Malek, the Guardian of Conflict, eludes us still, so the only way to lay claim to his relic and restore the Pillar of Conflict is to seek the guidance of an ever popular fantasy trope, the Oracle of Nosgoth. And against all odds, his cave is just to the east of Malek's Bastion.
"Perhaps it was time to brave the winds, and seek out this Oracle, from the vantage point of the heavens."
"But with so many pawns, can you find the true player?"
Before we begin the climb, Mortanius speaks to Kain in what I can only describe as a foreshadowing taunt. This line is a perfect encapsulation of why this series is so engaging. On its own, within the context of Blood Omen, it serves to bluntly tell the player to be wary of a plot happening in the background, which will become important later on. Standard writing stuff.
BUT IN THE CONTEXT OF THE WHOLE SERIES, IT WORKS ON SO MANY LEVELS.
Obviously, we lack said context at the moment, but the fact that Mortanius of all characters, voiced by Tony Jay, is the one to say this at just this moment in Blood Omen is amazing. And the best part? It is probably a coincidence supported by some clever on-the-fly writing later on, as I doubt the rest of the franchise was planned at this point.
Not to mention that the reuse of an actor is something rarely planned upon and for good reason. Due to a multitude of external factors, keeping an actor for the same role across sequels and rereleases is unlikely enough. Planning on using them for a similar role later on just for some extra irony would just be silly. I will detail more of these thoughts later, but suffice to say, the Legacy of Kain franchise bests the odds of narrative implosion due to luck and an inordinate amount of talent, which will get more impressive as we dig deeper into the story.
Our first order of business is to peruse a small cavern and pick up the Stun spell, which is pleasantly straightforward. For more mana than the Energy Bolt, but less than a cast of Repel, you can immediately put a human enemy into the waver state for feeding. It pairs well with the iron sword for those moments when you need to quickly dispatch a group or if you are not confident in your ability to not hack enemies into pieces when you really need some health.
Sadly, it is of little use inside the next gigantic ice dungeon. It is similar to the Bone Armor dungeon, having loads of spikes, slippery ice and projectiles. We do have a couple of new enemies, wolves and some sort of slime golem thing. Neither are particularly dangerous, particularly if you use Repel to reflect the slime projectiles, which can one-shot both themselves and whatever wolf is in the way. I suppose the challenge lies in swapping between the sword to fight them and the mace to break stalagmites and ice blocks to get healing potions.
It is a bit of a bloated area (took a good 17 minutes to traverse) full of criss-crossing but thankfully linear paths. A small mercy, but one I will gladly accept. Of greater interest is the Orcacle's Cave, which house a selection of strange items:
"A guillotine, its blade still wet with blood."
"Odd. This armor resembled that of the Ward and his minions. Yet, the steel seemed newly fashioned and untarnished by time."
"It was during these dark times infested with the plague of the undead, that the Circle brought the Sarafan to existence. Trained to be devoutly loyal to the Circle, and the perfect exterminators of the undead scourge, they were led to many victories by the righteous paladin, Malek, protector of the Pillar of Conflict. They cleansed the vampires with fire, and released their souls to more blessed realms. There is no wrath as terrible as that of the righteous."
"I had read enough. At once disgusted and intrigued, I placed the book back down in that museum."
The Sarafan and the mention of "more blessed realms" will become important later, but for now, the Oracle awaits.
[Oracle]: A nobleman? Seeking wisdom? Death has taught you well.
[Kain]: Enough philosophy - I seek answers.
[Oracle]: Answers indeed. I have them all if you have the questions. And what are the questions for these answers?
[Oracle]: King Ottmar paralyzed by his princess’ malaise.
[Oracle]: Pray good sir, what are the questions?
[Kain]: A pox upon your tricks and babble, old man! Answer me this:
[Oracle]: All in time sirrah. Yes, time. Unless you master it - it will master you. And now it’s time for your answer:
[Oracle]: His vanity led to the slaughter of the Circle at the hands of the vampire Vorador. For his failing, his spirit was fused to a hellish set of magical armor. He has allowed no member of the Circle to fall since.
[Kain]: What of this Vorador?
[Kain]: Ignis Fatuus?
[Oracle]: The Ignis Fatuus lights the path to Hell, nobleman. Your path.
[Oracle]: Next time...
Much like the scene with Ariel, this dialogue scene is delightfully dense with foreshadowing and imagery. The stuff about King Ottmar and the Nemesis is a bit blunt, but the Oracle can see the future and wants Kain to know it, so we have only to accept it.
"Sometimes, I draw out their fate, for the added fear sweetens their blood."
Outside of the chamber, there is another spell card to lure the player to the correct exit. Incapacitate is not a spell I made much, if any use of, since Stun and Inspire Hate serve similar purposes. A much more useful ability awaits just outside:
"I can seep through locked doors and cracks and move swiftly, like a shadow fleeing light."
