Review: Shadows: Awakening – Breathing life into the dungeon crawlers

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With a release in just the past couple of months, Shadows: Awakening finds itself seated within a genre filled with popular games in a similar fashion. But the question is, since its establishment in 2014 release as Shadows: Awakening – Book I with a remastering featuring the never-before-released Book II. But does it hit all the right strides? Find out in our review.


Pros:
+Challenging puzzles and level designs that require the use of both the Devourer and the puppet
+Combat is deep, meaningful and rich with unique encounters
+Not one level or map feels the same due to the designs made for the each of them
+Lore is extremely deep, putting it right on par with games such as Pillars of Eternity and Diablo

Cons:
-The difficulty scaling can be surprising and off-putting at first and will be welcoming to those that seek a challenge.
-Load screens can take away from the overall level of immersion


As a fan of games such as Diablo, Sacred and Pillars of Eternity, I’d almost found myself a bit surprised by the silent release of Shadows: Awakening when it released back in August. Now, here we are, almost three months since the games official release on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

The surprising part about this games release? I’ve found that very few people have actually heard of Shadows: Awakening. After all, the isometric dungeon-crawling genre has once more seen a resurgence in recent years. Among those games comes Shadows: Awakening, a game that is deep, accessible, and provides a moderate challenge as an isometric action RPG.

But you might be wondering, how can I call this a dungeon crawling isometric RPG that fits in with the likes of games such as Vikings: Wolves of MidgardDiabloSacredPillars of Eternity and that nifty little series Torchlight without acknowledging the many variants that there are? Well, there’s a reason that I mention each of these games, a reason that I even bring them into light when it comes to turn-based strategy RPGs to loot-grind based dungeon divers.

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There seems to be a lot of inspiration from other games in the RPG genre

Because of how Shadows: Awakening is handled, you may take note of how each of these games is implemented within a single title. In one aspect, you have the loot-based focus that Diablo is established as. One aspect is that it has a deep and meaningful story, its design adds an extra layer of depth alongside a robust set of gameplay mechanics much akin to what Pillars of Eternity when you begin digging deeper into the game itself.

Characters themselves are fleshed out, there are books filled with lore and dialogue options spread across the game much like Sacred and Diablo both have to offer. Even leveling your character’s stats is something similar to that of the genre Diablo helped pave the way for. Even with lore and design elements aside, the gameplay itself is deep, is meaningful and it’s one that will try even the most experienced of RPG fans alike.

The major change from any of the aforementioned titles is an extra layer of mechanics: You can switch between multiple characters with a press of a button. You can switch between each of the puppets as you progress through the game, allowing you to have four puppets (champions) at a time while also maintaining the Shadow you actually are, the one controlling said puppets. Two of them being the primary characters that you will use throughout your adventure.

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Character creation wasn’t needed to help drive Shadows: Awakening’s amazing experience

Unlike some of the game’s I mentioned earlier; namely Torchlight and Sacred; you won’t get to design your character in any way. Each character has a set appearance, a set voice, but different armors that you can equip. Along with their own unique armor designs, each character also has their own abilities, lore, base skills, and name that has already been decided for the player.

When the game starts up you will have several important instances play out before you. You will be taking on the role of Devourer, the shadow controlling the puppets, who is a powerful demon that’s been summoned by a powerful mage by the name of Krenze. For all intents and purposes, neither like each other and both have a bone to pick with one another.

After your brief introduction to both characters, some basic gameplay element tutorials, you will be tossed instantly into the mess of things, a place where both Krenze and Devourer will have to work together in order to stop a threat much larger than the problems they face from taking over. In the opening seconds, Devourer is tasked with picking one of three characters as a primary puppet he will control through possession.

Once it’s time to choose a character, you will be given the chance to choose from Jasker the hunter, Kalig the warrior, and Evia the mage. Once selected – I opted for Evia – your story gets underway and Shadows: Awakening instantly begins to show off how tightly knitted every characters lore is within the world around them. Instantly Evia and Devourer began to discuss what events caused her to be brought back from the dead and what kind of threats are aimed to consume the world.

But due to our lack of wanting to point out spoilers, let’s move on and discuss the game itself.

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Exploring the world is exciting, challenging, and astonishing

Much like the games that came before it, Shadows: Awakening lays everything out before you. There’s a Journal that allows you to track your main story missions, side quests, and your lore incase you get lost. Alongside the Journal you are even given a mini-map in the lower right of the screen, which you will want to pay plenty of attention to as you explore.

Due to how massive the world is, how many sections of the game require you to transition between a puppet and Devourer, it’s worth noting the layout of a dungeon or a zone you are in. You will sometimes need to dart off in the form of Devourer and others as a puppet in order to access rooms that would otherwise be inaccessible to one another.

Just like any good RPG of this kind, the mini-map and full-sized map are also filled with Icons on the map which indicate your points of interest such as Cenotaphs (fast travel points), vendors or even a Sanctuary where you can swap out your puppets over the course of the 50+ hour story.

As a side note, you may want to know that once you pick your core character such as Evia, you can’t choose another and you are going to need to replay the game in order to experience the story of the others, putting the game itself at 100+ hours to complete. For fans of Diablo or Sacred, you should be no stranger to one such experience and should be rather familiar with this task as it adds to the replayability of isometric RPGs.

