Back in the early 2000s we had what was in my opinion one of the golden ages of role playing games. My favourites of the era were Icewind Dale 1 & 2, the Divine Divinity series, Neverwinter Nights and Baldur’s Gate to name a few. These games had a isometric viewpoint with massive worlds to explore and were packed full of content. Many secrets to find and hours upon hours of engaging quests to complete with captivating storylines whether they be main quest or side missions. These role playing games had a certain feel to the gameplay too in the way the characters moved, the way they felt to play. I am struggling to put it into words but hopefully if you have played any of those games before you will know what I mean. Shadows Awakening feels a lot like those older games and is one of the best action RPGs I have played this generation.
Shadows Awakening takes place in the Heretic Kingdoms universe created by developers The Game Farm. Players assume the role of The Devourer, a hulking demon-like entity that can consume and control the souls of fallen heroes which the game refers to as “puppets”. These heroes have typical RPG classes such as Evia the mage and Urshak who is a small impish like character who is an archer. Players can switch between characters at any time while playing by tapping the left or right bumper buttons. You can combine their abilities in combat and in puzzle solving in order to progress. The story revolves around a secret council known as the Penta Nera who were assassinated and consumed by other Devourers. The Devourers are now controlling their bodies to gain the power of the council over the people of the Heretic Kingdoms so it is up to you to stop them. You will meet many NPCs on your journey each being fully voiced as well as text dialogue. When you talk to them you will have a number of dialogue options. Each of the heroes and The Devourer are fully voiced as well and will have different lines depending on who you are currently playing as when talking to NPCs. The story is very good and I enjoyed all of the dialogue. There is also collectable lore further fleshing out the back story of the game world.
As I have mentioned you play as The Devourer and can control up to 3 heroes as well. You can switch between them whenever you want during gameplay. The Devourer lives in the Shadow Realm and the heroes in the Mortal Realm. So you have to switch between them as often times there may be a wall in the Mortal Realm that doesn’t exist in the Shadow Realm for example so you can pass through it as The Devourer then switch back to one of the mortals. Switching between realms is also used in puzzle solving. For example one area had rotating platforms in the Mortal Realm and by switching to the Shadow Realm I was able to freeze them in place in order to cross them. In combat when switching between the realms you can combine each characters abilities. Like The Devourer’s Frost Chain ability will freeze several enemies in place then you can switch to a hero to attack them. There are times where you enemies have two health bars. One you have to attack them as The Devourer then switch to a hero to deplete the other health bar and kill them.
Most enemies can only be damaged by the heroes and The Devourer supports with magic like the Frost Chain ability I mentioned. There are also spirits wondering the Shadow Realm who will attack The Devourer but do not exist in the Mortal Realm. The game also has Diablo style loot with lots of chests containing Silver, the game’s currency, and random weapon and armour drops. With different rarity levels common, uncommon, rare & epic. Like many other games of this type. The Devourer has his own chests containing random loot called Shadow Crystals which can only be accessed when playing as him in the Shadow Realm. Controls are very simple and easy to get to grips with. Your normal attacks are performed with the A button and you can assign 3 abilities to X, Y & B from the inventory menu as you like. When you begin the game you will choose your first hero from a warrior, a mage and an archer. Each character has his or her own back story which you will hear when you first encounter them and can read more about them from the menu.
You have to collect special powerups to heal which can be used at any time with the left trigger but are a pretty finite resource so making good use of your abilities and avoiding taking damage in combat is necessary. The game has 4 difficulty levels Easy, Normal, Hard & Extreme. I played it on the default Normal difficulty and I found it to be challenging enough that I wasn’t breezing through fights without being overly difficult. But people looking for a meatier challenge the options are there for you and likewise if you want it to be less taxing then you can put it on Easy. Accessibility is very good then with simple controls and a good range of difficulty options to suit most player tastes but combat has a lot of depth to it and I found it necessary to use my wits to use each of my characters’ abilities effectively in order to win fights.
Main Quests & Side Quests
When playing through the main quest line and side missions I found it hard to tell the difference they were all very, very good. In fact some of my most memorable dungeons and boss fights in the game were from side quests. Some side quests will unlock certain heroes as well so there is plenty of incentive to do them. The side stories are very good as well and flesh out the game’s supporting NPCs characters as they are again fully voice acted and have had just as much time and effort spent on them as the main characters and quest line. Each quest whether main or side will have a recommended level to complete them. So you can plan which order to do them in accordingly. With some being out of your reach until later in the game as RPGs often do. Many of the main and side quests have multiple parts to their storyline taking you to different places or back to previously explored areas with a new key or ability allowing you access to areas that were previously inaccessible. Adding a touch of Metroidvania to proceedings. There are always plenty of areas off the main path to explore that have nothing to do with the current quest. Doing so will reward you with lots of great loot and sometimes can lead to mini boss fights you may not have encountered if it weren’t for exploring the game world. Completion of which will also reward you with more new loot to deck out your characters with. The game features cities that act like hub type areas where all these NPC quest givers can be found as well as other NPCs to talk to and shops to trade gear with.
Graphics, Music & Sound
The game’s graphics are very nice. The world looks great, being a fantasy setting there are plenty of variety in the environments and the developers have let their imagination flow with stunning vistas, dungeon design and city hub worlds. Character and enemy models are equally impressive and look fantastic with a huge number of different enemy types each with different strengths and weaknesses. The music is very nice and accompanies the gameplay well with a pleasant orchestral score. Sound effects all sound good and satisfying adding weight to the action on screen and all characters are very well voice acted with lots of dialogue options. Outdoor areas and cities are very bright and colourful with lots of lovely detail in the environments. Dungeons although obviously darker have a similar level of polish and detail so they look very good as well. Many objects in the environment are destructible as well giving you even more loot from destroying them.
Moving onto character animations. As I said at the start of this review and in the title, this game feels very old school. Almost immediately after I started playing it I was reminded of some of the older RPGs I mentioned. I felt this in the way the characters are animated and during combat when performing attacks I can tell the game is doing lots of different calculations from my character’s stats and that of the enemies as it is based on table top RPG board games. Of course this could be said about all RPGs because obviously that is where they are all derived from but the feel of this game is one of the closest I have felt to a board game in a long while. All throw direct control of the characters but the timing of the animations, the way it feels on the controller is just right. I haven’t been able to quite put my finger on why that is but if you love old school RPGs and board games back in the day this will feel instantly familiar to you.
Shadows Awakening is one of the best games of this type of RPG that I have played. Period. It is up there with for what are to me the greats of the genre that I mentioned Icewind Dale, Neverwinter Nights, Baldur’s Gate & Divine Divinity. Other comparable titles would be the Diablo series. It is a fantastic looking game with a great story, world and character design. It has easy to pick up controls but with lots of depth in the game’s combat and the range of abilities at your disposal. Combining them is necessary to win battles and the switching between realms mechanic works well in combat, world traversal and solving puzzles. Puzzles are well designed and required a lot of thought to complete. The main story clocks in at around 15 hours with 15 hours of side quests coming to 30 hours total for one playthrough. Multiple playthroughs are possible too with new characters only becoming available after the first playthrough encouraging replay-ability. Excellent quests throughout whether main quests or side quests. They’re all very good with huge dungeons to explore, lots of great loot to acquire and great boss battles as well as the aforementioned puzzles.
Developers: The Games Farm
Published By: Kalypso Media
Platforms: Xbox One (reviewed), PS4 & PC
Release Date: 31/08/18