Legacy of Kain: Defiance has an intricate, interesting story. It's got top-quality voice talent to deliver that story. It sports excellent graphics, superlative animation, and interesting character design. It features spectacular architecture, a detailed backstory, and a grandly arching plot that assumes the player is intelligent enough not to need everything spelled out in excruciating detail. It has a few puzzles, some nifty combat features, and loads and loads of atmosphere.
And it's a terrible, terrible game.
"How can this be?" you ask. "Don't all these elements make a good game?"
Well, in many casesperhaps most casesyes, they do. But in Defiance's case, the actual gameplay is so appallingly unimaginative, so awfully monotonous that by the end of it, I was wondering why they even bothered making a game out of it.
Being able to play as both Kain and Raziel is a welcomeand sensibleevolution of the series. It's neat to see similar events from two different perspectives, and having many of the existential loose ends of the previous games tied up a bit is certainly welcome. The story assumes you have played the previous games and are able to pick up references to events and characters that happened as long ago as the original Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain.
So why, why, oh Lord, why doesn't the gameplay make the same assumption? Why in holy hell is Raziel forced to upgrade his spectral Soul Reaver at six different elemental forges again? Why does Kain have to collect little tokens to power up his physical blade when it was so earthshakingly powerful at the end of the first game? And where are all the stealth kills Kain picked up in Blood Omen 2?
These complaints, however, pale in comparison with the gameplay itself. Combat is simplistic (even with the acquired advanced attacks), consisting primarily of whacking on Square until the room is empty and the doors unlock. (Yeah, you're forced to fight through the brilliant design element of magical locking doors. Whee!) And there's a lot of combat. Seems like the designers figured the people who complained about the sparse combat in the previous Soul Reaver titles would appreciate fighting the same enemies over and over and over until it starts to get ridiculous, almost comical. Well, I don't appreciate it, and I'm guessing most other players won't, either.
Most appalling is the fact that all those Spirit Forges I mentioned are all basically the same. There are six total, and they incorporate a good half of the gamemaybe more. You visit each one as Raziel, and you visit most (maybe all; I lost count) as Kain. So, yes, you're spending at least half the game's 15-ish hours trying to figure out how to get out of 12 levels that look and play almost identically to each other; it's as if the artists just swapped the colors and made minor tweaks to the areas. Does this seem wrong to anyone else, or is it just me?
Still, the story is somewhat interesting. Sure, it rehashes many of the themes, characters, locations, and plot points from the previous games. But the final act is a bit unexpected, and it's worth slogging through all that combat if you're dying to learn how things ultimately turn out.
If it weren't for the story in that last, say, 10 percent of the game, though, I probably would have scored Defiance a full point lower. Translation: This is for serious fans of the series only.