Mortanius and if the events would have been different than the ones we have seen in Soul Reaver 2.


Spirit Glyph


This is perhaps the most facepalm worthy find of all – as it has been under our noses this whole time! We just did not realise what it originally meant to be. The retail version have you travel to the City and drain a flooded passage to get to this vampiric decorated set of two adjacent rooms. Only a health upgrade awaits Raziel here, nestled gently upon the stream of the fountain in the middle of the room, but developers' plans have been completely different. Mrlock 7 and Mrlock 8 were supposed to be in the northern wastes, just pass Hubb 1, connected to Mrlock 1. Remember the corridor with the bonfire and nothing else in there? That is where these rooms connected. Spirit Glyph was hidden inside the altar and required a vampire to sacrifice. Raziel had to lure a Melchahim (potentially by possession) to the middle and thus the Spirit Glyph would be granted.

Order of the Glyphs



The Sunlight Glyph was found first and was the weakest of them all – it only temporarily blinded enemies. Its entrance was in the water filled pool in Train 9 (the fighting training room with a couple of Melchahim). The retail version has just a health upgrade found beyond a gate in the water, but there was actually a tunnel there which places the Lighthouse area slightly more biased towards the Pillars. The second glyph after defeating Zephon would have been likely the Stone glyph, just like in the retail version, according to this guide. Water and Fire would require beating Rahab. Sound, Force and Spirit last would require to have shift at will and Spirit potentially also possession.

The Reaver Forges


There was a much larger role planned for the forges which were eventually cut from the game. Originally, the basic wraithblade did not have a finishing move and Raziel had to rely on dispatching vampires by other means such as staves and torches which he found laying around. However, Raziel slowly discovered these forges across the land and they allowed him to imbue his Soul Reaver with many different elemental powers. 


Once imbued, the blade stayed charged with that element even if Raziel shifted realms, unlike in Soul Reaver 2 and more akin to Defiance. With a few slashes of the blade, the enemies would then burst into flames, shatter or completely disintegrate. Thus it was beneficial for Raziel to seek these enhancements out, even though they were voluntary, as they removed his dependency on the environment around him. The released version has an added charge move and makes the wraithblade capable of killing enemies as long as Raziel did not get hit. This made it possible to finish the game without using any other weapon besides the Soul Reaver and it is a great shame that only the Fire Reaver was spared the cut.

Oracle's cave original placement



This was completely unexpected! When I arrived at Mrlock 2, there was no entry to the Oracle's, no dial to turn. Only the silent horned statues marking the entrance to the Smokestack. The caves still had to be in the north somewhere, however. The Ash Village is mostly unchanged, except a few extra paths. The second outdoors courtyard with three separate doorways was hiding a secret. The right path leads to a Stone forge, the left one is a dead end just like in retail and potentially could have led somewhere else and the middle path is not indoors at all. It leads to a large snowy mountain hill, even with an extra duplicate Stone forge in its left side. At the top, a narrow passage leads Raziel straight into Moebius' museum. This matches a lot better with its placement in BO1 as well and gives Dumah's territory a proper hub purpose.

Original progress throughout the game


Although, we previously had the cut dialogue available, it was not entirely clear on how would it all connect together. Additional voice over lines were added to accommodate the new progress which confused the matters further. Thanks to the alpha versions, it is possible to reconstruct the original path that Raziel was supposed to take while traversing Nosgoth. Raziel would begin his journey in the Underworld, go past the training area next to the Pillars, where a hidden underwater gate would take Raziel to the Sunlight Glyph, which he can access after beating Melchiah.

Then EG would point him to go to the Cathedral, which without the wraithblade sounds quite daunting. The Cathedral would have no Reaver door, only a raised bridge over a moat and a fenced gate requiring phase through gates ability. This huge level has some minor changes and much more detail in forms of extra webbed tunnels and pipes. Zephon's cutscene also reveals hidden door behind his back, which could only open really late in the game (potentially after killing Kain). Raziel would then be directed back to the Pillars, to deal with Kain and obtain the wraithblade. Note that the wraithblade already had the projectile ability and a separate ability would have been acquired possibly in the Sarafan Tomb, just like in the retail version (where Tomb Guardian is located in Boss 2 room). As the dialogue for the Tomb Guardian was just a modified version of Raziel's dialogue with Turel, it is unclear whether Tomb Guardian would be guarding this area and if he would have spoken.


