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"Kain was deified" - Legacy of Kain thread of gods and monsters

Peklo

Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)
It may perhaps be the season for it, so here is a thread for the once stalwart series of vampiric free will and predestination. As a subject, I'm motivated to share some thoughts upon a recent Soul Reaver playthrough, so here are a few assorted brain morsels:

  • I would not characterize vampire media, ever since its inception into the pop culture repertoire, as having been wholly absent, but as with any recurring set of thematics and motifs continually explored and iterated on in fiction, there are undulating trends, boom periods and fallow stretches that dictate the visible prominence of such works. The years on both sides of the turn of the millennium were a time of increased cultural proliferation for vampire stories, to a global extent and across mediums, and Kain for all its idiosyncracy both represented certain traditions akin to the genre even as it acted in concert and perhaps in its own way helped mold new associated trends of its own for its subject matter. A crucial element is the interaction of sex and sexuality in vampire fiction; it is an inevitable component and one that as far as genre generalities go, is a major draw for the audiences that seek out the material. Kain is not lacking for it, but the specific ways sensuality manifests in the series is intertwined with another at-the-time-returning contemporary trend in the field, in depicting vampires as more than foppish, threatening foreign invader figures as the classical imagery goes, and instead focusing and highlighting their physically monstrous, mutated and malformed aspects; a revulsion manifested in the corporeal for the heresy they're seen to embody. As the exterior crumbles and contorts ever astray from standards of conventional attraction, how to communicate the level of intrigue and seduction so inherent to the genre?
Whether a result of many happy coincidences or a keen insight into the nascent material, Kain quite literally found its voice in the vocal performances delivered by Simon Templeman, Tony Jay, Michael Bell and others for the duration of the series. As the most consistently and highly praised aspect of the entire franchise, it's easy to repeat the same well-deserved compliments and assessments for the commitment and consistency displayed by the voice actors over the years, but the aforementioned angle is what keeps running foremost in my mind as to what I find fascinating and compelling about the series and its use of VA work to define itself, in that it was relentlessly sexual in non-explicit, purely auditory ways, and how all facets of the presentation supported and enhanced that impression. These games are a sort of orator's fantasy, so long as one's preferences are for florid and excessively melodramatic and romantic phrasing and diction, and the material is utterly owned by the acting direction in having the actors put on performances full of theatric conviction for every tortured monologue and spiteful exchange they have with one another. Every facet of the narrative presentation was thus primed to position the character voices as definitive to the storytelling itself, inextricable from the roles they played or the words they said; the personal charisma of actor and character bound to one another, and it's in there where the intensity and passion--sexual or otherwise--lives in these stories, in all their affected pomposity and self-righteous stylings, delivered by on-screen figures whom had long since lost the attractive veneer that could now only be communicated via flavourful verbiage, and in effect the spoken word itself becomes the fetish.​
  • When I think of PlayStation 3D in all the ways it's beautiful, I submit to a sort of mental compartmentalization of distinct eras and vaguely consistent technical complexity. There are the early, impressionistic masters of the form as seen in King's Field, Jumping Flash!, Tecmo's Deception or Aquanaut's Holiday, full of atmosphere almost through a paucity of on-screen geometry and visual elements, and highly suggestive in every representative form depicted. By the time of Soul Reaver's mid-1999 release, PlayStation visuals had undergone a drastic evolution compared to those early offerings, and now professed scale, texture detail and technical ambition in equal measure as far as works like Silent Hill or Ape Escape were concerned, or the looming, titanic Vagrant Story. It is to Soul Reaver's enduring credit that for works of such ilk that may be considered definitive, it can stand right alongside them without appearing out of place. It is a game that presents a contiguous, interconnected world, and only sees necessary to break the action with a loading screen briefly upon starting a session; beyond, all loading in and out of assets is handled by constant data streaming, in concert with level design tools of the trade that facilitate the approach, but notably less intrusively and belabouredly than contemporary games have handled the practice. Even Metroid Prime, three years after this, which as much as anything introduced and codified the concept for many, became known for the almost ritualistic tapping-on-the-door pauses enforced upon Samus as she charted the world. Soul Reaver is almost shockingly advanced for its hardware in the concepts it explores and executes on, from the bigger ideas like a dual-world set-up that seamlessly shifts and warps the geometry and visuals of the inhabited locale around Raziel on command, and the smaller feats that almost go unnoticed, like how each and every contextual, disposable weapon pick-up is remembered by the game exactly where they were abandoned, even should a player return to the spot hours later and between play sessions. It is constantly impressive in ways that were in effect subsequently recognized as the game was ported more or less as is to Dreamcast, and how that release in a relatively more competitive ecosystem on a technical basis still does not appear as a game lagging behind its peers.