It was my initial plan to throw a jab at Symphony of the Night for having identical transformations to Blood Omen released a year prior, but to my surprise, both the wolf and mist form originate from the Dracula novel, so it seems both games took inspiration from the big book of vampire lore.
Mist Form allows Kain to pass through bars, physical projectiles and water unabated, with only the latter being of much significance, both for hunting secrets and traversing flooded dungeons easier. It is a bit of an undercooked form, since the obstacles it adresses are not very interesting to deal with unless you need to manage your mana for other spells at the same time.
"But it was called home by this mysterious Vorador. Legend told of a time when Vorador defeated Malek of the Sarafan. If such a man did exist, then he could perhaps be the key to defeating the Ward."
The forest is more of a swamp actually, but Mist Form easily deals with that. The design of the area reminds me a bit of Farron Keep from Dark Souls 3 (only nowhere near as terrible) and the miniature sandbox environments in Tomb Raider (2013).
The hub area here borders on being of no consequence whatsoever, but I could easily see things expanded into about 4 hours worth of zone in a later console generation. There are multiple side areas and dungeons littering the path to Vorador and with some more engaging traversal, I could see it being more fun to explore around the swamp fighting enemies and avoiding hazards while finding loot. As-is, one needs only take a brief walk around it and pick up all the new stuff.
"When struck, my enemies' blood would flow from their bodies to fill me with life. 'Tis a risk, yet the rewards are a temptation."
The Blood Gout spell is a very handy, which naturally means it costs a hefty sum of mana. For reference, I can cast it and most of the costly spells 3-4 times with a full bar at this point. But being able to skip the feeding step of the combat loop means you can stay on the move and evade danger more easily.
Of course, as hinted by Kain, if it hits a non-human enemy with blood, you will drink said blood as well and either get poisoned or take damage. So the challenge here is to deal with the enemies blocking the tasty prisoners by either aiming carefully or killing them beforehand. Once the game has established the pros and cons of Blood Gout, the dungeon just devolves into another projectile mess, presumably because it needed to be a bit longer for whatever reason.
Up north is another dungeon which is not more complicated than simply turning off the red switches and leaving the green ones be. Given how vital the Flame Sword is, procuring it is really easy. Getting the health and mana upgrades off to the sides is more difficult, but I just hit some buttons randomly and got them both before long.
Given that we already have the best weapon for feeding, it stands to reason that the next one will simply be even stronger than the axes. And the Flame Sword certainly is, which is why I will be using this for most of the remainder of the game.
Now obviously, Kain cannot feed on the smouldering remains of his enemies, but the Flame Sword deals so much damage that you can often end up with more health than you would feeding simply by cutting battles short. And if you cannot feed on something, there is no reason not to burn them to a crisp. It is the closest we get to breaking the core conceit of the game (no equipment being the best), but unless you complement it with the likes of Blood Gout and a defensive disposition, it will probably start eating into your supply of hearts eventually.
"When I release my grip, their bodies will shrivel and die, as I displace their souls, and replace them with my own."
Besides the Spirit Forge for antidote and a strength upgrade, there is one last dungeon to check out, that being the Control Mind dungeon. This is another required spell, as it really only serves a purpose to solve puzzles.
I do not care for it, as due to the game's mechanics, there really is not much to do while controlling an enemy besides hitting switches and avoiding enemies. Abe's Oddessey only does a little bit more with its possession mechanic, but frames the game around it and makes it much more impactful. In Blood Omen, you just temporarily depower yourself to progress, which I suppose helps communicate the player's growth since the start.
The path to Vorador's Mansion is fraught with peril and I entered it with next to no health, which is why I had no time to actually stand still for this screenshot. But it was an excellent time to demonstrate the value of a well-timed Energy Bank.
Having an environmental hazard nullified by Mist Form and enemies nullified by Repel presents an interesting trade-off, but I decided to just keep running. Only cost me a single heart, so I think I made a decent enough decision.
Vorador's Mansion is decidedly more inviting, if only visually. At least until you get to the spiked floor, though I admit it gels pretty well with the carpets. I am quite impressed with the portrait carpet which somehow manages to capture Vorador's FMV visage perfectly. That takes some expert weaving!
"For these were Vorador’s pets, nothing more than beasts, slave to his will and the easy prey he provided. Vampires, all of them, held in thrall by one stronger still."
"Like cattle awaiting slaughter, men and women dangled from the rusted hooks upon the dungeon walls, blood and viscera frosted the dirt and stone. The abundance nearly overwhelmed me. For blood is the life . . ."
