Kain returns to Willendorf victorious, carrying the head of Elzevir and the doll containing the soul in the other. With his daughter's soul returned to her body, King Ottmar concedes to Kain's request and rallies the Army of Hope for a final showdown with the Nemesis.
"We shall die today as heroes, lest we live tomorrow as slaves! Ready thine arms! FOR NOSGOTH!"
I'm always a fan of a good surprise war sequence in games. I am particularly fond of the ones in Onimusha 3 and Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner, as the mechanics of those games translate well to large scale battles and the tech available was just good enough to sell the illusion. Blood Omen is not as lucky, as this war is a simple an enclosed gauntlet which can be bested in a couple of minutes by simply moving forward and evading the legion.
"I sated my thirst on warriors of Horde and Hope alike; the dying relinquishing their final moments to give me strength."
[Ottmar]: The Nemesis and his Horde fall upon us, my friend. I fear I can defend Nosgoth no longer. The Nemesis must be destroyed. For my daughter, Kain; for the world...
"The battle had decided its victor; the fate of Nosgoth now lay in the Nemesis’ hands."
Kain can keep fighting and showering in the carnage, but Hope's Army still falls and Nosgoth is doomed. But in the midst of Kain's battle, something strange occurs.
"Alas, it seemed I was stranded here - the Time Streaming Device lay in pieces at my feet."
Here we go. Here we fucking go. Legacy of Kain has shown its full hand and introduced the last key element of its formula: Time Travel!
I often find reason to laugh over the fact that Legacy of Kain manages to be so narratively enthralling in spite of, no wait, because of the fact that it commits to the most hackneyed writing sin of them all. Many a story has collapsed in on itself or ended up feeling pointless thanks to the introduction of the concept.
But not here. Close to everything that happens manages to maintain internal consistency according to the time travel rules that have yet to be fully established in Blood Omen. I am fully aware of the fact that there are a couple of plot holes that crop up, which I will point out when the time is right. But for now, let us enjoy the juicy storytelling this little trip allows.
By killing a random nobody, Kain somehow peers into his mind as he lays dying, which is an ability that is neither explained, nor used ever again, so that is another strike against the writer. But we are getting to the good part here, so I find myself in a forgiving mood.
[Moebius]: As your house burned?
[Crowd]: No! No!
[Moebius]: Will you allow this evil to continue?
[Crowd]: No! No!
[Moebius]: Will the wickedness end?
[Crowd]: It must!
[Moebius]: Do you believe?
[Crowd]: Yes! Yes! Yes!
It has been a long time coming, but we are finally on track to meet the final guardian, Moebius the Time Streamer. In order to find him, we need to retrace our steps through a now prosperous Stahlberg.
I question the knowledge Kain has about statues that lets him come to such a perfect conclusion, but the concrete information is appreciated. I will need it later when I draw diagrams to help untangle the incoming mess of timelines, so look forward to that.
"‘Twas time for me to pay a visit to he who would become the Nemesis and force Nosgoth on its knees."
William's Stronghold is nothing special at this point, even though it is our final dungeon, as all of its tricks have been utilized beforehand. There are rotating blades, ice floor next to spikes, a bunch of Legion knights and the customary sewer basement filled with projectiles. Nothing we cannot handle, especially with as much health and magic as you can have by this point. The last couple of dungeons have felt similarly rote, so it is probably for the best that the game is close to ending.
The one interesting part of the area is a gigantic map of Nosgoth marked with swords, proving that William's ambition for conquest has been stewing ever since he was a mere boy king. Speaking of said king, we can listen in on him having a conversation with Moebius as well.
[Moebius]: None, my lord. I only wish to aid you in vanquishing your foes. The weapons are but a token of my goodwill.
[William]: And the news you bring. A vampire sent to slay me. Where did you come upon such knowledge?
[Moebius]: ‘Tis of no consequence, sire. ‘Twas only out of concern for your Majesty’s life.
[William]: Perhaps, perhaps . . . Very well, then. You may leave me, now. But should I wish to speak with you . . .
[Moebius]: I will know, your Majesty, and I shall be there in time.
Moebius strikes me as the kind of person who strives to include as many puns related to time as possible in everyday conversations. All the more reason to strike him down. But first, the man of the hour.
The fight against William is simple as can be, but difficult nonetheless as he is also wielding the Soul Reaver (years before it ended up in Avernus somehow) and possesses the health of many men. With how much damage he can do in a single strike, this is the time to go all out with Hearts of Darkness, Energy Banks and your own Soul Reaver. Which proves annoying, as it requires constant weapon switching, not helped by the Soul Reaver's thirst for magic that not even an Energy Bank can satiate for its entire duration.
"The poor fools, come to aid their fallen leader. Let us have some amusement . . ."
But not even the mighty William the Just can best a vampire with an attitude problem, so he falls to the ground with a broken sword at his side. His men prove no challenge and Kain soon stumbles upon yet another Time Streaming Device. Moebius must have his pockets full of the damn things.
