Legacy of Kain: Nosgoth – Alpha Access to the Affront
As a smarmy twelve-year-old, I remember beating Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, and immediately asking my parents to make arrangements for Michael Bell and Simon Templeman (the phenomenal voice actors behind Raziel and Kain, respectively) to jointly eulogize me. (Zoolander was popular at the time, so I may have said eugoogly, which would be as likely an explanation as any for why that plan never rounded into shape.) Soul Reaver was and is a testament to the transcendent powers of narrative in games. The gothic atmosphere, gravitas laden, expertly delivered dialogue, and surprisingly complex and consequence riddled revenge cum fatalism plot combined to eclipse uninspired block pushing puzzles, occasionally clunky combat, and platforming segments doomed by a camera as mischievous as the Pink Panther. Even now, approaching its seventeenth anniversary, the opening cinematic and introductory moments manage to captivate both those who have seen the story develop and those completely new to the franchise. The world is so rich and the characters so indelible that in spite of the release of five major titles, their relationships with one another and their shaping of their world still don’t feel fully explored, and the lack of a conclusive ending begs for true resolution. This massed desire to revisit the realm coalesces at the news of each forthcoming console generation, much like the pervasive mythos of a Final Fantasy 7 remake. With the announcement of Legacy of Kain: Nosgoth, that desire seemed finally to be on the verge of realization.
Nosgoth was initially leaked in the summer of 2013, stemming from the mining of keywords from an AMD driver update (evidence of dedication if there ever was). This seemed to bolster vague rumors of Crystal Dynamics – the studio behind the majority of the Legacy of Kain releases – remaking Soul Reaver under a new art direction. Suddenly, a fan base deprived of a major release since Legacy of Kain: Defiance in 2003, was drawn into the collective, breathless buzz of an impending title. The hype surrounding Nosgoth grew to the point that Square Enix felt compelled to confirm the development of the title. Yet in so doing, the studio also managed to crush the majority of the excitement about the title, and instead drove the fan base into a chorus of “wait, what?” and synchronized head-scratching. Instructed not to “think of Nosgoth in terms of a single player experience” and informed that Crystal Dynamics had no involvement on the title, speculation shifted from eagerly prognosticating on the post Defiance direction the series would take to nervously hoping that Nosgoth wouldn’t be some cobbled together exploitation of the cult favorite franchise. And then, it was confirmed to be a squad based third person shooter.
There is no shortage of squad based third person shooters on the market – there is a glut. There is, however, a scarcity in games with truly memorable narratives. Nosgoth has been billed as Left 4 Dead in a Legacy of Kain setting, but that’s being terrifically generous. Cataloging the various vampire factions as descended from key characters in the Legacy of Kain canon means little when the creatures themselves bear no resemblance to said characters. It’s akin to saying Firefly is descended from Star Trek because look they’re in space. Nosgoth is a Legacy of Kain game in name only. There is no narrative to speak of, the characters are merely the distillation of their loadouts (The Reaver – look, claws! The Tyrant – look, fatness! The Hunter – look, bowguns!), and the locales are bare-boned, hazily medieval clumps of buildings – no purpose beyond the containment of your death matches. The sole, meager point of interest to date has been the ambiguous developer machinations that the players can “influence the outcome of the war between vampires and humans.” While the attempt to inject consequence into something otherwise lifeless is admirable, it makes no sense within the confines of the series. The pendulum on which the plot swings is the reluctance of Kain and Raziel to embrace their fates, and later, the conflict the two are thrown into as a result of their joint rebellion. Humans are collateral damage to both the rejection of that fate and the end result of the resultant conflict. In the interest of spoiling as little as possible, the overly simplified version is that humans will be directly subjugated by Kain and his empire, and eventually will be rendered extinct. Thus, the promise of player impact on the outcome of the story is an empty one, matching the pallor (albeit not literally – the environments and outfits are oddly saturated with color) of the title itself.
Perhaps Nosgoth was intended to be a metaphorical embodiment of the most prevalent motif of the series – the omnipresence of compromise. Its creation leaves fans of the series in a precarious position. Support it in the hopes of a true Legacy of Kain entry being funded later based on its success, but risk empowering the repugnant idea behind the creation itself, or choose to ignore the title, maintaining the integrity of the franchise, but risk that the series itself is viewed as something beyond revival. In the words of a nascent Raziel, fresh from the abyss, “I would choose integrity, Kain.”
Legacy of Kain: Nosgoth is available on Steam as an alpha release.