By: Ted Chow
Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms is a top-down hack n’ slash title similar to games such as Diablo 3. If you enjoy killing hordes of monsters with some unique features in the form of character possession/swapping, then this game will offer you some new strategies and gameplay. While the game came out of early access just a short time ago, it does seem to have finished adding new chapters and content to be considered a product ready for end users.
The game allows you to rebind all of your controls to your liking. However, if you just want to get into the action without having to mess around with what every button does, then the default keys are adequate for most players. It is recommended to use the default buttons before you switch them out whenever you deem it appropriate.
Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms is a rather gorgeous looking game when you have the settings up to its maximum. Even without max settings, the aesthetics were still respectable across the board. Aside from some crashes, graphical errors and other minor game bugs, the full version was pretty solid throughout extended play times. Performance issues can be a problem at times, however, as the game can slow down due to the high density of monsters on the screen. The soundtrack was a light orchestral score with some cultural flavor for most areas of the game.
As you start you are thrust into a prologue that provides a basic tutorial on the game and its mechanics. Once the story is set, you are brought to the present day where you are instantly summoned by a wizard (that sounds like Irenicus from Baldur’s Gate II) and asked to do his bidding. You play as the Devourer, a shadow demon of sorts, capable of possessing heroes and creatures and bending them to your will. The player will start with one of three potential heroes, each of whom has their own back story to be discovered through multiple playthroughs.
The game uses an interesting mechanic in the form of switching out your “puppets” that are within your possession. The puppets are souls of dead heroes and creatures that you’ve found throughout your journey for a maximum of four within your party. All other claimed souls are kept in a repository within the shadow realm to be swapped in or out at your leisure.
Puppets are also individual characters in themselves and have abilities upon level ups, items that can be equipped and personalities of their own. This brings about some interest party compositions as you can swap characters to fit the given situation.
Whenever you play as the Devourer, you are brought into a shadow version of the game world. In this shadow world the enemies and landscape are vastly different from its real world counterpart and is primarily used as a mechanic to traverse broken bridges and other blocked off areas within the environment. If your puppets die, you will be forced to play as the Devourer until you can revive your heroes by expending soul essences or reaching portal points.
Abilities given to your heroes and creatures are unlocked within a basic skill tree with a handful of choices. The spells and abilities have an innate cooldown timer before they can be recast. This frees up the “mana” bar in order to implement the soul essence resource, which is used to revive and/or restore health. Soul essence is gathered by killing enemies and can be used instead of health potions to restore health in or out of combat.
Unfortunately, the actual flow of the gameplay can be quite cumbersome after the initial appeal of the introduction. Battles can drag on for extended periods of time. Pressing your ability buttons in rapid succession can lead to input errors and the ability not going off at all. Switching characters — while fun and strategic — fails to be overly smooth in the midst of combat.
Character levels to monster levels don’t flow naturally while playing the game through normal conventions and can bump the difficulty of zones to be much harder, promoting repetitious grinding for levels. Monsters that are aggravated will seemingly chase you for and camp at the zone loading areas for your return. Plus many more small nuisances that hamper the overall experience.
With no multiplayer or co-op, you’re left with only the story mode. Luckily, there are multiple starting heroes with different back stories and quest lines to give reasons for subsequent playthroughs of the game’s campaign.
Despite some of the nuisances that were listed and minor bugs along the way, Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms is a fun game to play. While gameplay doesn’t steer away from the conventional hacking and slashing, the interesting character swapping mechanic provides a new level of depth and strategy. Hopefully more stories will be added in the future to elaborate the game’s world and bring me back for more.