"His pawn was removed from the game."
The walk out of the castle is even easier than the walk in, as what remains of William's troops are merely meek ghosts and all the traps have been ruined by the passage of time. There are however a few new enemies, who look more like common farmers instead of the soldiers, cultists and brigands we have fought so far.
"Yet there was something amiss. From the distance, I heard cries and a breeze from the south carried with it the faint odor of vampire blood."
That sounds bad. Well, relatively speaking. Having the lives of dozens of innocents under the boot of the main character warps your perspective in a story.
[Moebius]: Not yet my friend.
[Crowd]: No! No!
[Moebius]: Would you spare one wolf in the pack that has devastated your herd?
[Moebius]: Then let us destroy them all!
[Moebius]: He is the last!
[Moebius]: The people will not rest until Nosgoth is purged of your kind.
"That sigil on his forehead. The Oracle of Nosgoth was in fact the Time Streamer Moebius. And I had followed his advice!"
All right, here is our first major twist at long last and it is in fact a double twist! So let us digest this before we get into the gauntlet of Moebius' vampire hunters.
I absolutely love the reveal of a long con such as this, especially at the expense of the protagonist and by extension, the player. It is extra delightful, as we went along with it both due to Kain's impatient nature, but also due to Moebius orchestrating a scenario that would corner Kain and prime him to think he is smart for killing William before the invasion, with no regard for the full consequences it would have in radicalizing the populace against vampires. This is presumably why Vorador told Kain not to meddle in human affairs and now he has paid with his head for Kain's mistake.
Going back to the cutscene with the Oracle, we can pick out multiple blatant time puns that Moebius just could not resist making and the mention of King Ottmar and the Nemesis makes a lot of sense now. I think it was a mistake to have Ariel goad Kain into fighting the Nemesis when this twist would be even better if Kain had made the choice himself after an encounter with the Legion and remembered Moebius' words.
Same for vaguely insinuating that going after The Nemesis would lead to the last member of the Circle of Nine. Being a schemer, his role is in the background, so I think this twist should have been even more of a surprise.
So what was Moebius' game here then? Well, knowing he was no match for Kain and presumably wanting his equals dead alongside all vampires, he led Kain to Vorador knowing only he could best Malek and thus leave the remaining Guardians unprotected. But he must have also been the one to plant at least the Soul Reaver in Avernus, alongside the Time Streaming Device he let Azimuth steal.
Kain would be no match for William without the Soul Reaver. So by placing it in Avernus, Moebius could guarantee Kain's success by remotely activating the Time Streaming Device at the last leg of the war against the Nemesis, let him fight William and then find a second Time Streaming Device.
In the strict narrative sense, this twist and the concept of time travel has been used to prop up Moebius as the final Guardian to be introduced, given Kain personal stakes to kill Moebius for tricking him, added welcome flair to a game that has started to feel stale and sneakily reset the status quo after introducing the inescapable nightmare scenario of the Legion's advance across Nosgoth.
Kain's intent was to merely have the latter come to pass and that is usually how it goes when time travel is hastily introduced as a concept in a story to solve a problem. Problem A exists due to situation B, so the main character goes back in time to situation B and undoes problem A with action C. If that is all that had happened, the game would be lesser for it. By masking that narrative reset with layers of deceit and clever writing, it feels more earned, even if I do not think it is an airtight part of the script.
The actual battle against Moebius proves to be a bit of a disappointment, especially since he went through so much effort to put the people of Nosgoth under his command. As it stands, he has you fight the following:
Three whole peasants.
Three of Malek's warriors.
AND KAIN FROM THE FUTURE!
Now, that last one does not make sense at all and has infact been clarified/retconned as a simple illusion. Which, given how easy he is to kill and what little reason Kain would ever have for allying with Moebius, is a much more acceptable explanation. This whole fight seems unfinished, as the event triggers for the summons feel rather random. It might be based on time (ha!) or how much damage you deal to Moebius, but he seems to be immune to ranged weapons and the dialogue for when he summons the clone came close to a minute before the actual appearence of said clone, so I am unsure of what the intent here was.
[Kain]: By going back in time, and altering the past, you turned William the Just into the Nemesis.
[Moebius]: Aye - you have seen my plan, vampire, as I have seen your destiny. The future says you die!
[Kain]: As are you.
Awesome quip notwithstanding, this exchange clarifies that Moebius corrupted the timeline, tricked Kain into fixing it and then used the result to trigger a genocide against all vampires. Quite the intricate machincation, but alas, not enough to hunt down the last and now most arrogant of them all.
"Pity with all his plots he failed to plan for you."
"You will have your vengeance."
Who are we to keep necromancer dad waiting?
[Anarcrothe]: You betrayed us Mortanius! You had Kain killed and turned him into a monster! You set him upon us!
