Some genres just don’t do it for you. Whether it’s down to burnt fingers from past experience or simply blind prejudice, we all have a tendency to shy away from certain types of games. I’ll confess that I wasn’t too enamoured at the prospect of playing an isometric action RPG, but I was prepared to park my preconceptions at the door and give it a chance. And you know what? Shadows: Awakening just about won me over.
On a superficial level, it looks like just another RPG, but to dismiss it so casually is to do the dev a serious disservice. Shadows: Awakening has is own identity; its USP is a clever mechanic which sees you hop between the mortal and shadow realms. This is not merely a gimmick but a genuinely novel way to play which, as you’ll find out, is essential to your progress.
You play the Devourer, a demon with the ability to consume souls of other characters from a range of hunters, warriors and mages. As you progress, you’ll acquire up to three souls, with the ability to switch between them at will depending on the situation. You’ll start off with one soul/character from a choice of three and chances are you will be surprised at the pace of the combat, which feels slower, more deliberate and tactical than the hack ‘n’ slash I was expecting. The axe, for example, was hefty and slow, with some moves requiring a recovery window during which you are vulnerable to attack.
Things improve markedly as you level up, and the inclusion of a targeting mode using R3 takes some of the slog from the combat. I was surprised at the omission of any kind of dodge move, but I’m guessing the realm switching is there to save you from an untimely demise instead. Thankfully, there’s none of the turn-based or co-op combat that typically deters me from playing this style of game.
The realm-switching mechanic is called for right from the outset. With my warrior, I reached an impassable gap, with no obvious way to progress. With a tap of R1, I assumed control of the Devourer, viewing the same area in the shadow realm, and was simply able to float across the gap. Similarly, you may initially be scratching your head over certain enemies which repeatedly respawn when you kill them. Reverting to the Devourer will allow you to kill the forces in the shadow realm which, in turn, means the enemy can no longer be resurrected in the mortal realm.
Over the course of the game, you’ll be switching between realms constantly in order to discover clues, tackle enemies and solve puzzles. It’s a really satisfying mechanic which, unexpectedly, never got old. It injected real variety into the gameplay, keeping me on my toes and inspiring some experimental play. The inventories are a cinch to navigate, and it’s easy to manage the character skills, too. I had fears of having to negotiate layers of impenetrable menus, but on the whole, it was intuitive and welcoming to newcomers, rounded off by a clear world map and straightforward objective markers.
Visually, Shadows: Awakening is serviceable enough, with decent lighting effects, particularly when you inhabit the shadow realm. Overall, though, some of the levels are just a little dark and generic looking for my taste. Having said that, the subtle sound effects and rousing score go some way to building an atmosphere of danger and peril. The voice acting, although a little exaggerated in those regional accents, was fairly strong, too.
There’s a decent story over the course of the campaign and side quests, and some added longevity if you choose to play through using a different starting character, although personally I felt once was sufficient. I particularly liked the tutorials, accessed by pausing the game, which proved invaluable in getting my head around the power-ups and systems. Any fears I had around things being too complex or esoteric simply melted away; put the time in and this game is accessible to anyone.
So, did Shadows: Awakening cure me of my aversion to isometric RPGs? It certainly impressed me in many respects. I did roll my eyes at some of the characters and visuals, which felt generic and almost stereotypical in execution. There were also times when, despite the number of in-game enemies, that the world felt a little barren. Overall, though, I was pleasantly surprised at how accessible and enjoyable the game is, and how much mileage can be derived from that unique realm-switching mechanic. For RPG fans, this is absolutely worth a look and merits consideration even if, like me, you’ve tended to avoid the genre until now.
*Code kindly provided by the publisher for review*