Two worlds. One demon. Over a dozen heroes. That’s what players have on their plates in Shadows: Awakening, Games Farm’s latest installment in their Heretic Kingdoms saga (which includes 2014’s Shadows: Heretic Kingdom). This unique isometric RPG blends choice-driven storytelling, loot-based gameplay, and an inventive world shifting feature for what looks to be an engrossing experience.
Players control a demon called the Devourer that resides in the Shadow Realm. As its name suggests, this entity consumes the souls of fallen heroes. Those spirits then become its puppets, which the Devourer uses to bring them back into the mortal plane. The demon has access to their memories and personality allowing him to essentially masquerade as the hero to fulfill its own agenda.
The game begins with players choosing the first hero to leech off of from a choice of three. This primary hero comes with a unique backstory that ties into which quests players receive, how they play out, and influences the main plot’s evolution. Because of this, Shadows: Awakening requires multiple playthroughs using different starting characters in order to experience everything it has to offer.
Evia, one of the primary heroes, died 300 years prior and hailed from an imperial family. However, her bloodline’s regime fell sometime after her demise, so her motivations involve finding out what happened to her family and the imperium. The warrior Kalik was killed by his own son just a few years ago. Thus, he seeks to find his offspring and exact revenge. Up to 15 heroes can be recruited to the player’s party throughout the adventure. For my demo, Evia drew the lucky straw as the chosen protagonist.
Players traverse two separate realms, human and Shadow, by toggling between them in real-time at the press of a button. This also switches control between the demon and human. The Shadow realm appears as a dark reflection of the mortal world but contains notable differences that players must exploit to solve puzzles and find secrets. A basic example could be getting past a broken bridge in the Shadow Realm by walking across its intact counterpart in the living realm. The procedurally generated levels feature equally randomized loot with the exception of hand-placed secrets and powerful items.
While in the Shadow Realm, time halts in the other world. I watched the player take advantage of this, freezing moving platforms in the human world by switching to the demon’s. This condition can also be useful in combat. Having a tough time battling a earthly foe? Jump to the Shadow Realm mid-fight for a quick breather–provided the coast is clear there as well.
Games Farm designed many combat encounters with realm-swapping in mind. I witnessed a boss battle against a spider demon that had surrounded itself with a shadow shield that was impenetrable in the human reality but vulnerable in the Shadow Realm. Thus, the demon had to break the shield first, allowing the human to finish it off.
Shadows: Awakening eschews a traditional party system for something more streamlined. Instead of all four characters roaming at once, players control one at a time by swapping between them on-the-fly. Games Farm designed the game primarily for consoles and thought this would ease the clunkiness of managing party members on PC. Characters interact with each other and hold specific conversations depending on who’s matched with whom and their relationship. One pair of heroes happen to be ex-lovers, so putting them in your party leads to some awkward, hostile dialogue between them.
Combat has a similar flavor to Diablo. However, a synergetic network simplifies the team tactics of Dota/League of Legends to allow a single-player to perform them. An example is a goblin throwing an oil flask at enemies to reduce their fire defense, then using a fire mage to deal extra damage. An inquisitor summoning rotating blades after first casting her tornado attack will cause the blades to spin faster and deal more damage.
Progression boasts hearty depth. Upon leveling up, characters earn points to spend towards four main attributes, which basically act as classes. Additionally, there are separate skill points used for upgrading one of eight total skills. Each skill has three levels, creating further nuance that allows players to build a playstyle that suits them. With 15 heroes possessing sets of eight unique skills, that makes for over 120 total skills in the game.
With so many stats to wrap your brain around, I’m thankful that the game features an option for simplifying the leveling process. For those who just want to see that overall number go up without messing with the nitty gritty, you can choose to raise a blanket talent and its subsequent stats rise automatically. Detailed-oriented players fear not. You can still manually upgrade every individual stat if you prefer to be more hands-on. Furthermore, experience share amongst the party eliminates the need to grind using each individual hero.
The same ease of use applies to Items and gear. New equipment can be quickly compared to current loadouts via an icon that clearly communicates if something is better. This provides a quick at-a-glance for those who don’t want to get bogged by the details and just want to know if a new weapon beats their current one. Again, If you care to know exactly how that new shield trumps your equipped one, the full stats are provided.
The main story and sidequests heavily emphasize player choice. One mission I saw featured a drunkard who murdered his wife and asked the player to help him dispose of the body. Players can either perform the dark deed, hand the man over to the guards, or just do nothing. A critical story moment involves deciding the fate of an important female character. Deciding not to rescue her causes her to disappear from the story, which in turn locks out some future content. Furthermore, a karma mechanic causes the demon to physically change based on the player’s decisions. It can become more angelic, sprouting wings for example, or increasingly demonic.
Shadows: Awakening may resemble a Diablo clone on the surface, but its inventive mechanics and focus on accessibility make it a game worth keeping an eye on. Boasting at least 60 hours worth of content and a ton of replayability, it should keep fans engaged in its dual worlds for the long haul. I can’t speak for when it releases in the Shadow Realm, but it arrives in our realm on August 31 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.
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Edited by Marcus Stewart