PS4 adventuring takes to a dark new dimension with Shadows: Awakening – which might at first look like a Diablo-'em-up copycat, but actually brings a unique new spin to the isometric single-player RPG genre.
You step in the wraith robes of a demon summoned from the Shadow Realm – known as a ‘Devourer’ – as the main playable character. The aim is to resurrect a party of long dead heroes which you can control in the mortal realm as puppets to do you bidding. The fantasy world of the Heretic Kingdoms is yours to explore as you embark on a daring adventure packing some challenging gameplay.
This is the first of the Heretic Kingdoms saga games to hit a PlayStation platform, so it’s a new experience on offer with deep lore involving various races and a host of different places to explore. The plot sees members of a secret council known as the Penta Nera getting wiped out and their souls consumed by the demonic Devourers. You have the choice of fighting to save the kingdom or to ruin it completely.
The gameplay is very similar to the classic big D – you pick your specialisation from three different classes of puppet, covering generic warrior, thief, and magic wielder. Your main puppet is one of three unique characters, but along the way you can merrily pick up the souls of various heroes from each of the classes and switch between them at will. The roster is diverse and brings variety to how you tackle each fight – from a quick attacking wasp through to a lumbering armoured tank-zombie, the combinations are fun to try out.
There is also a dizzying amount of armour, trinkets, and weapons which can be found or bought, equipped and enchanted with various essences that further add tactical choice to suit how you play. We invested heavily in life replenishing buffs, but you could go for a more offence-driven, damage-boosting set up – the joy is in the large amount of choice you have and the freedom to switch it up at any point.
All of this detail would mean little if the combat wasn’t up to scratch, though, as for the bulk of the time you’ll be dispatching enemies great and small with a variety of attacks both ranged (including magic), melee, and traps such as mines. Controlling the fighting is quick and easy with different mana-sapping attacks mapped to the square, triangle, and circle buttons, while X covers you basic assault which has infinite uses but can need a few seconds to recharge. As per the armour, there are a large range of skills to pick from and each can be upgraded by spending skill points on them as you level up. Again, having three puppets and the Devourer each with their skills means that you can cycle through some great combos to bring down different, tougher foes.
Targeting enemies with the right analog stick is handy, as the auto lock will sometimes home in on a piece of destructible scenery when you really want to kill the angry werewolf that's charging at you. And speaking of destructible scenery, there are a variety of pots, barrels, and boxes in which you might find silver to spend at traders. There are numerous vendors where you can stock up on gear – including shadow traders in the dark realm which is only accessible to the Devourer.
Indeed, the real ace up the sleeve of Shadows: Awakening is the dual realms. Being able to jump between the ‘Shadow’ and ‘Mortal’ realities with a click of R1 or L1 brings tons of extra playability to the game. In the shadow realm (when playing as the Devourer) things in the mortal realm are still visible in outline, which allows for some great tactical play where you can switch realms to bypass enemies and then switch back behind them for a sneak attack. The maps have different routes only available in one realm, so a broken pass in the mortal realm might have a functioning bridge in the shadow realm, allowing access to new areas.
In terms of story, the three main hero characters each have differing takes on the main ques,t so there are several playthroughs to be had. What's more, the Trophy set will require some serious commitment if you want to try for the heavy-duty platinum.
What stands out about Shadows: Awakening is the fact that all of the dialogue throughout the game is really well voiced, including the iconic tones of the classic Doctor Who -- Tom Baker -- who really brings the Devourer to life. The lore can be swatted up by finding and ready various tomes scattered around the world, which helps those who are have not ventured in the Heretic Kingdoms before on PC.
The puzzle elements of the game are a cut above the norm, too. Sure there’s the usual pressure platform with moveable block, but also Marble Madness-style giant boulder courses and some nifty rune-based tricks and traps that require realm switching to find pathways or unlock dials.
Unfortunately, there are a few niggling issues here, including the sheer cumbersomeness of the inventory management menus, which you’ll spend a lot of time staring at if you want to get the most out of your party of characters. We’ve been spoilt by the slickness and user-friendly vibes of Diablo, but to be fair, that system has been refined over several iterations.
The game also shows its limitations in set dialogue interactions. For example, when we were controlling a female puppet, there was a set piece scene interaction that gave our character a male voice. None of these relatively small issues are deal breakers, but along with occasional screen judder and a couple of times when saves reloaded incorrectly, it takes away the sheen a little.
Shadows: Awakening is a deep action RPG which brings a literal new dimension to the tried and tested Diablo format. It's a great choice for those looking for a meaty fantasy time-sink, and while it does stumble occasionally, it delivers many hours of engaging hack-'n'-slash gaming.