Combat and tradition (cntd.)
You can swap between up to four characters at a time, utilising the different abilities in conjunction with one another and juggling between worlds in order to get you out of tricky situations. If a spider fires a web to entrap the ranged-based Jasker, you can phase out of it by swapping to the Devourer, before returning unimpaired. This kind of character-swapping can be intensive micro-management, but it’s extremely rewarding when you pull off spectacular feats. If there is a large group of enemies in the material realm, you could use your spirit form to travel into the midst of them. Once positioned you could swap to the sturdy Golem in order to dish out massive area-of-effect damage, before wading in with Kalig’s spinning axe. If you’re suddenly in a tight spot and are receiving too much damage, you can always swap to the goblin to make a quick escape, laying down traps to slow and ensnare enemies as you retreat.
Another important mechanic is the meter of souls below your health bar. As you murder enemies you gain more souls, which can then be used to heal characters with a press of the spacebar. This introduces an element of efficiency and pushes you into swapping characters more regularly. Using only a single character, eventually they’ll be worn down, so you’ll have to play another in order to build up the souls necessary to heal them. The spirit realm also comes into play during several dungeon-based puzzles. Some groups of undead will be invincible unless you defeat their master in the spirit realm first, other puzzles will require a spirit perspective or a physical hand in order to overcome. Although infrequent, the change of pace is welcome.
A true soul-playing game
You’re likely to stumble across various side quests on your adventure, each of which will be an opportunity for your characters to voice their opinions, challenging the player and the decisions they’ve made. Sacrificing innocent souls, willingly disposing the bodies of murder victims, making dark pacts with other demons; these are just some of the temptations the Devourer’s presence calls up. Jasker and Kalig will have their own views, and despite their nature as puppets, neither is subservient enough to stay silent.
Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms has all the drama of a party-based RPG, only here none of your characters can up and leave. They’re soul-bound, their fate entwined, which makes the roleplaying decisions all the more interesting. Shadows may be an Action RPG, but it’s not one obsessed by a psychological cycle of killing and looting. It’s much richer – it has a story to tell, and despite some generic conventions, the interactions all seem purposeful. It feels like a storied roleplaying campaign as opposed to a power trip or a string of excuses to continually collect digital objects.
The schizophrenic nature of the Devourer and his accompanying souls is a great premise for a roleplaying game. The fact there are three different main classes you can play, amongst a host of side characters, should mean that despite the lack of random generation or strong feedback loops involving glistening loot, Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms is probably worth experiencing more than just once.
Although technically the game is a little rough around the edges, with the occasional crash and a few unwieldy mechanics - and the Devourer’s tale will not end until the sequel, Book II, releases next year - it would be a real pity if Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms quietly drifted into obscurity. It’s a rich experience with an abundance of soul and a unique vision; there’s no need to wait ten years for that glitzy triple-A game to ape its conventions and follow its narrative ambition.
Great characters and interaction, more than one main character, interesting character-swap combat, unique, lots of schizophrenic roleplaying.
Combat a little unwieldy, spirit world unfortunately sparse, unresolved story/second “book” not released yet.