There is no shortage of isometric RPGs available on the market, and the number that has been coming to consoles is growing all the time. Perhaps spurred on by the success of Diablo III, which built upon the modest success of previous titles such as the Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance games and the Sacred series, it became apparent that what had previously been a PC-only experience could hit an entirely new audience.
One of these games is Shadows: Awakening. The project, from developer Games Farm and publisher Kalypso, follows that similar isometric action RPG model: a world full of a variety of beasts and warriors to defeat, an emphasis on the drop of good loot, and a set selection of characters to build up. Throw in some puzzle elements and the hints of larger fantasy world outside of its set maps, and it ticks plenty of boxes for those who are fans of the subgenre.
There is, however, a difference here. In Shadows: Awakening, the player does not just control a single character tasked with saving the world. Instead, gamers will find themselves in control of a demon who can shift between other characters at will, each with their own different play styles. Initially given just one extra soul to control, eventually players are able to choose from a small army of characters, with three slots available at any given moment alongside that of the Devourer demon.
It’s a neat premise that helps easily separate the game from its peers. In effect, it means that gamers will be in control of up to four characters at a time, swapping between them all depending on what style of play they need at any given moment. This could be both fast-paced warriors or heavy-hitting golems, as well as long-range weapon specialists and spellcasters, meaning that the title has the variety that other games can’t provide – after all, even though Diablo III gives players a fair few characters to choose from (with some extra skins on the upcoming Switch version), this allows players to change every second if it suits them.
That said, there’s one change that will be made more than others. For the majority of Shadows: Awakening, players will be shifting between the demon Devourer and any one of the others, due to the demon’s existence in a different realm. Swapping between the two is required to solve the game’s puzzles, with the Shadow Realm revealing information hidden from the mortal realm, as well as being given access to previously hidden passageways or once-destroyed bridges – all the while fighting against a separate style of enemy.
That’s not to say that the other characters are redundant, however. Along the way, enemies will have different resistances to player character attacks, and will equally have different weaknesses to be exploited. This leads to the player wanting to chop and change to get the best out of their squad, as well as keeping an eye on the new souls that are acquired in the game, swapping them around to get the most effective team. In a way, Shadows: Awakening plays a bit like a dark fantasy Pokemon.
This character change dynamic feels very rewarding, in part due to its fluidity. In general, it’s like a smoother version of what Nintendo has tried in The Legend of Zelda titles like A Link Between Worlds, as well as Illusion of Gaia. The game really knows how to make the most out of its setting, giving the impression of having almost two game worlds in one.
This conceit works incredibly well here, and is not at all hampered by a console release. Shadows: Awakening is effectively a reimagining of 2014's Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms, and the work done is quite impressive. The rapid click of the mouse is easily replaced by a controller, and it’s a smooth experience all round, with some nice vistas to look at along the way.
In spite of this rather unique mechanic, Shadows: Awakening does feel very familiar in a lot of ways. The player follows a relatively linear fantasy story, similar in structure to that of the Diablo games. The world itself - and therefore the gameplay - is action-heavy, with odd spots of peace in between where the player won’t linger for long beyond the odd side quest into another area filled with enemies to kill and loot to gather. Along the way, characters unlock new skills as well; it’s nothing special, but unlocking new abilities feels particularly rewarding given such a huge variety of characters on show.
There are some flaws, though. Perhaps RPG fans have been spoiled of late by the likes of Divinity: Original Sin and The Banner Saga, but the plot of Shadows: Awakening does feel less engaging than some other games, without the subtlety that certain other titles have provided. Although the world itself is rich, perhaps that emphasis on action stops the Heretic Kingdoms from truly coming to life, and without a chance for its characters to become fully formed - even though it's a series with a handful of releases to date.
Equally, in spite of being able to switch between the worlds of spirit and flesh, perhaps more variety in enemy would keep the game feeling fresh throughout. A lot of the rogues gallery here seems awfully familiar, from giant spiders and scorpions to woodland tree monsters, or from ghostly spectres and demons to the undead. Some kind of multiplayer option akin to Games Farm's own Vikings: Wolves of Midgard would perhaps combat this by giving a shared experience to the title, but given the style of play and its core realm-hopping mechanic would be extremely difficult to implement.
Even so, Shadows: Awakening is still a more-than-decent action RPG. The mechanic of swapping characters and collecting souls works very well, and helps separate it from the wealth of other options available within the same play style. All in all, it’s a fun role-playing game that manages to make a well-used route feel a little more refreshing.
Shadows: Awakening is out now for PC, PS4, and Xbox One. Screen Rant was provided with a PS4 code for the purposes of this review.