Next stop would be the Drowned abbey which had an alternate exit/entrance in the January build but which got consequently removed in the later builds, never to be seen again. Dumah's territory would be reachable with the ability to swim but this wasn't a dead end like in the released version. The back courtyard with a constrictable object would eventually lead Raziel up a snowy hill to the cave entrance of the Oracle's cave which is more in line of how Kain enters in Blood Omen. The cave would have led Raziel to the Chronoplast which only consists of one longer tunnel and then the Chronoplast itself. There was no warp gate there and no visions at this stage. After the battle, Raziel would gain the Shift at Will ability and be directed by the Elder God to re-enter the Undercity. Raziel would have to completely flood it to reach the tower at the top and get possession from the high Priestess there. Possession would allow Raziel to traverse the Smokestack area, where Turel will stand in Raziel's path. After dispatching him, Raziel would then activate the smokestack turbine and flew to Kain's mountain retreat.

In order to showcase all this content, the Ancient's Den collaborated with the Legacy of Kain Fandom and The Lost Worlds to bring you the brand new LOK Alpha YouTube series – The Lost Content. In this playlist we explain in-depth all that once was and all the different design changes Soul Reaver during development. Kevin Chatmajo also prepared a video reel of all the animations found in the alpha builds for the Priestess and Turel. AesirHod provided a super useful tool called the Recombobulator. Hope have enjoyed all the newly discovered content from Soul Reaver!



Friday, 10 April 2020

LOK Magazine collection update


Since most of us are stuck in quarantine, why not read through some of the older game magazines? We have just updated the list on the G-drive and included many more. Below is the list of the newest additions:

This collection now includes 90 magazines ranging from 1996 to present. Below is the full list of all of them if you are after a specific one:


Hope you enjoy this repository as it includes some rare screenshots and information. Thanks goes to Bazielim and Pavel who contributed with the latest additions.

Saturday, 21 March 2020

Top 10 games of 2019

While 2020 is in turmoil, I reflected back on the previous year and thought which games had the most impact on me… It was quite a difficult task, as I do not necessarily play them at the time of the release and it is sometimes hard to keep track of, nonetheless, below is the list of the games which were the most important and I´ve spent many hours playing them:






1. Horizon: Zero Dawn

I was not convinced I will like this from the trailer and early footage, but I was so wrong. I spent about 100h on this game and do not regret it at all. Possibly the best PS4 exclusive there is, story of Aloy and to discover the fate of our civilization has been a thrill. It made me think over every piece of technology we take for granted. Hunting the machines was so much fun with bow and arrow and accompanied by beautiful graphics, Decima engine proves its worth also in Death Stranding.




2. AC Odyssey

As an AC fan, I´ve been playing AC games since they came out. Latest was Origins which was great and when news of Odyssey were revealed only to come out a year after Origins, rumours of copy-paste emerged. Luckily, completely unfounded and now with more focus on RPG elements and allowing you to choose your responses and path through the story, leading to different endings. There is a great deal of wit and funny dialogue which



3. DMC5

It took many, many years and one wrong attempt but Capcom is finally back on track with DMC series! Nero and Dante are back and the new addition in form of mysterious V is welcomed as well. Three different fighting styles, awesome music and visuals, what else to add? Ending hints at a next game, just hope we won´t have to wait another 10 years for it!



3. Resident Evil 2

Capcom is on a roll and RE2 remake delivered – it is everything I want a remake to be. Familiar enough but also having it´s own character. When you hear Mr. X´s footsteps in the room next to you, it sends shivers down the spine! The only problem is that scenario B is nothing like in the original game and is essentially identical to the main one which is a shame. Looking forward to RE3, though.