Even the dungeons themselves are a delight to experience next to each of the characters. Due to the “fog of war” being present, you will find yourself finding new things each time through. You’ll find that you may have missed a treasure in the shadow realm while finding others in the physical and vise versa your first time through.

I found myself even missing out on the chance to encounter a rare boss or two, missing out on the chance to obtain some rare loot due to their spawn. While this was uncommon, it does happen and it’s a flustering experience when you go running past the chance to obtain some of the game’s harder to obtain loot. Among the exploring for mini-bosses loot, etc.

You will complete puzzles based on finding items, defeating bosses and even doing touch plate based navigation through a grid. The earliest example of this is a grid that’s 8 plates by 8 plates. If you misstep on one, you will find your character taking a decent amount of fire damage. In order to complete the puzzle and find your path, you will need to find the path by switching to Devourer before switching back to your puppet and navigating the puzzle in that very fashion.

But this isn’t the only mechanic that actually uses the shadow realm to its best. Navigating to sanctuaries to swap out your puppets, finding Shadow Traders who sell and buy Devourer’s equipment are present throughout the game. This extra layer of depth expands upon previous experiences and helps bring the lands of the Heretic Kingdom to life.

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There is plenty to see, plenty to explore and itemization isn’t a problem – but enemies are

Much like any RPG on the market, Shadows: Awakening brings a number of challenges to life from the very beginning. Some include the fact that enemies will have immunities from the very start. Because of this, you may find it best to keep some of your old equipment while making sure to utilize your newer gear to the best you can and even keeping a spare weapon set or two in your arsenal.

Because of this approach, you will sometimes find that elements on your weapons can be more problematic than they are helpful. While there are dozens upon dozens of pieces of equipment from armor pieces to cloaks, boots, rings, etc., there are still things you have to worry about. Some bosses may be immune to multitudes of elements, making it so you will need to use both Devourer and your puppet in order to take them on.

You will even find that, while perks and skills are available via leveling, that you will still need to enhance your weapons through various Essences that you will find scattered through the regions. Some will increase protections, others will increase your damage, and even items such as legendary items will offer a robust set of bonuses for you to use – something similar to that of Diablo and how the game handles item rarities and their bonuses.

Unfortunately, I found myself having to alternate between my puppet(s) and Devourer in order to complete some of the encounters I had. Early on, however, it’s more unforgiving and brings the difficulty to an entirely new degree of encounters from the very start. Shadows: Awakening didn’t mind throwing out the challenge they had to offer all those years ago and continued doing so through and through.

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Performance and Graphics

On the PlayStation 4 it was hard not to take note of minimal load times, beautiful graphics and the density of animations within the characters, particle effects for spells and the ambient density of things such as fog, water and sunshafts from local lighting within the areas I’d explored in my adventures through Shadows: Awakening.

Among them came the buttery smooth framerates that never seemed to dip down below their targeted performance ratios, which seems to be somewhere around 30fps regardless of being on a PlayStation 4 Pro or not. There were moments, very few at that, where a minor dip would happen during chaotic battles with multiple foes in both the physical and shadow planes.

On a side note, it’s not often this happens and it shouldn’t be considered a major detriment to the overall experience. It’s not common you will be overwhelmed by a dozen or more foes on the screen or unimaginable of traps being activated at once. Rather, the game does take a mild approach to the Diablo formula and finds a comfortable place between Diablo and Pillars of Eternity while rewarding the player for their efforts all-the-while.

Whether it’s visual or audio-design based, the ambient features within Shadows: Awakening are quite pleasing, enjoyable and really bring home the level of immersion players will have. The only downside, the load screens are plenty when you transition from one zone to another. You’ll find yourself facing these load screens rather often as you bump between heading to town and then off to another area within the zone you are in.

After a while, it does become a bit tedious and will chip away at the amounted interest players may have in the game, but it is something that can be addressed with later updates.

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The Conclusion – it’s time to Awaken

When said and done, Shadows: Awakening is an excellent adventure for those looking for one such genre. Offering the depth of Pillars of Eternity where story matters and even the atmosphere of Sacred while giving forth the need of loot-based rewards equivalent to that of the Diablo series.

While the game does express an increased level of difficulty and design, it’s one that can come off as foreboding from the very start. Fights aren’t easy, learning the basics of the game such as leveling, itemization, and classes can be a challenge. Maps are large, multi-tiered thanks to both the shadow and physical planes, but underneath it all, Shadows: Awakening is one of the strongest titles out there on the market.

Shadows: Awakening
Platforms: 
PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One
Version Reviewed: 
PlayStation 4
Developer: 
Games Farm
Publisher:
Kalypso Media
Release Date: 
Available Now
Cost:
$49.99

It’s rich in lore, design elements and quirky gameplay mechanics that you may not see anywhere else. For fans of games like Diablo, Torchlight, and Pillars of Eternity style games, this is going to be a must-have as its replayability, its stories and gameplay elements are nothing short of captivating. It’ll be one to keep you busy for days on end and will surely keep you busy for many days to come.


Our review is based upon a retail version that was provided to us by the publisher of the game. For information about our ethics policy please click here.


 Final Score: 8 out of 10


About the Writer(s):

dustin_batgr_prof

Dustin is our native console gamer, PlayStation and Nintendo reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the borders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPG’s, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable. His elitist attitude gives him direction, want, and a need for the hardest difficulties in games, which is fun to watch, and hilarity at its finest. You can find him over on Twitter or Facebook.

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