  • Soul Reaver is a search action game, and an early 3D try at the genre at that, so it is interesting for all the ways it stands in contrast to later established conventions of both modern game design and its own wider genre. As a raw sequence, the game is actually exceedingly linear, always leading up to a boss's lair whereupon a new exploratory power is obtained, and the process repeats a few times until the game's conclusion with nary a diversion along the way. For all its ostensible simplicity and straightforwardness, it is still a game very easy to feel lost in, which is quite a rare sensation even in games that shape themselves around exploration as a central tenet. Emphasis on player convenience and clarity in communicating progression and navigational elements often leaves such games as feeling as going through the motions even as the concepts at hand should by all rights excite, intrigue and perhaps befuddle. Soul Reaver exists somewhere in the liminal space between archaic indifference and modern guidedness, to an effect that in ideal circumstances works to the benefit of both extremes. Hint systems exist, but they are tied to geographic location and character, and require the motivation to make the trek and to interpret the shared musings provided. Every play session begins in the same introductory space, in an original Metroid-esque fashion, but the continual retracing of steps is both practically expedient and corollary to the game's mechanical and narrative themes of Raziel's immortality and subsequent reincarnations in the eldritch womb that resuscitated him in the very beginning. The world is littered with unmistakable teleportation rooms for easy returns to previously canvassed areas, yet none are marked with identifiable text and instead have to be recognized by the associated vampire clan emblems and insignia that mark each location and its territorial overlords; said iconography is found on banners erected about the world, or carved into the architecture itself, and so navigation is a process of internalizing the setting's internal visual language and applying that context to a series of interconnected landmarks that define the world in place of associative area names and labels. Raziel's Nosgoth is not the one he knew; it's not the one players would've known from Blood Omen either; the task then is to understand its new form from all these disparate yet equally unfamiliar perspectives.

  • Soul Reaver is also a famously "unfinished" game, to the extent that such an universal of game development is made into a remarkable quality distinct from other projects. The reasons for this have been well-documented, and it's a mostly the result of publisher deadlines, to which the datamined and publically shared material left over from the design process pointing to altered and scrapped plans, the infamously abrupt ending and said ending's direct continuation and reinstating of the leftover material in the game's sequels serve as the evidence commonly pointed towards. The narrative is usually crafted and shared along to impress upon the listener the sensation that the way the game ended up as released was an unquestionable loss born out of necessary compromise, and while I can't attest to or even imagine the perspective and emotional significance such would involve on the developer end, as part of the experiental end of the dynamic Soul Reaver's truncated form--in retrospect--becomes a sort of accidental strength.
As mentioned before, the primary sequence from opening to end credits in this game is very straightforward by almost any standard applied to it. In having to remove many of the planned mechanical features and narrative beats for the game, the developers however did not wholly excise and strike them from the record, instead leaving either their housings or nature as untethered, contextless power-ups or locations as a sort of conceptual residue of more intricately integrated past plans. The effect this has on the world is that wholly player-directed exploration is rewarded by entire optional areas of great geographic scale and stature, often featuring some of the game's more elaborate environmental puzzles (its most engaging playable aspect) or utterly gorgeous, unique altars, shrines and complexes tucked away into the far corners of the world that the player is allowed to completely miss, because wrest of their developmental context, they now lack "purpose" in the overall scheme of the game. The satisfaction of stumbling upon narratively unimportant secrets is paradoxically enhanced by the absent focus in presenting them, and it would not be had Soul Reaver not gone through the hard choices in what to cut, as most games do, and then still availed to retain the work that had been completed, now a digital archaelogical record of the development team's work able to be explored in the game itself.​
Other potential benefits of the troubled development are the game's shorter-than-intended length; an epic by no measure even should the full scenario be in place, but still highlights effectively the concise nature of the story told and the world explored, leading to the final aspect that is only really discernible in hindsight: that the explict TO BE CONTINUED... conclusion need not be treated with scorn or as a testament of the failures resulting from the realities of game development, and instead marks the series as what it eventually became and ended as: a long-form serial, presenting a contiguous narrative by mostly the same central staff, across several games and years, but in less time than one might assume, after which the series had had its say, ended, and passed into history. Diminishing returns are a topic and perception that inevitably follow a series like this that was seen to have been formed as an unruly iconoclast that eventually submitted to big money iteration and interference, but as a body of works representing its central concepts Kain could not be said to have strayed from its path as long as it walked it.​
~~~
I speak from a position of hypotheticals, ambient osmosis and personal impression regarding the series past Soul Reaver, as I have not yet played them, but coming off of this it's something that seems a thing to try sometime. I don't expect the world, but maybe there is a saga there worth seeing to its conclusion.