5. Pokémon Ultra Sun

When Sun and Moon came out, I have decided to wait which turned out as a good decision. Nintendo released the definitive versions Ultra Sun and Moon within a year and while the changes haven´t been as apparent from the start, they mostly tweak little things here and there and added additional post endgame content, which infuriated most of the fans who were asked to pay another full price to get nearly identical game. Ultra Sun is amazing and I have sunk over 100h into it. Most of the complaints I had before (need for HM slave, can´t reuse TMs, etc.) were eliminated and the game is much more streamlined which I welcome.



6. Subnautica

I wasn´t sure what to expect for this one, but it got me hooked quite fast. I love fish and this survival game with a story is well crafted. You start with just one safety pod but eventually you will be able to craft huge bases and explore the depths of the ocean. Story is interesting and it keeps you going until you discovered what happened on the strange planet you are stranded.



7. Return of the Obra Dinn

Unusual visuals and while short tale, Return of the Obra Dinn is a unique experience, where you try to solve the mystery of the return of the long lost ship. Game throws you into the turmoil straight away and you slowly start piecing together the whole picture by returning to the time of death of all the passangers. For that, you must find their corpses first which are not always easy to find. One scene can lead for you to discover another scene. I had many theories as to what was going on and Obra Dinn does well to keep your attention all throughout. You can pencil in the names into the diary and gather clues on who died which way.

7. Spyro Reignited Trilogy

What an excellent remake! With the original music turned on, this is a well made trilogy and even if the controls are not as tight as in the original, it is still fun and visually pleasing game.



8. A Plague Tale: Innocence

A pleasant surprise of the last year, Plague tale brought interesting mechanics and amazing play between light and darkness. Likable, realistic characters and while some aspects are more fantasy like, it is still a solid experience and fun to play through. Atmosphere and graphics are top notch!




10. Abzu

Mesmerizing trip deep into the ocean – short but stunning visuals and sea creatures keep your eyes satisfied during the whole dive. There are only a handful of puzzles but this does not take away from the experience at all.

Special mention: 

Tomb Raider 3: Punas Revenge
I do not think I have ever played this well constructed TR3 custom level. Definitely worth playing if you feel like returning to the coast in TR3 again.

Disappointments:

Shadow of Tomb Raider and Life is Strange 2

Shadow of Tomb Raider was just that – a shadow of its former self, while I really liked Rise of TR, Shadow just wasn´t fun for me and too linear. I have described this in my detailed review.

Life is Strange 2, while a solid game, just didn´t get me as much as LIS1 did – I just could not feel any connection to the characters and Daniel was more annoying than useful most of the time. It was a good experience but nowhere near as memorable as the first game.

Sunday, 23 February 2020

HMCS Bitter backdoor finally unlocked!

Through the collaborative effort of LOK discord community, the fans have discovered the legend behind the four invisible corner switches as described by Dennis Dyack. For many years these have been considered a myth but proved true, at last. The switches are invisible and in order to trigger them you need to unlock bat flight and most of the locations on the map. A single energy bolt, when shot from an appropriate place, will trigger the "button pressed" sound to indicate this has been done correctly. See the instructional video below on how to get to the HMCS Bitter, ship long thought to be cut content:


Sunday, 8 December 2019

René Auberjonois has died

Today, with deep sadness, has seen the loss of René Auberjonois. He was best known for his roles in M.A.S.H and Star Trek, but for LOK fans he was mostly known in the iconic role of Janos Audron, the greatest vampire that have ever existed in LOK mythology. His stunning performance will always be remembered and forever missed. RIP René.

https://legacyofkain.fandom.com/wiki/Ren%C3%A9_Auberjonois

Friday, 16 August 2019

Soul Reaver's 20th anniversary


It is kinda hard to imagine that it was over 20 years ago when I have first played Soul Reaver Lighthouse demo in March 1999. I was 11 years old when I got my PlayStation and switched from PC gaming to consoles until 2009. Tomb Raider 3 was my very first proper game fully in 3D and I remember I was super excited and disoriented by the new posibilites of moving along all axis in a videogame. I was mostly brought up on side scrolling pixel games so when 3D finally became the norm, it was a totally new world to explore.

