Shadows: Awakening PC Review

Shadows: Awakening attempts to stray away from being a typical ARPG but lacks the juice to keep things interesting until its closing moments.

By Woozie, Posted 05 Sep 2018

When you talk about ARPGs, you’re probably thinking about isometric perspectives and earning loot by dispatching metric tons of monsters and the odd demon or two. Shadows: Awakening takes things a step further, allowing you to play as one. It’s also not just any demon, but a Devourer capable of consuming and using souls as its Puppets. Right at the start, you get to choose between three individuals embodying familiar archetypes - a barbarian, a hunter, and a fire mage. Once you made your choice, the other two remain locked for the remainder of the playthrough. Despite their role as Puppets, these are notable figures in the history of the Heretic Kingdoms and come with their own stories and quests. We’re off to a promising start.

Shadows: Awakening tries to break away from the typical ARPG mold and the most notable way in which it does so is its character switching and plane shifting mechanics. As the Devourer only inhabits the Shadow Realm, it makes use of its Puppets to overcome obstacles in the real world. You can have up to four characters in your “party”, being able to freely switch between them at most times. This act feels strangely similar to switching weapons in an first-person shooter, as they all have uniquely themed sets of skills to choose from and upgrade. It’s a pity that this only caters to a limited amount of synergy.

Shadows: Awakening, PC, Review, Screenshot

A massive golem casts armor that persists upon switching to different characters, allowing a few seconds of safely getting up in a baddie’s face and unloading every offensive skill in your arsenal. The Devourer itself passes through foes in both planes and freezes them for a few seconds, making it easy to get out of a tight corner you might have backed into. Early on, discovering potential skill combinations keeps you interested in leveling up, but as you get closer to the midgame, things begin to simmer down quite significantly. While character switching means you get whole new skills, health and mana pools, this fails to stay fresh through to the endgame – just like most things in Shadows: Awakening.

What starts as enjoyable, if a bit floaty, combat also becomes rote by the time you step past the halfway point of the game. New items only increase stats just like upgrading skills only makes them hit harder. Each character can equip a set of only three skills at one time; the only way to choose new skills is by dipping into the character menu. While it’s possible to do so even when in combat, chances are that once you’ve found an efficient combination you enjoy, you’ll want to stick to it. Inevitably, you’ll get to a point where spicing combat up won’t be possible anymore, which turns every encounter into a dull process of hacking away at foes that aren’t very creatively designed to begin with. You get the odd summoner or shield that can only be broken in one plane. Some enemies might be (in)vulnerable to specific types of damage but that doesn’t change the fact that you never have to employ skills too smartly or rely on what synergy there is. Melee foes just melee away; ranged ones attack from range. You also encounter the same minibosses over and over again with no variation in their skill set. This lack of variety when it comes to how they fight isn’t aided by the game’s slow pace.

Shadows: Awakening, PC, Review, Screenshot

Shadows: Awakening foregoes endless loot grinds in favor of a story-driven approach. Larger fights only pit you against a couple of foes at one time. Enemies of a similar level usually take a few hits before going down and collision can sometimes turn targeting the right foe into a bit of a nightmare. If you plan on using minions, you should know that they’re a bit brain-dead and not very efficient.  It’s also easy to get overwhelmed with the amount of useless loot that you get, and the inventory screen doesn’t help with quickly sorting through it, even if it has a button that only shows items usable by the selected character.

Outside of combat, you’re dealing with environmental puzzles, which represent another way in which Shadows: Awakening tries to deviate from the standard ARPG recipe. A seemingly inaccessible area becomes accessible in the Shadow Realm, while switches can only be used by Puppets. It’s an interesting addition the first few time around, but also one that turns into a trivial action not long after. The game loves to send you hunting for levers through side paths that often lead to the very opposite corner of the level.  In doing so, it only artificially prolongs the time spent in dungeons that end up overstaying their welcome.

Shadows: Awakening, PC, Screenshot, Review

Then, you’ve puzzles that require awkwardly pushing yourself against a boulder in an attempt to move it over a pressure plate. Some involve trial and error in discovering the right order in which levers must be used to extend platforms that help a boulder move over a gap. Others have you waiting around as fire streams slowly stop one at a time after you’ve pulled a lever. Whether relying on physics or logic, none of these add anything relevant to the experience. They break the pace, sure, but they do it in a manner that’s not particularly engaging or rewarding and which just bogs everything down. That’s without mentioning how you sometimes find yourself also doing the puzzles you just completed on your way back – and Shadows: Awakening features quite a bit of backtracking through areas you’ve already cleared.

Dialogue and lore books found throughout levels build a fairly interesting world with its own mythology and mix of fantasy races through which the narrative sadly insists on rushing. Proper voice acting may back the cutscenes, but they show impressive vistas at low resolution. The small amount of interaction between characters makes it hard to care for their supposed roles in the world, while also failing to establish any sense that they’re on an important quest. The Devourer does make it its mission to use the word “thou” whenever it can, though, and I do hope it’ll be a while before I hear it again. For the most part of my time spent with Shadows: Awakening, I felt like I was killing monsters for the sake of it and not because I was on a desperate quest that had a capable mage summon a powerful demon into the world.

Shadows: Awakening, PC, Review, Screenshot

Aside from a series of small visual bugs, which saw NPCs spazzing uncontrollably or objects disappearing in plain view, Shadows Awakening features a set of distinct locations, with a few hub areas that manage to stand out thanks to some neat use of ornamentation. It’s also undoubtedly cool to see a werewolf wielding dual axes hacking away at foes, or a stalwart warrior turning into an invulnerable iron maiden that impales anyone nearby. Even the enemies somewhat compensate their simple combat behavior through visual variety. Werewolf shamans, wood giants, swift bees, alongside more pedestrian wolves and boars are only a part of what you’ll encounter throughout the Heretic Kingdoms.

By the time I was in the final portion of Shadows: Awakening, I was eagerly waiting for the moment I could finally put it aside. Switching between different characters is enough to keep you looking for new Puppets, skills and synergy opportunities in the first part. The narrative might not engross, but lore books build an intriguing-enough world with a fair deal of history behind it, making the Heretic Kingdoms places you want to learn more about. And up until its midpoint, Shadows: Awakening is a reasonably enjoyable ARPG. It won’t satisfy anyone looking for tons of depth but does what it sets out to do succesfully. That, however, doesn’t hold up going into the endgame, where tedious combat meets unnecessary puzzles and rather annoying level design making it increasingly challenging to see the adventure through. And while there is potential for replayability, since you don’t get to try all Puppets out in one single playthrough, I’m not particularly keen on having another go at it.

Bogdan Robert, NoobFeed
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General Information

Platform(s): Xbox One, PS4, PC
Publisher(s): Kalypso Media Digital
Developer(s): Games Farm s.r.o.
Genres: Action, Role-Playing
Themes: Fantasy
Release Date: 2018-09-28

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