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Review: Shadows: Awakening Puts a Spin On the Familiar

Screenshot: Shadows: Awakening

Shadows: Awakening is an isometric action role-playing game developed by Games Farm. Set in the Heretic Kingdoms universe, Shadows: Awakening is a sequel to Kult: Heretic Kingdoms and Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms. You play as the Devourer, a powerful demon summoned from the Shadow Realm, who has the ability to absorb the souls, abilities, and memories of the dead. and utilize them as puppets. The Devourer embarks on an epic quest which spans realities as you attempt to stop the Penta Nera from controlling the world. If you have never playing a game from the Heretic Kingdoms series, a lot of the references and story elements will make little to no sense, so if you want to understand the greater context for what is happening in Shadows: Awakening, I’d suggest going and playing the previous games, as the small bit of dialogue from the narrator at the very beginning of the game explains very little and left me scratching my head. Still, even if you find yourself thrust into the middle of this story, if you’ve played other action role-playing games you won’t feel lost when it comes to the gameplay–and you’ll find that Shadows: Awakening puts a spin on the familiar action role-playing game formula.

Screenshot: Shadows: Awakening

On the surface Shadows: Awakening looks like any role-playing game played from an isometric perspective. You collect new weapons and armor from downed enemies, and upgrade your character as you traverse the world. Where Shadows: Awakening really shakes up the formulas is with how it handles character classes. Instead of choosing to play as a single class, you instead switch between them as you need. While you’re switching between these different classes, you aren’t technically playing as multiple characters, but as a single character–the Devourer, who (as previously mentioned) can absorb the soul, memories, and abilities of the dead and then manifest those souls as puppets to fight against your enemies. You start off by choosing one soul to absorb, but as you play through the game you gain additional souls until you have a maximum party size of four, including the Devourer. The physical realm is where the souls controlled by the Devourer exist, and the Shadow Realm is where the Devourer himself exists. When you switch between the Devourer and the various characters he can manifest, you also switch realms. Switching between realms affects gameplay in many ways, as while the layout of the physical and Shadow Realms are similar, there are important gameplay differences. A wall that might exist in the physical realm might be missing in the Shadow Realm, or an impassable hole might be covered, etc. It pays to check every corner while in the Shadow Realm which can yield secret areas containing new weapons and armor.

Screenshot: Shadows: Awakening

Switching between the Shadow Realm and physical realms has an affect on combat, as well. Enemies that exist in the physical plane will not attack you in the Shadow Realm, but there are native inhabitants of the Shadow Realm who will attack you when you switch to the Devourer, so you’re never truly safe.  This character-switching mechanic opens up some really interesting possibilities for gameplay and combat. You can activate a skill for one character, like the Devourer’s ability to freeze enemies, and then switch to a damage dealing character like Kalig and just wail away at the enemy while they’re stunned and defenseless. I really loved combining abilities this way, and the way it’s implemented in Shadows: Awakening is really satisfying. Combat can feel slow in the beginning, but once you level up your characters and unlock new abilities, combat becomes really fun as you switch from character to character, combining abilities and destroying your enemies.  There are a variety of different types of weapons for you to choose from, as well as many abilities spread between the different characters you can play as. You can also enchant weapons and armor with Essences, which add new abilities depending on the item. For instance, an Essence may add fire damage to a weapon, but when the same Essence is added to a piece of armor, it adds increased resistance to fire to said piece of armor. The unique way that Shadows: Awakening handles character classes opens up a lot of different options for combat.

Screenshot: Shadows: Awakening

Probably my favorite way that the realm switching mechanic is utilized is for puzzles. One of the first puzzles you encounter involves platforms which are spinning around a central platform. In the physical realm, these platforms are constantly moving and have walls which prevent you from walking on to them. However, when you switch to the Shadow Realm, these platforms are static and also don’t have these walls, which means that you can walk on to them. The puzzles become more complicated and challenging as you go on, but I never found them to be infuriatingly hard. It’s a simple mechanic, but one that is very fun to use. Switching between realms is quick, and you’ll never be confused about which realm you’re currently in, as they each have distinct looks.

Screenshot: Shadows: Awakening

Shadows: Awakening‘s dark fantasy aesthetic is something I really like. The first three souls you are given the choice to absorb have a sort of generic, high-fantasy look to them which I did not care for, but I enjoyed the rest of them. The demonic Devourer is an especially compelling character. The voice acting is occasionally a little stiff, but I really enjoyed the little quips the Devourer will make when you switch to him, like chiding his puppets for doing a poor job, or calling them pathetic and saying that he’ll have to do everything himself. I quite liked the interactions that the Devourer’s puppets had, and it gave them all personalities. Also, and if you have played the previous games in the Heretic Kingdoms series you’ll probably already know this, the narrator is voiced by none other than Tom Baker, best known for playing the Fourth Doctor in Doctor Who, and returning voice actor for the previous games in the Heretic Kingdoms series. I really enjoyed his voice acting, and felt it added to the world and the atmosphere of Shadows: Awakening.

If you’re looking for an isometric action role-playing game with some deep lore and interesting mechanics that separate it from the pack, Shadows: Awakening is worth your time. I think it could have done a better job getting the player caught up on its story to help provide better context, but this didn’t take too much away from my enjoyment of the game.

Shadows: Awakening is available now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Windows.

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