Shadows: Awakening is a game the very existence of which represents a victory for the developers. Awakening is kind of a sequel, kind of a reboot of 2014’s Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms, which was supposed to be a two-part story of which only the first half was made due to licensing and legal troubles. Now that developers have regained all rights needed to make the game 4 years later, it seems that they decided to just remake the whole thing instead of simply making the second half.
This is apparent because Shadows: Awakening starts just about the same way as Heretic Kingdoms did, with the same premise and the same status quo in the game’s world as was with the previous title. 20 years after the events of Kult: Heretic Kingdoms, all but one members of the Penta Nera, a secretive association of powerful mages, are killed. A group of so-called Devourers, demons who can consume souls to take on the form of their previous bodies, take on the identities of the Penta Nera for their own devious purposes.
The last surviving member goes into hiding and hatches a plan to take down the demons parading as his former comrades - he too summons a devourer, but allies with it. This devourer is special because it can consume multiple souls, and this is what the game’s main differentiating mechanic relies upon. Shadows: Awakening uses the unique party system of having up to 4 characters in the ‘party’, but you only control a single entity who can shapeshift into the party members.
Mechanically and in terms of presentation, Shadows: Awakening will inevitably be compared to the Diablo games, and this is understandable. It is an isometric RPG with a control scheme and loot system very similar to Diablo, however there are plenty of differences as well.
Though Awakening has its share of dungeons, they are not the huge, sprawling multi-tier gauntlets Blizzard’s titles became famous for. Instead, Shadows: Awakening opts for a more standard quest structure we see in other RPGs, with various objectives and side-quests being present in each area.
A major element of the game is switching between the Devourer and any of the mortal party members. As the Devourer, you inhabit the shadow realm, which contains different enemies, NPCs, interactable objects and minor changes to the map. While an ancient bridge may have collapsed in the material world, switching to the shadow realm will repair the damage with floaty runed stones allowing you to cross.
Switching between the various characters is what the game is built upon. As you progress and start filling up those slots, you’ll begin encountering nuanced bosses which require the use of the abilities of different puppets, as the game calls them. Early on in the game you’ll already be met with enemies that will need to be damaged both in the shadow realm and in the material world before they can be defeated.
The Devourer and each puppet can assign up to three abilities to their active skill bar, bringing the total to 12, and all characters have their own health bars. The player only ‘dies’ and needs to reload a save if all thee puppets and the Devourer, or just the Devourer, are killed. While in the shadow realm, sanctuaries are found across each map which allow for the replenishment of health and the revival of dead puppets. Significantly more than just three souls can be consumed during a playthrough, so you can change party configurations at these sanctuaries as well. As your little library of puppets grows, the game takes on a slightly Pokémonish vibe, except instead of little animals you collect the tortured souls of dead warriors.
The game features full gamepad support, however after trying both the mouse and keyboard scheme is much more comfortable. Movement and basic attacking/interacting is done with the mouse, with buttons assigned to character selection and abilities. Additionally, you can heal yourself and replenish mana with soulstones - these are accumulated by killing enemies.
As your characters level up, you can distribute points between four attributes and a selection of abilities, plus you can outfit them with various items - pretty standard RPG stuff. During your adventures you’ll encounter race-specific gear, as well as stuff only the Devourer can equip. The developers used particularly colourful vocabulary when naming Devourer items, having you equipping him with Maskulons and Melarchs.
As one explores the various regions of the game, they’ll encounter cenotaphs which are the fast-travel macguffins in this particular universe. The game shows players its world map screen fairly early on to give you a sense of how far and wide your travels will take you, and the first stop is the city of Thole. This introduces us to one of the first hub-areas of the game. Thole’s market area is a non-combat town zone with quest-givers and merchants, and players are given a bite of what to expect.
The hub opens up into a trio of combat areas, one of which is a multi-leveled dungeon, the Burial Grounds. Several quests will take you here. The hub itself, a bustling marketplace, is home to a pair of rival guilds, and their conflict becomes a key element of the story, however you’re not given the option to pick sides. Some quests are built to have multiple outcomes, however, and conversations may branch. That said, during my time with Shadows: Awakening, most of the dialgoue boiled down to a back-and-forth with my character asking questions perpetually.
Visually, Shadows: Awakening isn’t anything to write home about, but it isn’t an eyesore either. The Unity engine does what it does, and the game looks pretty enough with its slightly cartoonish art style. While the items geared towards the puppets are fairly generic fantasy stuff, the Devourer’s gear is fancy not in name alone. The levels are well laid out and the developers nailed scale and size for them all.
In terms of performance, I feel Shadows: Awakening is more hardware intensive than its visuals would require. It runs on maximum settings with no hitch on my dedicated gaming PC, but then that is to be expected. However, my laptop - which for comparison ran Assassin’s Creed: Rogue on medium settings at a stable 60 FPS, with all those particle and light effects - struggled to maintain double-digit framerates on the lowest settings. That said, this is the sort of thing beta builds are meant to test and allow the devs to iron out.
Overall, Shadows: Awakening is in most regards a capable and well designed, if generic, fantasy action RPG, however its unique party selection mechanic help it stand out from the crowd. The Devourer is quite the character who, while attempting to seem like a menacing demon, more often than not comes off bothered and annoyed rather than enraged, and whenever he interacts with other characters he’s a scene stealer.
Shadows: Awakening will be released via Steam on the 28th of September.
Aside from the character switching mechanic and the unique character the Devourer brings to the game, right now Shadows: Awakening feels extremely generic. For a lover of fantasy RPGs like me, generic doesn’t necessarily equate to a bad thing, but people looking for new and fresh experiences have little reason as of yet to invest time into this game. As the game’s current build points out, all the content is already present and at this point only technical elements are being tweaked and improved, so this isn’t something that will change come release. If you’re not confident that the sole differentiating mechanic can carry a standard fantasy setting, then this game might not be for you in spite of its quality and technical adequacy.
Most Anticipated Feature
I’m keen on seeing how the large selection of puppets will mix up gameplay, how their many abilities will play onto each other in combat situations, and what kind of crazy bosses I’ll need to take on that use mechanics which force me to make ample use of switching between characters.