We came along way since the old limitations of 2MB memory of the original PlayStation, but back then such limitations gave rise to some of the best games and workarounds in history. Tomb Raider, Metal Gear Solid, Silent Hill, Resident Evil, Spyro the Dragon, Crash Bandicoot, just an example of a few games which spawned huge series with a large fan following. However, in 1999, a continuation of a forgotten 2D game was finally released after several months of delays and premature magazine reviews. Eidos has released Akuji just a few months before Soul Reaver's release which felt more like an appetiser of what is to come. Soul Reaver released today 20 years ago and was hugely successful. Everything from the intricate design of its characters, breathtaking intro cinematic which got us all hooked on this gothic fantasy straight away and was heavily promoted.

Soul Reaver was also the first (to my knowledge and no, it wasn't Jak and Daxter) to use seamless streaming of the environment. This allowed for the developers to create a series of interconnected tunnels and larger rooms, while the game would only visualize the ones adjacent to the room you were in. Raziel's model itself was a sight to behold (his iconic idle stance is hard to forget too!) and his smooth animations were expertly done. In comparison to rather simplistic cartoon like look of Lara, it really stood out. The gliding and fighting mechanic were a breath of fresh air after 3 Tomb Raider games of pure shooting, I thought at the time, and the grotesque creatures prowling around in a sombre wasteland perfectly complemented the game's dark atmosphere. 

The dynamic soundtrack which changed not only based on the situation but also on whether you were outside, inside, solving a puzzle or battling a boss was an amazing feat which has never been repeated again in the series in such abundant variety. In comparison, SR2 has a lot less of types of music changing, lacking boss fight and puzzle solving section. The distinction between being outside and inside has been removed as well. Defiance even has trouble connecting the music seamlessly (apparent mostly in the Stronghold) and removes music from cutscenes altogether.

To this day is Soul Reaver still my favourite game and there is not a game like it out there. Many tried (Primal comes to mind) but not even Soul Reaver's own successors could reach the ambitions of this game which cut content can be written about for pages. This inner drive to discover Soul Reaver's deepest secrets has brought me here today.

To commemorate Soul Reaver's birthday, a number of sites released some interesting goodies with regards to our beloved series. The Legacy of Kain Wiki also shared a collection of manuals, sources, comics and other material. The Lost Worlds released a reverse-engineering toolkit for use with Ghidra, useful for those more technically skilled. The Ancient's Den decided it is finally time to release the biggest archive of Legacy of Kain magazine mentions, reviews, previews, interviews, etc. Many of them contain previously unseen images and information. It is all uploaded on G-drive so you can view the individual magazines and read or download them separately. Thanks to everybody who contributed to this collection!

Monday, 31 December 2018

Raina’s top 10 games in 2018

It is weird writing these every year as I am always a year behind everybody since I usually by games when their price goes down. This year is not any different. It is always difficult trying to remember which games I have played within the first months but luckily Steam to save the date with recently played list of games. This is my personal top ten for pc in 2018:


UPDATE: Added SOTC and moved We happy few in the honourable mentions.

1. Life is Strange series

 




When I have played LIS season 1 the first time, I gave up after first episode in 2017. It felt it a bit sluggish and while the time rewind mechanic was cool, this whole teenage drama did not interest me much. However, I gave the game a second chance and replayed it again almost a year after my first try. This time, something felt different. I have finished the game within 5 days (too bad I did not end up on Friday) but basically could not stop. I devoured 1 episode per day and finally understood what the whole deal is with this series. Although it starts rather slow, everything changes at the end of episode 2 and onwards. I love games about time travel and LIS gave me exactly what I wanted – likeable characters, realistic relationships and engaging story. Getting to know Chloe and Max felt well done just right and many people shed a few tears when they reached the end.

