Blood Omen 2 is the fourth game in the Legacy of Kain series, but only the first for the Xbox. It's about Kain, an arrogant nobleman-turned-vampire who first starred in the 1996 PlayStation game Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain. Its spin-off sequel was Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, an outstanding game that introduced a new main character and made Kain the villain. Last year's Soul Reaver 2 was also impressive, but it still didn't tie up the story's loose ends. The new Blood Omen 2, on the other hand, returns to the 1996 game's storyline and takes place before Soul Reaver. That's pretty confusing, but Blood Omen 2 is itself a fairly straightforward action adventure game (no previous experience with the series is required), only with a lot more blood than you'd normally find in such a game. Soul Reaver fans will find a familiar experience in Blood Omen 2, even if the new game lacks the innovation and the surprising drama that made the Soul Reaver series great. There's still a lot to like about Blood Omen 2, but, much like the original, its fiendish main character is the best thing about it. At any rate, regardless of whether or not you're currently a Legacy of Kain fan, after playing Blood Omen 2 for the Xbox, you'll probably agree that one Legacy of Kain game--even if it isn't the best in the series--is better than none.
Kain is the main character of Blood Omen 2, but he's not the hero, and "antihero" isn't the right way to describe him either. In Blood Omen 2, Kain is not heroic in the least. He's one of the only main characters in gaming who comes across as purely evil--he is not only a vampire, but also a savage killer. Interestingly, he still represents the moral center of Blood Omen 2--unlike his foes, Kain is thoroughly sincere and never minces his words, and in doing so, he remains a very intriguing protagonist. He is brought to life by the voice of Simon Templeman, who's portrayed him in all four Legacy of Kain games. Here, Templeman hams it up as good as ever, smoothly delivering Kain's lines in perfectly sinister fashion. With a couple of exceptions, the rest of the game's voice actors don't stand out as much, and the dialogue in Blood Omen 2--which is as long-winded as ever--generally isn't quite as engaging as that of the Soul Reaver games. The plot itself isn't particularly inspired either. Kain awakens hundreds of years after the events of the first Blood Omen, in a world occupied by both magic and technology. He reluctantly joins with a vampire resistance to restore rule over the world to the vampires.
The gameplay itself is reminiscent of Soul Reaver, only stripped of Soul Reaver's more-original mechanics, but Blood Omen 2 does have a few of its own. Unlike in Soul Reaver 2, which emphasized puzzle solving over action elements, Blood Omen 2 is primarily an action game. As Kain, you'll have to slaughter countless human and inhuman foes with either your claws or a number of different melee weapons. Combat is pretty simple--at the touch of a button, you turn to face the nearest foe, at which point you can either attack or block. There's an optional blocking mode that forces you to properly time your deflections of enemy attacks, though you can also set it so that you can press and hold the block button to repel just about anything the enemy throws at you. You'll just have to look out for the occasional slow but unblockable attack, and since most enemies follow simple patterns, soon enough you'll learn to exploit them.
Aside from hacking at them, Kain can grab his foes, hoisting them up off the ground by their necks. Depending on which weapon he's carrying at the time, Kain can then perform all kinds of wicked acts on the struggling enemy. When he kills a foe, Kain can suck his or her blood, drawing it out of open wounds telekinetically. This restores Kain's health, and it gives him experience points that can increase his maximum health--so basically, you have to suck the blood out of every foe you kill. Tougher foes later on have lots of blood, so according to our best estimate, Kain will have guzzled between 3,000 and 3,200 gallons of blood during Blood Omen 2, depending on how many times it takes you to get through some of the tougher parts. How he retains his slender figure after drinking so much blood is anyone's guess. The blood-sucking effect is well done, but you'll have long since grown tired of it by the end of the game.
You'll often fight more than one foe at a time, and you'll notice then that the enemy behavior in Blood Omen 2 is a lot like what you'd find in a bad '70s kung fu movie--enemies attack one at a time and do nothing to help their buddies, whom you're pounding to death. Collision detection in Blood Omen 2 is terrible. Kain gladly attacks his foes while they're down, but only if they're at death's door--for some reason, you can't pursue your attack against a relatively healthy opponent whom you've managed to knock down. On many occasions, you'll see your attacks blatantly pass right through your foes, an effect that's most disappointing when your enemies somehow manage to crouch to avoid a vertical sword slash. What's also inexplicable is that while you can throw foes off ledges to their deaths, you can't just knock them off. Beyond that, Kain will have to fight a number of powerful renegade vampires during the course of Blood Omen 2, in multistaged boss battles reminiscent of those in Metal Gear Solid, only not as exciting. There's usually some trick you'll need to figure out to defeat these foes, and the fight becomes trivial once you figure out what to do. The minimal use of music during most of these sequences really detracts from what could have been some of the game's more intense action scenes.
