"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.
“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.
“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 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 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.
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!