Shadows: Awakening Review
Released just over a month ago, Shadows: Awakening is an isometric dungeon-crawler RPG with a rich storyline and intriguing game mechanics. Brought to us by Slovakian developer Games Farm, Awakening is the second installment in the Heretic Kingdoms saga. If you’re suddenly worried that you missed the first game, don’t be – this game plays great standalone and you will do just fine treating this as a solo game. For gamers who have dabbled in franchises like Diablo or Path of Exile but didn’t stick around because of the repetitive grind, lack of puzzles and rich storyline (sure, each of those franchises has great story around it, but it is not integral to the gameplay) look no further than Shadows: Awakening to fulfill your every need!
While Shadows: Awakening’s graphics won’t blow you out of the water, they also won’t detract from your gaming experience by any means. The game starts with an unofficial tutorial that could certainly use some improvements, but it shouldn’t take long to get your bearings. You are quickly made to choose a character class and your choices are the three RPG staples: Warrior, Hunter and Mage. Don’t fret too much about your choice however, as this game offers great replay value and you will gather additional characters as you progress!
This brings me to the most unique feature of Shadows: Awakening, the parallel-universe party system. You traverse the world as a demon, The Devourer, who consumes the souls of additional playable characters that you can switch between seamlessly with the touch of a button. These characters are known as your ‘puppets’. As the Devourer, you walk the Shadow Realm, communicate with spirits and fight demons while as your puppets you walk the mortal plane, communicate with others, and fight humans and beasts. Each realm also offers unique puzzle-solving traits, and you will need to frequently swap between worlds to traverse obstacles, find unique treasure, and combine your characters combat abilities for devastating combo attacks.
Side-by-side view of the Mortal Plane and the Shadow Realm from the same position.
The game is much more story-driven than many other in its genre and depending on your choices and character class there are multiple possible endings. It is also uniquely tailored to the character class you choose at the beginning of the game. I find this a rather nice touch as it is something that I missed from other big name titles like Diablo.
The combat is smooth and enjoyable, and the synergy available between characters provided some of my most entertaining moments of the game by far. Nothing quite beats breaking a jar of oil over your enemies and then hot-swapping to your fire mage to light them all ablaze for tons of bonus damage. The opportunities for combo attacks are virtually limitless due to the sheer number of characters available and the number of talents each can learn.
Unfortunately, not everything in this game is as well thought-out or executed as elegantly as the storyline or combat system. The inventory management in this game is atrocious. Perhaps it is more polished on the PC version, but on the Xbox One there is no centralized area for equipment, and when you select one slot to see which pieces are available (eg. Helmet), you will get a long list of items that are mostly incompatible with your character type. I would cut them some slack if my Devourer could only see Devourer items, etc. but to have one gigantic pile of equipment to sift through to identify an upgrade is tedious to say the very least. I do not even want to think of how much useful equipment I tossed just so I wouldn’t have to spend 10+ minutes combing for an upgrade.
While this may seem to be an unimportant feature, inventory management in an upgradeable-equipment RPG is a huge QOL issue. As more and more games are striving to improve their systems to make inventories easier to manage and sort, Shadows: Awakening takes a huge step backwards in this area.
With all of that said, Shadows: Awakening is an immensely satisfying experience with over 20+ hours of gameplay for a single playthrough and lots of replay potential, challenging and rewarding puzzles, a unique and exciting combat system and a refreshingly-central storyline that provides great value and entertainment.