In the past couple of years, we have had some truly great isometric RPG games such as Divinity 2 and Pillars of Eternity 2. While those games were a bit more narrative focused with a hybrid turn-based combat system, the true high-quality action combat isometric RPG's are a rare breed. Whenever one does pop up, it's always under great pressure of being a "Diablo killer" and compared to a high standard set by that game.
Well, Shadows: Awakening, made by GamesFarm shows us that a game doesn't have to be a Diablo killer in order to be its own great thing. On the contrary, Shadows is in many ways more imaginative than many of its competitors with some unique aspects and a polished gameplay that makes it well worthy of your time. How so? Let's break it down.
Shadows: Awakening is available for purchase on Steam.
Shadows: Awakening is the next single-player adventure in the Hectic Kingdoms saga. While I have not played the first game in the series, the sequel is very accessible to all new-comers and easy to follow. Awakening starts off with you being a Devourer, a demonic creature that as its name would suggest, keeps a healthy diet of souls. You are summoned by Krenze, a mysterious and powerful wizard and forced into an uneasy alliance to stop a larger threat. The Devourer has a unique ability to use the devoured souls to resurrect the person it belonged to back to life and use them as his puppet and the wizard immediately presents you with three souls of deceased heroes to chose from.
The choice of three heroes is one that impacts both the narrative and gameplay as the heroes fall in line with the standard selection of classes. Each hero has a set visual appearance and interesting backstory that you'll get to explore during the game. While your chosen hero is somewhat the focus of the story, the Devourer can eat up the souls of other deceased characters from other class trees as well in order to control them. This dynamic of multiple characters being in a single body is one of the strong points of the game and it will be immediately evident as you start the game.While there is not much in the way of emotional investment in the larger story or the characters themselves, they are still interesting to follow and are presented in a way that I wanted to learn more about them. The game even features a ton of humorous moments with the Devourer being the definite star of the show.
Shadows: Awakening plays like an action adventure game with a highly focused story that still allows for some decision making which ultimately decides which one of the three endings you'll get. In contrast to other recent RPG's, it was refreshing to have a bit more accessible and highly enjoyable journey to follow.
As mentioned, in Shadows: Awakening you are the Devourer, and whichever soul you devour at the start of the game will determine your class. The game features 3 classes to chose from. A tanky warrior, a fast, ranged hunter and the fire-wielding mage. Each of them plays uniquely different and have separate skill trees which will encourage you to play the game at least twice to experience it in a different way.
What's unique about Awakening is that you play as both the Devourer and the character who's soul you devoured and you can switch freely between them instantly. Both the demon and the human character have different attacks, stats, and skills. The gameplay diversification doesn't end there as the Devourer can eat up two more souls at certain points in the game which translates to two more playable characters in your "party" for a total of 4. These optional characters can have wildly different abilities and even have their place in the story, albeit less prominent than the main character.
What's more, the game features a Soul Reaver-like mechanic whereas, when you play as the Devourer, you inhabit a parallel Shadowrealm as opposed to when you play as a flesh and blood character who inhabits the real world. This system is at the core of Awakening and what ultimately makes it immensely fun.
The switching mechanic is used in both combat and puzzle solving, easing you into it by having your switch to another realm to cross a broken bridge or fight a boss that must be damaged in both realms. As the game progresses, however, it will put you through an ever more complicated array of puzzles and boss battles that require the use of the mechanic.
When it comes to combat, the characters have numerous abilities that correspond to their class. The game is less focused on equipment builds and more on the characters in your party and the synergy of their abilities with the switching mechanic being imperative to use if you want to survive. While there are plenty of synergy effects you can explore, the game only has 3 slots for active abilities which unnecessarily limits your options and forces you into menus if you want to switch it up. Leveling is excellently paced and every time you improve your stats it's immediately noticeable in the usage of your abilities.
Awakening is not a loot hoarder game, but there is still plenty of items to find with better equipment often tied to a larger side-quest. When talking about side-quests, while there are some which tie into the main story and are interesting, there are still numerous chore-like fetch quests that feature no interesting story and only award you with a tiny amount of experience. At least they are easy to follow through with precise quest markers directing you to your objective.
The gameplay loop of visiting a hub before heading out to do quests and progress through the story is a familiar one, seen in other isometric RPG's. It's all kept enjoyable throughout with interesting mechanics, numerous enemies, boss fights, puzzles, constant progression, and interesting locations.
VISUALS AND AUDIO
Shadows: Awakening might not blow you away with the level of visual fidelity but on the other hand, the design of everything from the world to the characters and creatures is excellent. It's both familiar and unique fantasy design with a middle-eastern spin and plenty of small details if you are careful enough to look. While the in-between locations can be bland, the main locations usually feature diverse biomes, color schemes, and lighting that add them a ton of personality. The underwater-like visual effect of the Shadowrealm looks great and I often switched between it and the real world just to see the visual effect it would have on the game. What's even better is that the game is not performance heavy on a wide array of PC configurations and was mostly bug-free during my play-time.
The game features plenty of well-designed enemy types but only later in the game do they rear their head as the first couple of hours you'll only be fighting measly spiders and an occasional skeleton. The combat feedback, on the other hand, leaves a lot to be desired. Even Divinity 2 with its turn-based combat often felt faster and more impactful. While skill effects can look good, they lack the punch you'd expect from striking an enemy with a fireball for example. The screen will never be filled with enemies that will then be satisfyingly killed en masse. This is one area where Diablo 3 has not been surpassed even years after its release.
When it comes to the voice acting -it's a hit and miss. While some characters are well voice acted like the wizard and the Devourer, for example, voice actors for less prominent NPC's often felt miscast for the character they were portraying. Some of them even featured strange accents that felt like they didn't belong which threw me off more than once.
I absolutely loved my time with Shadows: Awakening. The interesting playable characters with a wide array of different abilities, constant and meaningful skill progression and awesome loot kept me going until the very end and will certainly have me back for another playthrough. The game greatly reminded me of Darksiders, both aesthetically and from a gameplay perspective. It's insanely accessible and fun without you having to worry about builds, meta-skill combinations and other such aspects other RPG's push front and center. While I would have liked for some more interesting side quests and more impactful combat, I find that the positives here greatly outweigh all the negatives.
|+ A diverse cast of playable characters||– Underwhelming story|
|+ Realm switching mechanic||– Uninteresting side quests|
|+ Fun-to-use skills and awesome loot||– Combat feels tame and slow|
|+ Visually interesting world|