Title: Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms
Platform: Steam, Windows
Reviewed on: Windows
Genre: Action RPG, dungeon crawler
Players: Single player
Written by Whistler 23rd Septemeber 2014
One particular mechanic drew me to Games Farm’s fantasy action RPG, Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms.
This mechanic was the ability to switch between your two main protagonists, a soul devouring demon and your choice of three deceased mortals; seeing the mechanic alone in a trailer instantly had my attention, reminding me of Soul Reaver.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves; Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms is a follow up to 2004’s Kult: Heretic Kingdoms (though I’ve yet to feel like I’ve missed out on any relevant chunk of story).
Upon starting up you’ll notice you’re not immediately handed the character selection or anything, instead a hooded man (voiced by none other than the fourth doctor, Tom Baker) stumbles into a long forgotten tomb, summons the Devourer (our sort of hero in this tale), tell us there’s some shenanigans going down and something about a greater evil. Now I must say, I’m not sure if this is unintentional but the Devourer is one of the most blandest one dimensional characters I’ve ever seen, maybe he develops but as it stands your choice of mortal hero is the more interesting protagonist.
See the Devourer is forever trapped within the spectral realm and can’t go about saving the mortal world so instead you pick from three long since dead heroes: the bandit king Kalig, the barbarian class, Jasker, a hunter skilled in ranged attacks and Evia, a magical sorceress with power of fire.
Each of them have their own backstory and this is brought up at various times right from the get go which I did like as it does offer some replayability from story alone.
However honestly the first hour or so of gameplay is rather dull and repetitive and I would say that the combat is the main culprit for this (though it does pick up eventually), as it stands combat follows the standard click to attack method but unlike Diablo and Torchlight, fighting is just clunky, often fiddly and unresponsive at the best of times.
An interesting change off the beat ARPG path though is how it handles the standards for health and magic, killing enemies as either form you’ll notice you have accumulated souls in the form of a magic meter bellow your health gauge; my first guess was it was my magic points but all abilities are only constrained by cooldown timers. No instead this soul meter is utilized to heal the current character by holding down the spacebar, however with this in mind it just defanged any possible caution I had.
Personally I see this becoming an issue down the line as well, if your mortal hero (or one of the comrades you pick up) dies they can be revived using souls, however the same cannot be said for the Devourer; so in all likeliness if you’re in a tight spot you’re likely to be hitting the restart option if you’ve already cleared the area in one form.
But as I mentioned the mechanic to switch between the Devourer and fleshy champion was what attracted me to the title, each area including the town are actually comprised of two levels, the corporeal realm and the spectral ‘shadow’ realm. While for the time being it feels like it’s just for farming more experience points and souls but there are occasions where the path will be blocked in the physical plane yet switching over to the shadow realm you’ll be able to cross the chasms.
There was a point where in the town of Thole a particularly shady fellow asks you to dispose of his wife’s body, for some coinage you could simply take the salt barrel the body rests in to crypts to dump her off otherwise should you take a trip to the shadow world you can instead be given an alternative where the ghost of the recently deceased will request you hand the murderer over to the town guard as he’s been stealing priceless silk from the guild. It was a nice touch and hopefully the mechanic is explored upon more with different quests offering widely different paths to take.
As much as gameplay was underwhelming I can say whoever they got on board for the art team deserves a gold star, the world feels full of life with a ridiculous amount of detail drawn into even the smallest nooks and crannies. Usually the first town in an ARPG is quickly forgotten and only serves to launch you into a bunch of dungeons, however just strolling around Thole is a sight to see, recreating that gritty Arabian theme with makeshift huts and red carpet exotics. Visuals even in this early state are really well done, I was pleased to see for once there was some detail put into my heroes (though the Devourer looks like he needs touching up).
As it stands honestly Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms still needs work (as it should being in a pre-
Besides that though it’s certainly still a promising title that doesn’t leave me disappointed yet, as much as this preview is short I’d say it’s still a matter of time to see whether Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms is worth a purchase, but if you’re one for the Diablo style gameplay but with more emphasis on story then this might just be for you.
Story focused rather than dungeon crawl,
Unique mechanic is underused,
First hour is rather repetitive,
Some voice acting is bellow average.