REVIEW: Shadows: Awakening

Nov
23

REVIEW: Shadows: Awakening

I tell thee, someone give this demon an antacid, he ate way too many souls just now. Oh, thou tummy ache from cursed runes!

Steam: Released
Type: Single-player
Genre: RPG, ARPG
Developer: Games Farm
Publisher: Kalypso
Release date: 31 Aug, 2018

Shadows: Awakening is one of those games where you don’t get seriously into it until you’re almost halfway through the game. For me, it was when I had to stop the Werewolf Berserkers. The combat got more intense, hunting for puzzles was more intriguingly exploratory, and the story really focused itself well in regards to the side character Zaar. So, take that as you may, Shadows literally has to awaken a bit before the game has enough meat to give you the opinion you are doing more than going through the rpg motions. Expect 5-8 hours or more before that happens, or even up to 15 hours to get to the midpoint if you opt do to all the side quests while playing, explore everything, and not look at walkthroughs. Once it kicked in, though, the game really shines.

Gameplay

Kiting. Yes, you will be kiting, make no doubt about it. Whether that is something you are okay with or not depends on the type of games you enjoy. Personally, I couldn’t stand not being able to manually dodge, block, or parry, but I got over it after some time. You will be running circles over and over again, and there is no way around it. It is an isometric aprg in the vein of the Divinity series and it’s heavy on moving around and attacking, then heading to a nearby Sanctuary for some health or using stored health to continue. The nuance here is that you can switch out characters on the fly, including their weapons and quick-button skills. The game utilizes this mechanic to design battles around switching quickly between these characters, giving the combat a more intricate feel of a dance in motion rather than a clickfest with spells. Also, once you kill the monsters they are dead forever, allowing you time to explore. This can be hit or miss for some gamers, so if you want a constant influx of monsters to fight then you will not find that in this game.

The big focus here is set on this interchangeable party combat. Being able to change out a cast of four classed party members on the fly in real time as you attack your enemies is actually a lot of fun and feels very RTS in a way since there is no true pause in the game. The battle system is quite robust, and it also allows for some puzzle-like battles that are designed to take advantage of class swap outs. Do not expect a Souls like arpg experience, think Divinity and don’t look back. The balance was fine, with each class having better areas of expertise, but you are best with a well-rounded party than all warriors or all hunters. Bosses were also very well balanced, with no over the top fights or cheap hits.

You level up all your party members as you go, but their weapons, armor, skills, talents, and buffs do not. You must constantly go back and adjust these things as you go, and it gets tiring. I think I must have spent at least 1/3rd of the time simply managing inventory and skills. The one saving caveat is that this can be done on the fly, even in combat. You can also save your game anywhere in the game at any time, with the exception of battles, avoiding restart fails. Even with that, I found it annoying to manage so much. I’d rather have a handful of items I like and upgrade them as I go if I had the choice, but that is just me.

As for branching RPG actions changing the course of the game, there are a handful of situations like that, but you won’t know when or if it happens most of the time until you look at your party selection screen and realize some of them have been crossed out due to the game choices. I do have to note, the choices were not obviously noted as branches and it was a bit of a surprise. There are a few other main branches based on how you react to questions in a side quest, but the repercussions were not as strong as not being able to see a full-on character. The first of these choices is at the beginning where you pick your soul puppet from a Mage, Hunter, or Warrior. I picked Mage, and after checking a few vids that opted for the other choices, I don’t think it varies the game all that much other than you learn some back history about that character. Honestly, the Mage choice seemed to be the one the game revolved around the most and I’d suggest doing that one first.

You center around using your demon, the one who holds all the souls like an Ikea organizer called Devourer, for health and spirit attacks. You can also hand select which party members you want to use at the recharge zones called Sanctuaries. As his collection of souls grows, you get more members to pick for a max set of four to play with at a time, including Devourer himself.

When Devourer enters the Shadow Realm, it allows for an intermediate Pause feature to make some strategy positions as the mortal realm freezes, but don’t be fooled because the spirit realm can be dangerous and many spirit based enemies can’t even be defeated in the spirit realm. So, the Pause is not 100% safe. This means you need to cycle through your puppets to attack enemies as you hold onto your shorts hoping you don’t run out of health. However, health is plentiful with a huge number of Sanctuaries to recharge and regroup your puppets in every level along with a health pack item called a Soulstone to recharge and use on the fly. There are even merchants who can reset your health for a price. I don’t think you’ll die a ton, it’s very generous as it balances the sort of frantic action brought on by combat from hordes or multi-skilled bosses.