Despite Kain's ringing endorsement of Vorador's selection of food, there was only enough there to refill half my health. There is some subtle horror in the game slowly adjusting how many people it takes to regain full strength. It is one of those things best conveyed through video games. Immersed as the player, you probably will not give it much thought, as you have internalized Kain's needs as your own. I love it when video games use their mechanics to add layers to the storytelling like this.
Past one of Vorador's annoying teleporting servants, we find a really good set of armour, the Chaos Armor. This is basically my default, as it only has slightly less defense than the Iron Armor (I was dumb to leave the Bone Armor on for so long) and returns quite a significant amount of damage to the attacker.
Not that it helps much here, since your major obstacles are a few mind control switches and tons of enemies with ranged attacks situated in the middle of a bunch of spikes. I have the tools to deal with them, so they are not that bad, but it is straining on the ol' magic supply.
"This spell is especially useful in the face of multiple combatants. Beware those with tainted blood."
I know we have found ourselves in the residence of the gaudiest vampire of Nosgoth, but Blood Shower is so damn ridiculous, both conceptually and mechanically, as it is a screen nuke. The absolute sadistic glee that must have fueled the creation of this spell, I swear.
"Blood was splattered on every surface. The dread and agony of victims past still echoed through the lethal walls. A symphony of terror and agony filled the air. Then, from amidst the cacophony of screaming souls came the perverse laughter of the Vampire himself ."
"And upon the wall, scrawled in blood, were the words: Manus Celer Dei. (Translated: The swift hand of God)"
I get the feeling that this Vorador person has a bit of an axe to grind with both humanity and the very concept of good taste.
"Long ago, vampires grew in such number as to capture the attention of the Circle. The Order of the Sarafan, or the “Angels of Light” as they were called, was instated to counter the menace. Thus, the “Vampire Purge” began."
Now we have confirmation that the Sarafan were founded only to kill vampires, meaning they serve no other grand purpose, explaining Vorador's attack against the Circle. He attacked them out of honest revenge. But that is motivation enough and a good reason to seek him out for help against Malek.
"Undead beings, with rotted skins caked with sulfur and ash, beckoned at me through a burning abyss. Their tortured stares were a testemonial to the price of weakness.Their fate would not find me. Yet blood calls to blood."
Seated at his dinner table, we finally find Vorador, Dracula turned to 11 as filtered through the series' eloquent edge.
[Kain]: In the bowels of that black forest I found something worse than Hell.
[Vorador]: Especially one as young and foolish as yourself. Nonetheless, drink. Drink deep and indulge your gift.
[Kain]: Vorador thought my curse a blessing.
[Kain]: And somewhere deep inside my new self I knew he was right. That mortal dreams were prayers. Prayers to us - begging us for power.
[Kain]: A boorish account of how he defeated Malek of the Sarafan and took his vengeance upon the Circle of Nine for supporting the Sarafan’s holy war to exterminate us . . .
[Vorador]: Since then our kind has not bothered with the cattle, except to feed. And I suggest you do the same. Meddling with the affairs of man can do us no good. Sarafan witchhunts are much too tedious to concern ourselves with. Am I understood Kain?"
[Vorador]: If you ever need assistance it will summon me. Despite your youthful arrogance, you amuse me, Kain - it would be such a pity to lose you to the Abyss. Now be gone!"
"Decadence has claimed itself many a great warrior."
Blood Omen is 3 for 3 on great dialogue scenes, there is so much to dig into here. I love the initial shot of the flayed corpse reflected in the blood just as Kain speaks of a vision of what he is becoming.
He is obviously referring to Vorador, but the defiled corpse of the "cattle" is no less fitting, as Kain is dead and literally drenched in blood if you used Blood Shower as intended earlier. Should he fall on his quest, there would be very little distinguishing the two. The extra touch of Vorador taking a finger to the body for one last drop is absolutely exquisite.
Then you have Kain's blatant disrespect of his elder, despite finally starting to become honest with his vampirism. The animation is rough, but you can tell from his body language that Kain is working past the last remnants of his humanity here taking the cup from Vorador.
It is a bit excessive to replay most of the intro during this scene, but I appreciate them making it clear what Vorador was doing and why. It went by a bit too fast the first time, so having the full context helps make sense of it now.
And then, for the last part of the scene when you go pick up the ring, Kain points out that Vorador has undergone corruption himself, losing the will to engage with the world outside of keeping himself fed. Unlike Kain, Vorador has lost his ambition, which makes Kain think less of him. It is so interesting to see the lesser monster look down on the greater one not for his debauchery, but his wasteful lifestyle. It feeds into the core theme and reinforces Kain's own budding ambition. It is so good!
On that note, I must bid you adieu. Vorador has presented us the oppurtunity to take down Malek, so nothing is stopping us from resuming the hunt for the Guardians. This will be the focus of the next installment. Until then, keep our current quandaries in mind:
As always, Vae Victus!