FEATURE: "Nosgoth" Beta Impressions

The Legacy of Kain franchise rises from the dead with not-quite sequel Nosgoth

To me, the Legacy of Kain franchise--which has operated interchangeably under the titles Blood Omen and Soul Reaver--have always represented some of the greatest successes of the early PlayStation era. Along with titles like Beyond Good and Evil, I have always held it up as one of the greatest among many titles which, for some reason or another, never hit a huge blockbuster status. Soul Reaver was what originally attracted me to Crystal Dynamics as a developer, who we can all thank profusely for the latest and greatest Tomb Raider. Despite its storied past, it seems strange to describe Nosgoth in terms of its predecessors (I will anyway) since it's so fundamentally different from the rest of the series.

The good old days

Developed by Psyonix and working with Crystal Dynamics, Nosgoth is a free-to-play third-person sometimes-shooter set in the world of Legacy of Kain (the titular Nosgoth). It lies somewhere in the gray area between sequel and spiritual successor to the series, remaining in the same world without obvious contribution to the story. Departing from its story-driven, platforming/RPG roots, this title is decidedly more competitive. Perhaps portraying the continuing fight between the vampires and humans of the twisted dystopia, the game is a factional war reminiscent of Alien vs Predator and Left 4 Dead, pitting humanity against physically superior monsters. Arranged in 4v4 matches and including a class-based role system, Nosgoth has a definite strategy to its brutality.

Ideally, they won't get this close to you

Aesthetically, Nosgoth stays very close to its roots. As a huge fan of the Legacy of Kain franchise, I might be a little biased about the artistic styling, but Nosgoth keeps true by being beautifully dark and twisted. The environments are bleak and bring to mind the fantastic, nightmarish environments of the otherworldly cities of Lovecraft. The architecture is grand but barren, really giving the feel of a fallen civilization. In terms of overall quality, it meets industry standards with a particular emphasis on visible ability particles. Conceptually, though, the game really shines with Legacy of Kain’s unique visuals.

Illustrative... I'm sorry

One aspect of Nosgoth which will be familiar to Alien vs Predator veterans is the imbalance between factions. Vampires are, quite simply, way stronger than humans. While one might imagine this to be a fatal flaw in such a competitive game, it actually isn’t as bad as it sounds. Matches play out in two phases, with teams switching factions at the midpoint of the match. Instead of an all-out deathmatch, this changes the dynamic of what is typically a formulaic genre. While playing vampires, your objective becomes mercilessly hunting down human scum and feasting upon their fresh corpses. When it is your turn as humans, well... you kind of have to stick together to run and hide like bitches. Since vampires are extremely likely to win both rounds, putting in a large lead as vampires and simply surviving the human round seems to be the winning formula.

You have to fight that

Strategically, both faction kits follow these themes of hunter vs hunted well. In fact, each class has a very satisfying blend of aesthetics and abilities, with a very defined and extremely appropriate overall character for each role. Scouts are veteran snipers great at doing concentrated damage at range to soften up vampires before they can engage or execute them as they try to withdraw. Tyrants are hulking brutes who specialize at rushing in and breaking up human defensive lines to create openings for other vampires. Sentinels are the nightmare spawn of Satan who troll the game by flying down, grabbing a human, and dropping them in the middle of their fellow vampires. All of them are extremely unique and create opportunities to affect the game in very different ways.

The big ones do pretty much what you would expect

Between factions, both teams have a very different play style stemming from their imbalanced relationship. All vampires have some form of three-dimensional movement, allowing them to scale buildings and attack from above. Additionally, they are much more durable, faster, and stronger than humans. Humans are more limited in their movement and are much more fragile, but have the benefit of a variety of ranged weapons. Games typically involve humans trying to stick together while staying on the move and fight in choke points using their zoning abilities. Vampires want to flank the group, break them up, and pick them apart one by one. Most of the time this will end in the vampires shattering the human’s heads on the cobblestones so they can consume their sweet contents like terrifying otters. There is a grim sense of entertainment that you can get out of seeing how many leeches you can take with you and, every once in a while, actually emerge victorious.

The losing team

Unfortunately the game is still evolving and, although there are new game modes on the horizon, the current modes are primarily comprised of death matches. Additionally, there are a few matchmaking issues which create some strange matchups, Since it seems to be based on account level, a higher level player in a low level game can create some unique situations. If anyone leaves the highest level player's team during the match, a replacement may not be brought in if the total level of their team is still roughly equal to that of the other team. On more than a few occasions I ended up in a 2v4 which resulted in a roughly equivalent total team level, which wasn’t much consolation when I had four vampires taking turns picking the choice organs out of my torso like a See's Candies sampler.

Guess which one I was

Regardless of the format, I was happy to see a continuation of the Legacy of Kain storyline. In that sense, I am somewhat disappointed by the direction this latest release took. On the other hand, any reintroduction to the settings after I believed it dead was absolutely welcome. In a way, it also filled a void in my gaming which I didn’t even know existed. After its long tenure as a pvp shooter, the chaos created by the number of side-grades released by Team Fortress 2, as well as the sheer amount of hats, has driven me away from the title. Nosgoth has the same tight gameplay and contained diversity that Team Fortress 2 boasted when it was first released in a markedly darker and more visceral setting. Are you fighting it out in the bloody streets of Nosgoth? Sound off in the comments and let us know what you think about this game!

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