 
I wholeheartedly recommend it, with the caveat that afaik, it unfortunately never actually concluded. Legacy of Kain: Defiance reached a very intentional cliffhanger as opposed to Soul Reaver's abrupt ending, and then simply... never continued. However the climax of the final game as things stand is an INCREDIBLE payoff for following the story and all its (surprisingly granular) details, and character dynamics. Or at least it was for teenage me, I don't really have a good idea of how it's aged because I just haven't set aside the time to replay the series yet.

Blood Omen 2 specifically isn't quite as easy to recommend that strongly because it was made by a different team for the purpose of fleshing out the details of the world and lore in ways the series didn't really need, and most talk I've seen of it over the years seems to come to the point that it created more clumsy inconsistencies than it did to fulfill its goal.

I'm unfamiliar with the big money interference though. I know of Nosgoth which seemed for all intents and purposes to want to get in on some kind of moba/battle royale money or something and got cancelled after almost a year and a half of being stuck in open beta. Until relatively recently I didn't even realize it was connected.
 

Peklo

Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)
That comment was just in reference to the overall arc the series took, from a scrappy passion project and the subsequent legal disagreements between studios, changing of the hands, and the publisher's heavy franchising of a series that ultimately only existed for seven years or so. It's just how it goes with this stuff, and some people are more bitter about it than others, but there isn't a single game out of the five than isn't perceived as having run into significant development issues along the way, and the overall narrative around the series seems to be one of a downward-trending arc. Makes for an interesting artifact now that it's distant enough that it isn't so much a sore spot for most, and maybe worth reassessing.
 

Octopus Prime

Mysterious Contraption
(He/Him)
The entire Legacy of Kain is near the top of the list of games I'd most like to see get a nice re-release, if not a full on remake.

The first couple really really need some QoL improvements
 

Becksworth

Aging Hipster Dragon Dad
Soul Reaver 2 is a game I’ve always recommended that my friends just watch a YouTube video of the cutscenes rather actually play. It’s gameplay is middling to poor compared to Soul Reaver 1, let alone its contemporaries, but the cutscenes are still chef’s kiss.
 
I like to replay Blood Omen every now and then for weird nostalgia. "Call your dogs! They can feast on your corpses!"
It hasn't aged very well, but I like the setting very much.

Soul Reaver is a much better game, but the setting is more a surreal dark fantasy, versus BO's Germanic medieval ism. Anyway. Raziel rules.

I think the rest of the games are not great, but has a highlight or 2. Soul Reaver 2 is quite the rare game to find now!
 
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Dr. Nerd

(He/Him)
I wholeheartedly recommend it, with the caveat that afaik, it unfortunately never actually concluded. Legacy of Kain: Defiance reached a very intentional cliffhanger as opposed to Soul Reaver's abrupt ending, and then simply... never continued. However the climax of the final game as things stand is an INCREDIBLE payoff for following the story and all its (surprisingly granular) details, and character dynamics.

Even though it was the result of the usual compromises that happen during game development, having a wild cliffhanger ending became one of the calling cards of the series as time went on. Due to that, in retrospect I'm happy with where the series ended. Wrapping up most of the existing plot threads, and then setting up the next act of a game that we will never get feels appropriate to me in hindsight. Kaine musing about the future at the top of the ruin of the Elder God's lair feels like a good place to leave the series.

Soul Reaver was one of my favorite games of the PSX/Dreamcast era, so I'd like to revisit it sometime.
