Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain is the first in the well-known Legacy of Kain Saga, initially released on the PlayStation in 1996 and ported to the PC in 1997. It has recently been abandoned on PC. If you’re active on the Playstation Network, it can be found there too.
Blood Omen tells the tale of a murdered nobleman who strikes a deal with the necromancer Mortanius, allowing him to walk the living world as a vampire and take vengeance on those who slew him. It quickly becomes apparent that all is not as it seems – the Nine Pillars of Nosgoth have been corrupted and Kain becomes caught up in sweeping events that will force him to save the realm that he cares nothing for. Kain himself is a superb character – sardonic, violent and full of hate for the world. At times he is even poetic in his cynicism.
Gameplay is top-down hack ‘n’ slash, executed in a satisfying fashion. Blood Omen‘s console roots are apparent in control — only the keyboard is used, with the mouse reserved for menu navigation. Much of the time you will be brutalising your enemies with Kain’s sword accompanied by his derisive laughter, but there are items and spells that permit ranged assaults. Kain has to be cautious in battle — do enough damage, and your foe will be left reeling, allowing you to exsanguinate him as he collapses with a cry of agony. But do too much and he will die outright, robbing you of a health-replenishing meal. Attacks must also be timed lest they be interrupted. You don’t just have to worry about enemies — there are many environmental hazards and traps as well: the purity of running water and rain will cause damage to his corrupt body, and spikes pierce undead flesh just as well as that of the living.
You are not limited to the vampiric shape as you explore Nosgoth. Kain can take several additional forms as the situation demands. The bat allows him to quickly travel between far reaches of the realm, the wolf can leap up ledges and over obstacles while disembowelling foes with powerful claws, a mist which permits him to elude foes, and a nobleman which hides his undead nature when needed.
The game simply oozes ominous character, with excellent atmosphere and many nuances adding to the experience. Every so often you will find a sobbing peasant chained up, begging to be set free, only to have Kain feast upon their lifeblood with enthusiastic slurping noises – this kind of detail makes for a diverse gameplay experience. The story is truly epic and becomes deeper and darker as you play — vengeance, betrayal and redemption make for a compelling tale whilst never feeling contrived. While there are several adult themes threaded throughout the game, at no point do they feel gratuitous.
Graphics are not bad at all once you become accustomed to the low res, and even feature environmental lighting – quite an achievement for its day. Voice acting is top-notch, and you’ll take delight in Kain’s many bitter monologues throughout the game. In many retro titles, music is a weakness, but not so in Blood Omen. On a technical note, running the game on a modern OS poses some problems, but there are solutions out there.