Shadows: Awakening is the latest release from Slovakian developer Games Farm, who previously brought us Vikings: Wolves of Midgard and the first game in this series, Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms. A Diablo style game, played in overhead view, Shadows: Awakening uses some innovative gameplay to stand out in a very crowded genre. While not a bad game, it suffers from many issues on console that may turn away less devoted fans of this style of game.
I never played the first couple games from Games Farm I mentioned before. I am however a huge fan of the loot based action RPG games genre. I just haven’t gamed on my PC since the early 2000s. While I find that these types of games are usually built and released first on PC, I do enjoy them when they come to consoles. Shadows: Awakening is being released on both consoles and Steam at the same time, so while I welcome this, at the same time I feel many of the issues I encountered with the game were just interface issues when converting from mouse and keyboard to a controller. So bare that in mind.
Shadows: Awakening puts players in control of a Devourer, a demon who can possess the souls of the dead and use them to walk among the world of the living. A human mage seals a deal with this demon and sets him on a path to save both of their kind. After an initial stage players must choose between three available main souls to possess. A warrior, an archer, and a mage. This will be the first “puppet” or soul that players can switch to by using the R1 and L1 buttons. Unlike other games of this nature, where party members accompany your character in real time, players actually must use the ability to swap between up to three different puppets and build a combat strategy by assigning these characters with abilities that compliment each other. For example, my goblin archer can throw oil bombs, just slowing enemies, but if I swap to my mage and use a fire spell afterwards, it’s time to roast some marshmallows over their smoldering corpses.
Players can also use swapping to their Devourer and the world of the dead to avoid sticky combat situations or scout ahead even. There are enemies that the Devourer must also face, and I recommend you go through each area in both realms to maximize your experience gain. Some enemies also must be defeated in by the Devourer or have a shield he must bring down before your puppets can attack them. I very much enjoyed this mechanic, and while the number of spells each puppet can have is very limited to just three, there are lots of other skills they can learn so players really get a chance to find combinations that work best for them. This mechanic can take some getting used to. Unlike other games where your character can dodge, Shadows: Awakening expects players to instead swap to the Devourer to avoid damage and move to a safe area. If you don’t utilize the swapping aspect of the game, expect combat to be very slow and tedious.
Combat is fun if you get the hang of it but very flawed due to a horrible targeting system. Players must press the right analog stick to target enemies and then move it between them as I found if left to its own choice, the automatic target can sometimes be in another room or even in the opposite dimension if you are playing as the Devourer. On top of this, targeting with this button is a poor choice as your right thumb is usually going to be pressing attack or a one of the skill buttons. As there is a fixed camera in Shadows: Awakening, the right stick isn’t even used to change your view, and so this is it’s only purpose. I would have liked the option to move it over to the left analog, toggling by pressing down. I have seen this used in other games very successfully. Sadly there is no control customization in Shadows: Awakening.
Areas will also include various puzzles, some so simple it hurts, and others frustratingly complex. Some I found to have bugs too, making me have to go back and just avoid that particular side quest or puzzle. Other bugs I found were mainly just graphical skins for armor showing up as just white with no textures. Not a huge deal and I am sure these will be patched, but when you cannot tell if you are too stupid to solve a puzzle or it is just a bug, it can get very frustrating.
Like most games in the genre, Shadows: Awakening uses the old standard of random items found in chests, examining sarcophagus, or breaking barrels and junk. Sometimes it’s just gold, but collecting shit is part of the fun, well for me anyway. I am also one of those weirdos who enjoys min/maxing with equipment and while the system for equipment is ok, I have definitely seen better. The real kick in the nuts is that Shadows: Awakening uses the same menu system for buying and selling. It is a slog to go through each equipment slot to clear your bags. The lack of a menu interface for equipment as a whole is just lazy and makes this aspect a chore. For someone who enjoys sorting and managing bags in games like the Divinity series, that is saying something.Character customization is a highlight of Shadows: Awakening. Each character as they level will get points to assign to the typical attributes but there are also perks and skills, be they new or upgraded, to take into account. As you collect more and more puppets it’s really fun to come up with various teams.
Graphically, Shadows: Awakening looks amazing. For a game that is only $39.99 MSRP ($49.99 on consoles), I was very impressed with the level of detail, the lighting, and the spell effects. Levels are well designed and various enough that it never gets boring to look at. Music is also top notch, with great orchestral themes that fit perfectly in the fantasy genre. Voice acting is decent, but unfortunately there are lots of repetitive sayings. This becomes very evident as you progress and start swapping characters often, hearing the same damn thing over and over gets old fast. Considering that swapping is the unique combat selling point, making it painful like that wasn’t the smartest move.
I won’t go into the story due to spoilers but I will say that Shadows: Awakening has a very well written campaign. There are some translation issues but most of them just made me chuckle, nothing that hampers gameplay. Don’t expect to spend hundreds of hours playing but there are still a good 20 or so hours of gameplay in the main quest and more with side quests and going back to play the story as a different main character if you so choose. Overall Shadows: Awakening is a solid game with just too many annoying flaws, at least on console. The good news is that these can be fixed with patches and the core game is a well made Diablo clone. If you are a big fan of the genre, you should enjoy the unique combat and appreciate the many good aspects of Shadows: Awakening but new players should definitely avoid it on console at least.