 

Mommi

Miss or be made.
(She/Her)
I don't think Soul Reaver needs any QoL at all. It's perfectly playable. And for Blood Omen there's are health / magic refill codes you can do from the pause menu that make it easy to revisit, and playing on PS3 or Vita makes the load times tolerable. The only bummer is the frequency you have to duck into the menus to change weapons and spells.
 
Oh i just remembered - this missing boss from Soul Reaver is in defiance. And is being kept in the past in the cathedral from BO. WEIRD
 

fanboymaster

(He/Him)
Soul Reaver 2's an utterly tragic game, a real canary in the coal mine for what happens when a company fails to properly estimate the expense and pain of a hardware transition. Started as a PS1 and Dreamcast game, moved to PS2, a few months later DC version killed, publisher insisted it be released by the original deadline anyway so more and more of the game was cut or simplified to try to make it out, forcing the game to lean on its narrative more. That narrative's overwrought but it's fun as hell and the direction and voice acting are still excellent. I love going back to it but it's a weird game to play. Defiance is a more finished game though it's also trying to be something much simpler. Overall I think Hennig did a good job keeping the narrative ball rolling even as she was having to incorporate BO2, a game whose narrative she had no control over, and deal with these crazy dev cycles. Huge credit to the voice casts, Michael Bell, Simon Templeman and Tony Jay are just so fun to listen to dramatically speeching at each other.

I have a profound fondness for all of these games even if Soul Reaver 1 is the only one I'd call an enduring classic on its gameplay merits. I'd call all of them at least ambitious which helps a lot, flawed as they are they're always trying something and I appreciate their complete commitment to their own drama with no winking or backing down.
 
That comment was just in reference to the overall arc the series took, from a scrappy passion project and the subsequent legal disagreements between studios, changing of the hands, and the publisher's heavy franchising of a series that ultimately only existed for seven years or so. It's just how it goes with this stuff, and some people are more bitter about it than others, but there isn't a single game out of the five than isn't perceived as having run into significant development issues along the way, and the overall narrative around the series seems to be one of a downward-trending arc. Makes for an interesting artifact now that it's distant enough that it isn't so much a sore spot for most, and maybe worth reassessing.
Ohhh I get it now, thanks. I was really tired while I was reading or I probably could've connected the dots on that. It really does suck, especially with how the industry norm hasn't really budged from this kind of crap at all in all these years.

I have so much appreciation for the series. I need to bump these games up much higher on my replay list.
 

conchobhar

What's Shenmue?
(he/him/his)
This is a timely thread, as I just finished a playthrough of Soul Reaver last month. It was the first time I'd played it (or any Legacy of Kain games, for that matter), so I wasn't really sure what I was getting into. But to my surprise, it was far more engaging than I had anticipated, to the point I'd call it one of the best action-adventure games I've played in years.

The first thing that told me I was in for something interesting was the combat. All the enemies are vampires, and actually conform to their folkloric weaknesses: you can bat them about, but they can only be killed by stakes, water, sunlight or fire. And there are additional mechanics to support this: Raziel can find and use weapons to deliver a finishing blow (running a spear through them or lighting them on fire with a torch), or grapple and throw them into hazards (into water, into bonfires or even onto spikes lining the wall). It's both a surprisingly clever idea, and a surprisingly robust implementation.

What really drew me in, though, is that Soul Reaver is ultimately a puzzle game. The nature of the combat system means it quickly becomes clear these encounters are less like melees and more like a bite-sized challenge of figuring out how to properly eliminate the enemies— I would survey an area like I might in a stealth game. Bosses take this approach even further, as none of them are fought head-on but by using the environment against them. This also makes each boss distinct from each other and memorable; my favourite is Dumah, and leading him back through the level, to a previously-unremarkable room where he can be incinerated.

But what elevated it is the world. At first glance, it seems to have a sort of proto-search action thing going, with its continuous world, new traversal abilities and goodies to double back for— and is interesting for that, but plays out largely linear. But poke around a bit, and you can find all sorts of entirely optional areas. I stumbled into the Human Citadel purely by accident and let me tell you, finding this entire city tucked away, with no explicit gameplay purpose beyond some upgrades, made the world feel so much bigger, mysterious and real. Knowing a bit about the game's development, I have to assume places like this (or the other side-areas with glyphs) are a remnant of cut content, but frankly I think it's better this way; it's so much more rewarding and evocative.