Later, I have also played Before the Storm, which I was avoiding until then. Again, the game proved me I was wrong. While some things got retconned and did not make sense (not sure if by accident or by intention), overall, it was still great finally to be able to meet Rachel and see what all the fuss was about. The bonus episode, Farewell, gives us also the final, teary look at Chloe and Max, before Max leaves for Seattle. Then we got free episode of Captain Spirit and first episode of Life is Strange 2. If you love LOK series and story driven games, give this series a try. LIS series blows Telltale games out of the water and shows them how it is done. This is probably the best investment Square Enix got right in the last years.


2. Assassin´s Creed: Origins

 

 


After a not so great Syndicate (I was a lot more entertained by Unity), here comes the grand game by Ubisoft. I am just about to finish it but still have almost a third of the map undiscovered – the scope of this game is so vast. I found myself doing most of the side quests, not because I was forced to due to level restrictions, but because I wanted. Bayek and Aya work great together (much better than Jacob and Evie ever did) and following their story of neverending vengeance is quite a spectacle. Not to mention the superb exotic and detailed Egyptian environments – this game has more tombs and does them better than any of the latest TR games! I thoroughly enjoyed playing this and the movement, characters and gameplay just feel so right. I am looking forward to playing Odyssey and Witcher 3 after this. Highly recommended.

 3. Shadow of the Colossus (PS4)

 


How could I have forgotten to add this gem? I have spent countless hours on the original ps2 game and to finally being able to see this in proper framerate and upgraded graphics is breathtaking. The developers used the original engine but swapped out all the graphical assets out (except the beautifl haunting music, luckily) and the game feels and plays great. Only complaint is that the preset control scheme has only been improved slightly (jump is finally X not triangle), however, it is still uncomfortable to control Argo (which is solved by remapping the buttons in PS4 menu). Overall, it is an excellent masterpiece where the lonely and abandoned land is the only obstacle between you and giant colossi. Definitely a must play and one of my top games ever, now in modern graphics.



4. Dark Souls III

 





After getting myself sucked into the depths of first Dark Souls game, I have skipped 2 and dove straight into 3. From Software improved gameplay (8-way rolling, yey), graphics and netcode, everything just feels great in this game. Boss battles are epic and this is a true sequel to DS1. Too bad the two DLCs/Season's pass are still quite expensive but are still worth it. The Ringed City serves as a proper ending, although not possibly what everybody expected, it is a must to play. This game is amazing and discovering more about its lore was so rewarding I got a few books right after finishing it. Later in the year I have also tried DS2 but was apalled by the terrible controls which are refined and tight in DS1/3 but in 2, the rotation of the character around its axis is sluggish and feels like gliding, not even mods fixed it for me. DS1 and DS3 are well worth the sweat and tears.



5. The Evil Within

 


This is one of the gems, which I have shamefully omitted since its initial release in 2014. I have fell in love with this and the mechanics as soon as I have started playing it. If you play on survival difficulty, it is quite a test in the first few chapters but well rewarding. The dark atmosphere and gameplay is reminiscent of Resident Evil 4 and the horror elements are like from Silent hill – a perfect match. The enemies do not die permanently unless you get rid of their heads or burn them with matches, but main character Sebastian has only a limited supply, so it is always nerve wracking if the zombie will get up or not. While the ending leaves usually everybody completely baffled, this is remedied somewhat by the DLC where you play as Kidman and the game shows you her side of the story. It is done brilliantly because Kidman does not have weapons, just a torch, so you need to sneak around strategically and the addition of a stalking monster just contributes to the tension. I have found the second game to be not as good as the first one, unfortunately, though.



6. Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy

 



Vicarious Visions remade our beloved furry bandicoot and finally made him available at all platforms after a year of timed PS4 exclusivity. While the versions for PS4 and Xbox1 are both capped at 30fps, pc offers a smooth 60fps with several graphical options, so this is best version to play. I almost gave upon the game on PS4 when it released due to the alterations of jumping collision/distance as the devs had to build this game from scratch, but luckily the controls have been improved since. The music was remade as well and while I think it did it justice, I wish they would have remastered the original soundtrack too and included it as an option. Overall, great remake and looking forward to playing Crash Team Racing!