The puzzles involved are very basic, often with several levers that must be arranged in a certain order to proceed, tiles to step on, switches, or boulders to roll onto plates. It was good the first time, the second time felt kinda old and the repetition didn’t stop there. Thereafter, I just lost interest in the puzzles as they all felt the same and offered nothing interesting or much challenge. It eventually became a reaction like “sigh, a puzzle”, because all the puzzles were essentially variations of the same ones from the beginning of the game. The big difference was the level Kogog Aak, which threw me for a loop and a few hours of my time before I realized I didn’t have all the Sun Stones and had to forage for them much further ahead. That level was nuts.

To play this game, you WILL need some hand to eye coordination because there are certain puzzles and even enemies where you must do them in a specific timed order or you will be unable to progress. If you have an aversion to, for instance, clicking on several switches in a timed fashion with only milli-seconds to spare while a boulder is rolling over moving planks, then you may not want to play this. It’s not as bad as platforming, but it requires fast, precise movement to complete those areas and not all RPG gamers enjoy that. For those that can’t react quickly, you will have a lot of trouble.

Story

The Heretic Kingdoms series has been around for several years and Shadows: Awakening, from what I know, is a redesign and completely new envisioning of the 2014 Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms with an additional part II included ( note: buy this game instead of Heretic Kingdoms ). So, you will get a TON of backstory involved and world history. The story itself starts out well enough, but has a sort of empty space where characters simply talk about what is going on rather than any in-depth look into themselves as a character. For a long time in the beginning, it felt like I would move from one set of quests to the next, without much insight into what made my character tick. All that changes about halfway through with the werewolves, followed by the Penta Nera areas ( think evil wizard mafia ). It was these places that the game finally got its claws into me, leaving me up all night and going to bed in the wee hours of the morning. For whatever reason before then, the story was almost like reading a script with no actual involvement between people. So, if the story doesn’t grab you off the bat, wait awhile and let it open up.

The story is one of intrigue, you are a demon summoned by a High Mage named Krenze who is trying to stop the world from being taken over by evil wizards. You know, like an episode of My Little Pony. As the demon named Devourer, you will kill people and take their souls, making them puppets of your bidding and fighting with them in the physical world, again, like an episode of My Little Pony. There are a variety of arching side-quests, some taking many hours to be able to complete, and each has a chapter to uncover. I enjoyed many of them, and even if they would lean towards the “read this letter” type of stories, they were well written. Throughout the game, you’ll also get dozens of notes on ancient history, events, and people’s personal writings. There is so much, I stopped reading it all, but the info notes were exceptionally well done.

Graphics/Sound

I have to say the game looks beautiful but at the same time somewhat dated. It does support up to 4K resolution, which I tried and looked pretty decent even though my video card was chugging hard to keep up. I could run 1440p or 1080p much easier. 1440p is preferred since the graphics seemed a bit pixelated at 1080p for my tastes. There are bare-bones graphics settings, like Fantastic or Beautiful options, and adjusting these didn’t affect my framerate as much as the resolution did. 60FPS is nice, but sort of useless on this game because the characters move so slowly in the first place. 30FPS works just as well to my surprise. There is no camera-pan either, and it was a little annoying, but I got used to it with time.

The menus are not great, it’s just too much to sort through and its organized well, but not in a friendly manner. Granted, RPG’s typically have Menus like an NYC building blueprint from Ghostbusters, but this was cumbersome and hard to use. It needs more attention to streamlining it.

The voice acting for the main two characters, Krenze and Devourer are done very well. Tom Baker actually does the voice of the wizard Krenze and he is flat out the best voice of the game, even before I realized it was Tom Baker ( of Dr. Who fame ). The rest is done well, but feels just above average overall. It’s like somewhat better than an “okay” RPG quality of voice work, but nothing close to a AAA level of voice work. One very nice thing is that all the text is voiced, yes ALL OF IT. So, you can sit back and enjoy the show.