Also, while Peklo already said this, I really need to register my own disbelief at Soul Reaver's technical achievements. That it can present its entire world as one continuous area and never have to throw up a loading screen (even a veiled one), even when warping from one area to the other. Or that plane-shifting happens on demand, and in real-time, so a player can watch the world twist and distort around them (and again, with no loading screen). It's an impressive achievement in any context, but it boggles the mind to see it done on Playstation hardware, in an era where loading times were not only common but acceptable. Just incredible.

And, well, I guess I'm getting into Legacy of Kain in the year of our Lord 2020, because I ordered Soul Reaver 2 and am considering the others. We'll see how this goes!
 

Krigo

AO Tennis no Kiseki
(he/him)
For Soul Reaver, would it be better off playing the PS1 version on Vita/PS3 or PC version on Steam?

Never played the games before, but I own all of the PC releases as I've been meaning to get into them for a while. Also got Soul Reaver on a sale years back on PSN.

There's also the Dreamcast version, but I'm not sure if I want to buy Soul Reaver a third time before I play it haha
 
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Sarge

hardcore retro gamin'
I'm not sure what this says for me, but I've only beaten one game in this series... and it was the last one, Defiance. I'd love to finish another one some day - I do have copies of the other games in the series. Glad to hear I can likely skip Blood Omen 2, though.
 
I think BO2 is pretty underrated.

Narratively it is almost completely avoidable and anachronistic - though late stages in Defiance refer to it, but I kind of like it more than either SR2 or Defiance. Defiance is more of a DMC wannabe, and SR2 is a complete mess

These thoughts from like 15 years ago, of course
 

Sarge

hardcore retro gamin'
I'm sure that Defiance being a DMC-clone was what got me to play through it, though. I definitely dig games like that.

So maybe I don't just toss BO2 on the scrap heap.

I think I have the same question as @Krigo, though: which is the best way to experience Soul Reaver? I have access to the PS1 and Dreamcast versions. Thought I had the Steam/GOG version, but nope!
 
If you have Dreamcast version, it's quite lovely. Just missing the cool animation at title menu.
Last I played was psx version on PS3. Also very good. But since I love dreamcast, it gets the edge
 

Dr. Nerd

(He/Him)
The GOG/Steam version of Soul Reaver has a bad reputation for not being very playable at all on modern systems without third party mods and tools.

I own the Steam version and tried to see if I could get it to start on Windows 10, and...nope! It crashed on launch. I think you're probably better playing on OG hardware, or emulators.
 

fanboymaster

(He/Him)
DC's definitely the nicest version of SR1. Neither SR2 or BO2 work well if you just pull them off Steam as I learned too late a few years go.
 

Sarge

hardcore retro gamin'
Thankfully I also have PS2 copies of those games. Obsessive collector tendencies are occasionally useful!
 

Krigo

AO Tennis no Kiseki
(he/him)
I guess I'll just play the PS1 version of SR, i'm going to have to try and figure out how I'll handle the rest though.

Should really get around to picking up a PS2 again soon.
 

Wolf

Ancient Nameless Hero
(He/him)
The series overall is probably top of my list for Most Wanted Remasters/Remakes. Especially because of how difficult it is to get any of these games to run on modern systems without some kind of assistance. And then, once you can get them to run, getting them to recognize any kind of modern gamepad (like the Xbox One controller) is a nightmare. So yeah, the original hardware is probably best, if you can manage it. The PC version of the original Blood Omen, if you can believe it, is actually the easiest to get running on a modern OS. There's a single patch that does everything you need, gives you the option to have either PS1-style or PC-style camera, slightly improves the visuals, recognizes modern controllers, and even adds subtitles.

Blood Omen is in some ways probably the hardest for me to go back to, simply because of how messy it is. Hit detection's sloppy, and it's frustrating how often switches and other important environment objects can be difficult to discern due to how generally detailed the environments are. A lot of the weapons and tools are fun to use, but since you constantly have to drain your enemies' blood (due to you slowly but constantly losing health), they all tend to be less than ideal. Most of them, at least in my experience, tend to make it impossible (or at least very difficult) to get enemies into the staggered state necessary for feeding. The axes make it too easy to go overboard and just kill everything, and the flaming sword and the Soul Reaver flat-out destroy enemies. The mace is excellent for human enemies, but verges on uselessness against literally anything else. So the plain iron sword it is for most of the game. And yet, somehow, I still enjoy this game.

