While many dungeon crawlers feel too shackled by emulating the genre’s greats to have their own identity, others seek to change everything, losing some of the features that many fans have grown attached in the process. It seems we are waiting for a game that’s somewhere between the two, with a modern engine and impactful gameplay that keeps and innovates upon systems that many consider a staple of the Diablo’s greatest flatterers. At first glance, Shadows: Awakening seems to fit that bill.
Checking features off the list, Shadows features skills to unlock and attributes to assign permanently alongside more modern gameplay and some shiny graphics, not to mention a pretty unique plot that brings some gameplay changes along with it. You play as a soul devourer, absorbing each person’s memories and personality, and allowing you to use the soul as a puppet in the real world.
You can have up to three puppets active at a time, switching between each of them and the soul devourer in order to use their different skill sets. Although you pick a class at the beginning of the game, you’ll find souls that are different classes later and be able to switch between them at will to suit the situation. You could cast some spells at enemies, then switch to your archer as they get closer, before turning to a melee class when in sword distance.
Despite all this, the actual combat is the usual action RPG fare, except each character has only three skills equipped at a time so you’ll be switching between them often. It feels good with satisfying impact from most attacks, although aiming with ranged weaponry is a little inaccurate.
The soul devourer itself works a little differently to the other characters as it only exists in the Shadow Realm. There you’ll find time frozen, allowing you to deal damage and status effects to enemies in the real world, and giving you a quick escape from trouble, but you also need to be wary of the Shadow Realm’s often ghostly enemies that could be waiting for you there.
Many skills from one character can be complemented very well by those from other characters, ensuring that experimentation is rewarded. Unfortunately, the combat is let down by enemy variety, with many battles literally being the same enemies in a slightly different area of the same cave. This is especially true early on, where you’ll spend hours fighting the same few enemies before the game really gets going.
As you are strolling and fighting your way through Shadows’ dungeons, you’ll also find that entering the Shadow Realm will open up new paths via holes in walls, magical floating bridges and the like. It’s not an original idea by any means and really it just means you keep popping in and out of the Shadow Realm as you’re running around to make sure you don’t miss any hidden passages. Many of these passages will be needed to progress but some are just provide some more enemies and a little extra loot.
The loot system is pretty much what you expect from an action RPG, with armour and weapons sorted by rarity and level. In Shadows, however, you have four different characters, each of which has to be outfitted separately. This becomes a particular frustration when one of those characters has to use a specific weapon type that you simply can’t find, rendering it almost useless in combat until you stumble upon what you need. It can also be a little fiddly managing the loot of four characters, not helped by typically awkward console menus.
This slight lack in the polish department persists throughout the rest of the game as well, with things feeling just a little rough around the edges. It’s a good looking game most of the time with bright and detailed 3D cities complementing the dank caves, but after seeing it for the first few times, the Shadow Realm it looks a little boring because it’s, well, shadowy and you can’t see much detail. Even the storyline, which has the interesting hook of be a soul devouring demon summoned to try and kill the soul devourers that ate all the members of a group called the Penta Nera, loses its lustre after a while as the repetition of the gameplay starts to grate. The game becomes a grind that the combat can’t keep interesting, and with uninspired side missions that do little to alleviate that routine the game starts to grow old after the first ten hours.
Shadows: Awakening ultimately fails to be the action RPG that fans of the genre need. It has some interesting ideas and decent writing, but the story shifts to the backburner after a while and the side missions and combat aren’t enough to maintain interest through the grind it turns into. It’s not bad, it’s just not particularly inspiring either. If you need a new diablo-like and a lack of polish or a glut of grind doesn’t bother you, there are definitely worse options out there.
Version tested: PlayStation 4 – Also available for Xbox One and PC