Review – Shadows: Awakening
Shadows: Awakening is an action RPG set in the Heretic Kingdoms universe. It’s basically a hybrid between a remake and a sequel to the original Heretic Kingdoms games. You play as a Devourer, a demon that exists in the Shadow Realm who consumes the souls of mortals to be able to control them in the mortal world. Summoned by a mysteroius hooded man, you set out on a journey to stop a conspiracy that threatens the world.
Upon starting the game, you will get a choice of three characters to choose from by devouring their soul. Each of the characters have distinctive playstyles and stories to follow so there’s already an incentive for replayability.
I know next to nothing about the Heretic franchise this game is based upon so I can’t speak for the quality compared to its predecessors, but the writing in Shadows: Awakening is actually pretty solid and kept me invested until the end, even though the overall plot wasn’t exactly that exciting.
Combat works just well enough, using the controller’s face buttons for the basic attack and three abilities of your choice per character. Switching characters to increase the size of your combo attacks is very easy, with the command assigned to the left and right bumpers. There’s no dodge or roll button, so to avoid attacks you simply have to move out of the way which is slightly annoying. Despite being a bit basic and quite shallow, I found the combat entertaining enough. You can switch between the mortal and shadow realms, changing how you view and interact with the world around you, and this is how Shadows differs itself from other games in the genre.
When in the Shadow Realm, new areas might open up: bridges that have been destroyed can be accessed and objects blocking your path will be removed. You might also find new characters for quests or to trade with and new enemies to fight. It’s this dynamic that kept me exploring the world just to make sure I haven’t missed anything vital.
The Shadow Realm also applies to some surprisingly unique enemy encounters, having to switch in and out of the realm to take out shields so those in the mortal realm can finish them off or vice versa. I’m impressed with how much the two realms synergize with each other, as both are used often and it’s not some silly gimmick to forget about. The realm switching mechanic improves upon what would have become just another average game.
Alongside the devourer and your puppet of choice, you will find a dozen other puppets scattered across the world. Once you consume their souls you can take control of up to two extra puppets to fill your party. Each of the puppets have their own set of skills and abilities to experiment with. The system does a fantastic job at stopping the combat from becoming to stale and repetitive with solid pacing at the rate you unlock these characters. Your party has shared health supplies and inventory, meaning you don’t have to worry too much about moving equipment around, though when you do need to delve into the menus, things can get messy.
Unfortunately the opening hours are an absolute chore to play. With only two available characters and a very small collection of skills to use, it definitely was a repetitive mess, but as you build up your party and delve into the RPG mechanics, Shadows becomes a much more interesting game to play. The dynamics of having a diverse party of characters is when Shadows is at it’s absolute best. There’s also plenty to do in here. Beyond the main questline, there’s a number of side quests and dungeons for you to explore, then you’ve got the three heroes that you can pick at the start, each with their own story and motivations. To see everything it could take upwards of 70 hours.
I really like the visual design thanks to its wide range of biomes and areas just packed with detail. The Shadow Realm has its own distinctive look that can unlock new paths and the clues in the environment make it clear where you need to go. Character models are well detailed and there’s a good variety in enemy design all around. The sound department is surprisingly really good with some solid voice acting from the main cast. The soundtrack is decent but not entirely memorable. There’s really not much to say about the sound design other than it does it’s job nicely.
Unfortunately, Shadows has quite a few technical issues. There’s smaller things such as long loading times or quest markers not showing, then there are larger issues like the occasional crash or massive frame drops. It wasn’t too bad to want me to stop playing, but it was a major nuisance I was not expecting.
I had a lot of fun playing Shadows: Awakening. The switching between realms brings an interesting dynamic that saves this ARPG. With an extra layer of polish, this could have been something special and I’m looking forward to seeing more from this developer.
Shadows: Awakening has a solid visual design with good art direction and character models, though the frame rate can ruin the presentation a bit.
Not the smoothest of gameplay experiences, but the unique realm switching system makes up for the shortcomings.
Good voice acting and a decent but not memorable soundtrack throughout most of the game.
Even with the issues, Shadows: Awakening still manages to be a fun action RPG at the end of the day.
Final Verdict: 7.5
Reviewed on Xbox One.
Shadows: Awakening is available now on PC, Xbox One, Playstation 4.
A copy of Shadows: Awakening was provided by the publisher.