Whenever he slays one these boss characters, Kain--like Raziel in Soul Reaver--gains a unique new power. You use several of Kain's "dark gifts" only in combat to deliver more damage than you normally could. Kain also starts with the ability to blend in with the low-hanging mist you'll find in most of the game's 11 large levels. In mist form, Kain is practically undetectable. He can sneak behind all but the most alert foes to deliver a fatal attack (some of which, depending on your weapon, are really brutal). One of Kain's other cool abilities lets him leap extremely long distances, either to get to out-of-reach areas or to deliver a crushing blow to someone on the receiving end. Later, Kain can also charm weak-minded characters, an ability that the designers exploit in a few obvious situations. For instance, you might mind-control a guy behind a gate to get him to open it for you. He also gains a telepathic ability that's used mostly just to push buttons from far away. The mist form and the jumping make for some nice moments, though none of Kain's abilities are as interesting as Raziel's ability to shift between two planes of existence.
Similarly, the puzzles found in Blood Omen 2 generally aren't as good as those in last year's Soul Reaver 2, though they're OK on their own terms. Blood Omen includes some obscenely large number of switches, wheels, and levers that need to be thrown, cranked, or pulled before you can finish the game. Though a few of the puzzles are all right, most of them are really simple and just there to impede your progress. The difference between a good puzzle and a bad one is that a good puzzle is logical, while a bad puzzle entails seeing a bunch of pulleys and levers. You know there's a puzzle that needs solving only because it's right there in front of you and because there's no exit. The presence of the puzzle is obvious, but you figure out the solution only once it happens. At any rate, none of Blood Omen 2's puzzles are particularly difficult. By far, the most frustrating thing about the game is that you can't skip any of the cutscenes, a problem that rears its head when you inevitably are forced to reattempt some sequences. You can save at any time in Blood Omen 2, though when you load that game, you'll start off at the last checkpoint you crossed.
Blood Omen 2 is quite an attractive-looking Xbox game, and it looks considerably better than its PlayStation 2 counterpart. The Xbox version runs at a fast, smooth frame rate and at a higher resolution than the PS2 version. Overall, the art design perhaps isn't as inspired as that of the Soul Reaver games, though it's great on its own terms. The game's bleak, dark environments are detailed and interesting to look at--you'll see scurrying rats, bugs buzzing around street lamps, and some effective use of ambient lighting. If nothing else, you'll be impressed by how big some of the levels are, though sadly, Blood Omen 2 loses the Soul Reaver games' incredible technical feat that made both of those games completely seamless from start to finish. Nevertheless, the Xbox version loads each level extremely quickly. Most of the enemy characters you'll face look fairly simple--thugs and warriors and such--though some of the later foes are daunting. Kain himself looks great and even wears a few different outfits over the course of the game, some of which resemble those in the original Blood Omen. There are some other references thrown in, both in the story and in the details--for example, you'll find prisoners shackled up, begging for their lives just like in Blood Omen, as well as Kain laughing contentedly, just like in Blood Omen, as he slays these helpless humans.
Overall, Blood Omen 2 sounds great because of Simon Templeman, but the rest of the audio isn't remarkable. Enemy soldiers make the same grunts over and over, though the sounds of guzzling blood and Kain's light footsteps are convincing. As mentioned, there isn't enough music in Blood Omen 2, and what little can be heard is mostly quiet and ambient. Later in the game, an effective, percussion-heavy battle theme starts up when you raise your claws for the attack. There should have been more like it.
Blood Omen 2 is completely linear and will take you 15 to 20 hours to finish. Once you've reached the end, there's no real reason to revisit the game, since none of the sequences in it are particularly memorable and since all of the gameplay mechanics are used repeatedly throughout. Considering that fact, and considering that neither the combat nor the puzzle elements are entirely satisfying, Blood Omen 2 can't be recommended to everybody. It isn't quite as great as fans of the series would like, but it still should be given a shot. And if you've never played a Legacy of Kain game, then this is a good enough place to start. The story has at least a couple of fine twists, and Kain is as memorable of a main character as they come.