7. DMC HD collection

 




Everybody remembers the amazing but super slow (especially PAL version) first DMC on PS2. Then the horrible DMC2 came out (which I have not played still) and then the same studio redeemed itself with one of the best action games ever with DMC3. DMC and DMC2 were never ported to pc before, so this is their debut and DMC3 finally got the port it deserves (no more problems with swapped out joy sticks!). As a DMC fan, I can fully recommend this collection and while things could have been improved further (menus are still only 4:3 and cutscenes could be higher resolution), it is a must own for any action fan.



8. Silent Hill 3

 



SH3 is my favourite SH game and I have found a widescreen mod to replay it again. This game barely aged! It certainly profits from all in-game cutscenes as you can put the resolution right up and it looks great, even after all these years. The character models are highly detailed and mo-cap is convincing too. Heather is not your typical hero, but a normal girl, at least at first glance. She shows all sorts of emotions throughout the journey and it was great to watch her grow. This is the true sequel to SH1 and it is a damn good one according to others as well!



9. Silent Hill 2 Enhanced edition

 




Now this playthrough was completely unplanned but I somehow found myself being called back to the silent town just a few weeks ago, right after finishing SH3. I have stumbled upon an even greater mod selection called the Enhanced edition – a selection of best mods available out there all in one page and you can actually select which mods you want to include in your game folder. It enhances the game greatly, something which the atrocious original port failed so miserably when it was released on pc. If you are ever considering to play SH2 again, definitely upgrade your version to include these mods for the ultimate horror experience.



10. F.E.A.R.+ DLC

 




First Fear game and its dlc have a special place in my library – I have already played them over about 3 to 4 times and I might give it a go again at some point. The A.I. in this game is brilliant and I have yet to find a game in which the enemies behave so tactically. The horror atmosphere is also great and this game belongs to my top fps games of all time. While I have played the official sequels, they have lost the appeal of what made the original game so good, which is a shame.



Special mention - Disappointment of the year:

 

 


It pains me to be writing this but I have just not enjoyed the newest instance of Tomb Raider. Eidos Montreal tried to make things a bit different but in the end, their efforts fell flat and while the other games in the series usually lost their pace about halfway through, Shadow just gives up after a couple of hours. The bland gameplay and corridor like levels just were not fun to play through for me even when stealth kills and mud camo was a welcomed addition. Character development is lacking and I found myself just not caring about anybody in this game. The game introduced hub levels as well, where you can't draw your guns or in one instance, change outfits (which is annoying as you spend a lot of time there) and they just slowed down the pace a bit too much to my taste. I have enjoyed both 2013 and Rise but I simply can't recommend Shadow of TR unless on a big sale. I hope the next game will be by Crystal and the deleted ending suggest we might be going back to the roots of the series.

Honourable mention:

 



Wolf Among Us is one of those games I had in my library for a while and I could not be bothered to play. I am super glad I did, as this is the best Telltale has produced to this date. The game is based on Fables comic book series and portrays what has happened in the various fairy tales after their stories have ended. They have been forced to live in our real life world and watching them struggle with every day problems is strange at first and we get to see them from a very different point of view Together with Tales of Borderlands, this is the best that Telltale have produced before its fall and it hurts that we will never see the continuation of this game in the future. 

 




This one is a weird one as I got this for a review and got myself quite sucked in! It did take me a while to get into Arthur's shoes but I got there in the end. The story is quite intriguing and to watch the downfall of once prosperous country is quite a chilling tale. WHF takes place on an alternate timeline, in which the Germans have won in the second world war. Shortly after, they began deporting children from UK until there were none left. I still have not finished the game (only the first section for Arthur) and I am keen to get to the bottom of this mystery. This game is plagued by the early access syndrome, however, and it is certainly not worth the high price tag it got when it released. Tread carefully with this one and maybe get it on a sale.

Well, that was it. I am really wondering what awaits us in 2019 game wise. In the meantime, have a look at Bazielim´s top 10 as well at his Cult of Hash'ak'gik blog.