Raziel is one of the more interesting characters I've ever played. So constantly convinced of his own righteousness, so desperate to punish anyone and everyone who's wronged him, and so consistent in unwittingly playing into his enemies' hands. You really do start to feel sorry for him after a while; he seems like fate's chew toy.

I actually liked Soul Reaver 2, but how much of that was liking the story and how much was genuinely enjoying the game proper is difficult to say. I liked the puzzles well enough, but sadly, the puzzle-based combat that made the first Soul Reaver game so unique and interesting was never to return. Just... whack enemies with whatever weapons is at hand until they die.

When it comes to the ending of Defiance, I actually don't feel like it's a cliffhanger in the strictest sense. Though it's clear that more is going to happen after it's over, it definitely closes the book on this particular conflict. It's an "open" end, but it feels decisive enough.
 

MetManMas

Me and My Bestie
(He, him)
I would love to see a modern HD remake of Blood Omen. It was a neat game with some cool stuff that feels like it's held back by being a kinda jank PSone title.
 

Wolf

Ancient Nameless Hero
(He/him)
One of the things that's always amused and fascinated me about the series is the way the original Blood Omen grew in importance as time went on.

Given all the legal wrangling between Silicon Knights and Crystal Dynamics, you might have expected the game to remain somewhere distantly in the background of the series overall, to be thought of (and treated by the developers as) a jumping-off point, and little more, just to stay out of trouble. And Soul Reaver seemed to support that notion. It references the Serafan, the Pillars, Ariel, and Kain's choice (a literal choice you're allowed to make at the end of Blood Omen), but mostly steers clear of it except as a foundation. The major shift in aesthetic seems to underline this.

And then... Soul Reaver 2 happens. Suddenly, the world-building miscellanea of Blood Omen becomes a major plot point in the form of the Heart of Darkness and Janos Audron. The presence of both carries tremendous weight in the narrative. They go from a consumable power-up item and a throwaway background character who exists entirely as a reference added for lore flavor (respectively) to being objects of all-consuming importance to Raziel, and thus the overall narrative.

And then there's William the Just. Soul Reaver 2 retcons Kain's battle with him to state that they were both armed with the Soul Reaver, each taken from different points in the timeline. And while this is clearly a retcon -- Blood Omen makes no mention of William being so armed -- it actually fits very nicely. William's sword has a along, wavy blade when he's encountered in Blood Omen, and it makes that same screaming sound like it's shearing the air whenever he swings it.

All of which is really just an example of how well the writing in the series holds it together despite the story getting increasingly batshit, and thrown askew by the troubled development of both Soul Reaver and Soul Reaver 2. Turel comes very much to mind. Cut from Soul Reaver due to lack of time, he finally appears in Defiance, in such a way that it almost feels like they meant to do it that way, as if this had all been planned.

I guess what I'm saying is just that it amazes me that despite the fact that the writing all seems to have been done by the seat of Amy Henning's pants, it's done with such elegance and confidence that it comes across as very much planned as it appears.
 

fanboymaster

(He/Him)
People overrate planning in writing, but especially so in games where development realities can end up tearing a script to shreds. Hennig was so good at keeping plates spinning and actually finding ways to match the realities of the development struggle, even if the LoK storyline doesn't do much for you her writing acumen can't be denied and you can sense its absence in Blood Omen 2 which is a fine game with a game-ass game story.
 

Wolf

Ancient Nameless Hero
(He/him)
Calling Blood Omen 2 "fine" is a stretch, for me. I haven't yet finished it, but one of the things I couldn't get over was the lack of... I guess I'd call it solidity when it came to movement and combat. Attacks land without a feeling of real impact, and movements are somehow both stiff and light, like we're watching the motion capture actors rehearse their movements before stringing them together and actually performing them. At least, that's how it felt to me when the game launched, and I honestly don't think I've touched it since.

Writing-wise, you can immediately tell that someone else is at the helm. Honestly, it feels like fanfiction.
 
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