Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain
Silicon Knights, 1996
This melodramatic, bloody and gothic vampire action-RPG for PlayStation and Windows 95 epitomised the “games for grown-ups” zeitgeist surrounding Sony's console, and is a fantastic reminder that grimdark can (and arguably should) also be fun.
A nobleman murdered and transformed into a vengeful vampire, our antihero Kain is set with the task of restoring peace to the doomed land of Nosgoth by slaughtering the Circle of Nine demented keepers of
Its perspective, puzzles and upgradable stats, spells and abilities always feel to me like someone started by asking “what if Zelda, only metal?”
Exactly how bloody a trail of slaughter you leave behind you is up to you, and there are no significant consequences for putting entire villages to the sword.
Kain never feels overly fragile, and you can restore your health by feed on living, human foes once you get them to the brink of death.
The top-down isometric graphics are dripping with atmosphere and I'm a huge fan of games that use this perspective.
Although you can't get in much casual chat with NPCs, Nosgoth feels like a vibrant, living (...dying?) world, and combat is very satisfying.
The 3D-rendered cut scenes have not exactly aged well, but nonetheless have that hauntingly lo-fi PS1 era charm.
Although it starts by railroading you along a fixed path, the game's plot becomes more convoluted and its world more open as you progress. I'm having a lot of fun with this replay.
Once out of print, Blood Omen was hard to come by for many years, following a legal battle over rights to the game's intellectual property between Silicon Knights and publisher Crystal Dynamics, which ultimately hung to the Legacy of Kain series.
Fortunately, you can now buy it on GOG for 6.99€: https://www.gog.com/game/blood_omen_legacy_of_kain
It works nicely with both joypad and mouse on Pop!_OS Linux via Lutris using the GOG version installer at https://lutris.net/games/blood-omen-legacy-of-kain/ (lutris:blood-omen-legacy-of-kain-gog)
The series would never return to Blood Omen's gameplay or graphical style. Although the sequels retained the setting, characters and atmosphere, the first in the series remains my favourite.