Back in the late 90, early 00’s, dungeon crawlers were all the hype. And that’s all thanks to Blizzard’s Diablo capturing the minds and hearts of players the world over. However, as beneficial as Diablo was to the genre, it ultimately ended up being its downfall, as Diablo’s ever-increasing popularity, and its seemingly ever-expanding fame, has overshadowed, and decimated the competition. And even as years have passed, some were still afraid to go toe-to-toe with Blizzard’s colossi. But, with the expansion of the market some have finally dared to step onto Blizzards territory, and thanks to their valiance, have ended up with great titles such as Torchlight, Victor Vran, and most importantly, the recently released Shadows: Awakening.
Just like Diablo III, Shadows: Awakening is a fully three-dimensional, isometric dungeon crawler, which has you kill monsters, complete quests, and as the name of the genre suggests, explore dungeons. But while the two titles may be similar in their core, gameplay-centric premise, they ultimately couldn’t be any more different. As Shadows: Awakening has taken the core framework established by the Diablo series, and has molded it into its desired image, which does not just differ from Diablo, but all dungeon crawlers released to date.
For the most part, dungeon crawlers are usually set within lands of dark, medieval fantasy were a small group of heroes, fights overwhelming forces of evil. And while this is exactly what you are doing within Shadows: Awakening, then you do so not within Gothic tombs, marshes, and forests, but within middle eastern desert plains, and early Ottoman architecture. And the change in scenery which Shadows: Awakening provides the player with, does enough in-order to give the rather two-dimensional genre, a breath of fresh air. And while the setting itself may not be up to everybody’s liking, then it has to be underlined that from an objective perspective, it is simply superb, as Games Farm, the developer behind the title has executed it perfectly.
The aesthetic is only one of the major differences which separates Shadows: Awakening from the rest, and in the grand scheme of things, it could be said that such is the least significant. As Shadows: Awakening, features a plethora of gameplay elements, which were previously foreign to the genre. And the first one is related to the fact that this particular title allows you to control multiple characters at the time. The game starts you off playing as a Wraith which can only travel through the Nether realm, which is infested with other supernatural monstrosities, but within minutes, it allows you to pick a second, human character, who trots through the ”real” world – or at least as real as a fantasy world can get.
On your journey to the final credits you will constantly have to switch between all your characters, as they both have their own traits and abilities. For example, humans can communicate with the living and interact with physical objects such as doors and levers, whereas the Wraith can travel across demolished bridges, and seek the advice of the dead. And this particular mechanic is used throughout the entirety of the game, and in-fact, Shadows: Awakening emphasizes it at all times, as everything, from basic conversation, through puzzles, all the way down to combat, revolves around the co-operation of the two. And this ultimately gives Shadows: Awakening the third-dimension, which the dungeon-crawlers were missing.
The above described mechanic has a lot of positives, but ultimately it also has just as many shortcomings. And one of those relates to the fact that it allows you to easily exploit the in-game combat as switching between characters, allows you to escape negative effects of enemy attacks, such as stun, relocate, and engage again with a newly acquired edge. And once you catch onto that, you will find that the game is a breeze, and can be easily blasted through by always having your finger ready to press the bumpers on the controller. In addition, a wider cast of available, playable character can also be perceived negatively by some, as it turns inventory and character management into a chore. As the more characters you acquire the more equipment you have take care of, the more skill points you have to distribute, and the more time you have to spend flicking through menus, instead of playing through the game.
As I played through Shadows: Awakening, I was constantly finding myself in a position where I would have an abundance of points to distribute, as I would simply forget about all the micro managing, and let characters go unchanged for numerous levels at the time. But as much as I dislike having to flick through in-game menus, seemingly every ten minutes, then I have to say that doing so was not the worst part of Shadows: Awakening. As at the end of the day, the thing which left the worst impression on my mind, and a bitter taste in my mouth, was the floaty, laissez-faire combat of this particular game.
Laissez-faire plays great, looks great, and even sounds great, but at the end of the day it is not very stratifying, and it is all because of its rather unimpressive combat, which for the most part, lacks any significant feedback. And throughout, it feels like you are mostly striking empty air, rather than tangible enemies, as your avatar is simply swinging his weapon widely, with no physical recoil and feedback of any kind. And there actually are some attacks, which make your controller vibrate, but those are few and far between, and they are limited usually to two-handed weapons. And if you, just like me have an issue with games providing no instant gratification through audio-visual feedback, then you may have rough time while playing this otherwise superb game.
At the end of the day, Shadows: Awakening is a great product, which while not being entirely up to the proverbial scratch, does its bast to match Blizzard’s Diablo, and even top it – in certain aspects. And even if one were to sit there and point out each and every single flaw of this particular game, then one couldn’t do it without stating that all those are entirely subjective. As there are some who will love the management aspects of the title, as well as there are also individuals who will pay no mind to the title’s lack of feedback. But those two groups of individuals are in the definite minority, and each and every fan of dungeon crawlers will surely have a bone to pick with this particular game.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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