Controls

I saw several posts about how this is primarily a mouse and keyboard game. It’s not in the least. I used three different controllers and it was not difficult to play on a controller at all. As a matter of fact, it feels like a good amount of time went into making the game revolve around excellent controller settings. It shows because I can aim or auto-aim with ease and I don’t have to be exact, just in the vicinity and my shots end up hitting my target. While precision enthusiasts may be upset, I was quite happy to play on my controller from my couch using my Steam Link. I never even bothered to switch to M&KB once, it was that good. However, there is one big thing – the controller prompts show the wrong buttons. With an Xbox360, it shows up as PS4 buttons and with my PS4 controller, it shows Xbox buttons. Once, my PS4 controller shut down while I was doing something, I turned it back on and it gave me PS4 buttons! But, otherwise, it won’t seem to do that. Please fix that immediately.

Bugs/Performance

I occasionally get odd enemy health bars stuck in midair and there were three crashes straight from a scene load. Once a mini-boss, the Reaper, would glitch out of sight and disappear except for his sword, and then he would suddenly appear again. I don’t *think* that was intentional because otherwise why would I be able to see a sword? I’ve gotten stuck on some geometry here and there, making me reload my save which stinks, and had a Griffen freeze on me. Overall, I feel that the game is not quite ready with some shaky screen loads and unpredictable bugs to be encountered. SAVE OFTEN, like every time you defeat a mini-boss or clear an area. Hopefully, there will be some major patches along the way.

Verdict

This is a solid Save for Later. While it took me awhile to like this game, once it got going about 8-10 hrs in, I was really enjoying myself. 18 hours in and I was having a blast. The focus is largely on the combat, assuming you don’t mind all the kiting. It’s fast, with the need to change party members on the fly to address certain enemies without much in the way of pausing. While not as heart pounding as the more common third person arpg’s of late, it’s still thrilling and requires complete attention to play in a sort of dance of death as you balance one character to the edge of health and then move to the next while they recover. I just wish the difficulty spike started earlier in the game instead of in the middle.

Second to the combat is the story, which is quite detailed and eventually has some great dramatic interaction down the line. I still don’t think the script made me care for the characters much or kept me intrigued with the game world. Many of the souls in the demon can’t even talk, but the ones that do speak did eventually pan out with an interesting story with a few slight twists here and there.

The best part are the side quests, with interesting story offshoots and a myraid of mazes and doors that need unlocking. It’s got a strong sense of exploration along with a bit of trepidation about where you are treading and who to have up front as the main fighter. The tension carries itself well.

The puzzles are repetitive and often boring, which I feel is the Achilles heel of this game. It can also be very frustrating if you can’t time them well enough. There just needs to be more variety and different types of puzzles to make it shine. I don’t want to see another roll the ball or click the switch puzzle for a damned long while now. The Kogog Aak level was a nice change of pace, though, *that* was awesome.

While the graphics are well done for a AA title, and lovingly inked and assembled, they also feel very average compared to all the rest of the competition in the isometric arpg genre. Just look at Divinity Original Sin II and you’ll see a difference. That said, it does look nice at 1440p and I rather enjoyed all the incredibly detailed work for those backgrounds and game scenes.

I loved, I mean LOVED having Tom Baker as a voice actor. Seriously, it’s a game changer because that is one of the primary reasons I actually enjoyed the story. The other voice actors are okay, but really it’s Mr. Baker’s expertise and weight of presentation that completely keeps me wanting to push on.

The game seriously just comes down to whether or not the mechanics of switching your character and loadouts on the fly compels you to progress. It’s a well thought out way of combat and runs surprisingly well with a controller too. It feels like an RTS-lite in a way, so don’t go in thinking it’s a clickmania with spells and buffs. You will need to strategize a bit to use the right party class at the right time.

My biggest problem with the game, aside from the bugs and puzzles, was that it took way too long for me to get interested in what was going on. Hours upon hours went by and I kept thinking the game was just so-so until I got to some good conflict. There needed to be more of the personal history and reactionary choices much earlier on and harder battles. Still, for a more old school style of aprg with fast combat, it really does the job and surprised me the more I played. Grab it on sale when you can or whenever you are in the mood for isometric arpg fun.

About dangerhighdoltage

I wish I was a gravelly-voiced action hero with a scar on every corner of my face from all the ninjas and zombie hordes massacred along my path of destruction. However, I'm rather clumsy. I can walk and chew gum at the same time at least. My favorite genres of late are butterfly field simulators and co-op Plinko carnival games. The occasional puzzle-platforming-RPG-hacknslash-owwwmyheadhurtsfromthisdamnpuzzle-storydriven game is fun too.

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