"Nupraptor’s insanity poisoned all of our minds. The Circle had failed in its sworn duties. It had to be destroyed."
"Idiot! The Circle exists for us, we don’t exist for it! Our powers will save or damn Nosgoth at our whim! Stand with us, Mortanius, or die!"
[Mortanius]: Then I shall die!
"I admire your cunning, but you will not escape your fate."
"But my death will leave one more to take, princeling. Finish me!"
All right, the twists keep coming, though Mortanius being the one to have Kain killed should not come as a surprise, since he was ready and waiting to revive him. But this scene also shows us that out of all Guardians, Mortanius is the least terrible. Which is ironic, coming from the damn necromancer.
The rest of the Guardians (whom Anarcrothe acts as a mouthpiece for) lost track of their duties and were content to let Nosgoth rot in their corruption. But Mortanius resisted the urge and hatched a scheme to have them all killed through Kain, using revenge as a way to manipulate him into saving the land. Together with Malek, that makes 2 Guardians who are not pieces of shit. Though Mortanius is the one who damned Malek to armored unlife, but we are grading on a curve here.
The battle against Mortanius is full of skeletons, surprising no one. But I question its inclusion, as he wants to die and it is not a very good fight. I kinda forgot it was even a thing due to how hurried the endgame is and the events that are about to unfold.
"You have served me well, Kain."
[The Unspoken]: Indeed. Such narrow vision. Don't you see?
"is but the first act in my theatre of Grand Guignol."
"Play on, little vampire, play on..."
If you think revealing three chessmasters in a row in the span of 20 minutes is too much, then I am going to suggest you to dip out of this franchise now. It is a memorable way to finish things off, but in the moment, it feels poorly told just for how quickly everything goes by. If not for the book in Willendorf speaking of human possession, Ariel's mention of the Unspoken and the secret altar in Azimuth, it would be downright bad writing, and a twist just for the sake of having one.
This reveal calls the autonomy of Mortanius into question, as he has been host to the Unspoken (who is most assuredly the demon Hash'ak'gik from the book in the cathedral using Occam's Razor) for an unknown amount of time. His motivation made sense beforehand, so maybe the demon only ever possessed him (or someone else) to kill Ariel to trigger the corruption of the Circle of Nine.
And now, he has taken the body at the moment of passing to kill Kain and keep the Pillars from being restored so that he may rule the decaying land with no Guardians to stand in his way. Standard demon stuff.
The actual final boss with the guy is anything but standard, as you can tell from the screenshot up there. Instead of summoning minions or throwing fireballs, all he ever does is dive into and out of the ground to harm you. It is downright goofy and makes me think this fight is also unfinished, as it proves to be no issue at all. He does not even get a death cutscene, he just poofs into pixels, which is then immediately followed by a save prompt and a cutscene harboring our final twist.
"The only survivor of the Circle of Nine."
"At my whim."
The battle with Moebius is a bit jank, and the boss battle with the Unspoken sucks, but there has to be a cutscene missing here of the Unspoken dying and Ariel telling Kain that he is the new Balance Guardian. She has been spouting vagueries all game, some things I do not think she should know, and yet, when Kain's quest comes to an end, she just stands by silently as Kain figures out his identity on his own using only the smallest of clues.
This twist does at least explain why Kain was chosen by Mortanius and perhaps by extension, the Unspoken. Seeing as Ariel died before the corruption set in, The Pillars were able to pick a successor, who then also got corrupted by Nupraptor's madness. With that knowledge, it makes perfect sense to send one Guardian against the others. At worst, one of them dies and at best, we end up at this dilemma.
Using the pickup cards to choose an ending is cute, but it cannot mask the gravity of this choice. To save Nosgoth, Kain has to end his own life. And to save his life, Nosgoth must continue to decay. Given the theme of corruption and the questionable morality of most characters, including Kain, I think it is very important that this choice is open to the player.
It is a chance to truly decide on which side of the coin Kain falls. Is he a man, dragged along by destiny who sees the value in Nosgoth at the cost of his own existance, or is he a monster only concerned with his own needs? At this point, I think the answer should be obvious, but let us play along with altruism for a moment and check out the good ending.
"In his death, he was unknown."
"Shades cast no shadows."
That is nice and all, but what does the other card lead to?
"We are gods, dark gods."
That one feels more correct, now does it not? Let us check my stats.
A veritable Prince of Darkness, our little Kain. Beyond the creative team I spoke of at the start, the credits house a couple of familiar names:
This one sparks joy.
This one does not spark joy.
That is the somewhat messy, but all the more impressive beginning of the Legacy of Kain franchise. Next time, I will do some holistic analysis of the game and detail just what kind of starting point Crystal Dynamics found themselves in when they took over the series and went on to create the most iconic entry in it.
Until then, keep our current quandaries in mind like usual:
As always, Vae Victus!