Usually, in the ARPG world, you pick up a hero and get to the nitty and gritty of high-speed slaying of an overwhelming number of demons, zombies, or whatever lore-based baddie exists for the game. Shadows: Awakening starts off immediately in a different way putting you in a charge of a demon that exists in a shadow world where you’ll quickly find yourself collecting souls – allowing you to change between classes at will for a tactical advantage in any situation. If this sounds intriguing to you I suggest you read on.
I don’t want to get too much into the story that you’re introduced to (that would ruin the fun!) but when you first get to the gameplay in Shadows: Awakening you’ll find yourself in control of a rather annoyed demon who’s just been captured (of sorts) by a cryptic hooded mage. You exist in a shadow realm and will fight your way to you first class selection: Mage, Warrior or Hunter. You’ll be presented with some statues and biographies about the soul you’re about to consume and this will become your ‘main’ class of sorts. As soon as you pick your character you’ll soon find yourself materializing into the physical world and a more familiar ARPG setting.
Shadows: Awakening doesn’t make any real change to the things that all APRGs have going for them. You get some isometric gameplay (Path of Exile and Diablo 3 style – sorry no disorienting rotating camera) and a limited set of actions, three. That’s right just three. But don’t worry because you can change between your demon and other souls at will, in real time and work their skills as well. It makes for quite the interesting real-time tactical gameplay. You can have up to 4 “puppets” as they’re called and your base demon so you really have a lot of abilities at your disposal. Each puppet can be geared, each has their own attribute points to allocate, talents, and skill points. It may seem overwhelming at first but the game doesn’t move at the breakneck speed of say, Diablo 3, so you have time to adjust to get familiar.
I think one of the coolest gameplay mechanics is the real-time switching between puppets. This is compounded by the addition of the shadow realm. The shadow realm has its own rules of sorts – the map is different in the shadow realm. Bridges between gaps may appear, holes in walls may show up, and treasures that you couldn’t see in the physical world will have been sitting right in front of you. There’s also teleportation nodes and healing nodes in the shadow realm. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, however, as some bosses require you to beat them down in the shadowrealm first before you can even make a dent in the physical world; and the shadow realm is littered with baddies that can’t wait to take a swipe at you.
Without ruining anything (hopefully) the storyline is actually quite enjoyable. The characters are voice acted and even the NPCs have a charm of sorts. Throw away NPCs won’t have a lot of dialog choices but your more story-centric NPCs have a lot of different dialog interactions that are possible. The story is packaged into chapters, and the main and side quests all work in a nice linear fashion. You can tell a good deal of thought went into designing the quests in a manner that promoted a smooth transition between areas.
The puppet you choose at the beginning of the game will have an effect on the storyline that you end up playing out. This effect isn’t necessarily huge and story changing but the information you end up learning depends on the puppet you originally choose because they all have their own backstory. The mage was a princess of the empire, dead for over 300 years. The warrior used to run the Guild of Steel in Thole (the first city you come to) before being betrayed. The undead hunter has ties to the more… unsavory figures in town.
The staple of any ARPG. As I stated before, loot will drop for each of the puppets so as you add items to your inventory make sure to pay attention to the stats so you can equip them to the appropriate class. Some items can only be equipped by certain classes – which will make it easy – but you don’t want to be that guy with an agility cloak on your mage. Really, don’t be that guy. In addition, your gear can be upgraded by enchantments that will also drop while you’re out and about indiscriminately slaying baddies. Enchantments improve the rarity of the item which also improves its base stats. I’ll be honest that I haven’t gotten far enough into the game yet to get a good look at how this system plays out towards the end of the game but the system is intriguing so far.
Shadows: Awakening is a very refreshing entry into the APRG genre. It’s really nice to see a different take in a time when most people are just trying to copy the success of Diablo 3 or Path of Exile. The graphics are great and ran smoothly on my rig, the gameplay is unique, exciting and fun and for a beta, I ran into surprisingly little in the way of bugs or interrupts to my gameplay. For me, the verdict is still out and I can’t wait to revisit the game when it launches.