So here’s a question for people who like that kind of thing. What exactly is an evil man? Surely good and evil are simply decided by which side of an army or faction you are born into? Maybe it depends on which views you are brought up with or what you come to believe to be true on your own terms. Or is evil a more personal thing, something that is defined by your actions no matter where you come from or what your background is? Paradox Interactive’s new RPG Tyranny really poses this question to you from the get-go by allowing you to choose your backstory in the lead up to actually taking control of your character. The army of Kyros under which your loyalties lie, have taken over most of the known world aside from one small peninsula in the south. As one of Kyros’ leaders in the eventual occupation of these lands, you begin the game by deciding exactly how your armies go about capturing the district. I won’t spoil any of the important choices for you, as this intro literally shapes the game you play and choosing the level to which your evil or mercy extends is half the fun of the early game.
What I will say is that as with other Paradox games the writing and character development in Tyranny is of a very high standard. Rarely does it feel like you’re reading a piece of filler text but instead insightful and interesting dialogue and backstory, and taking part in decisions that literally shape the game and characters you are playing in and talking to. Just be prepared to do a LOT of reading. If reading is really not your thing, then I would seriously consider your attitude towards this game as skipping text would, in my opinion ruin the enjoyment of the overall game.
In a majority of games in this genre party interaction is something that I often find tedious and an endeavor that has no meaningful outcome. Party conversations in Tyranny however hold weight as each character that you talk to will react differently to you depending on your choices in game and the ways in which you interact with them on an individual level. You can gain fear or loyalty from them, making their own actions change according to yours. This is the same for larger factions and NPC’s in the game, who you can also gain and lose reputation with depending on your actions. This certainly makes conversation choices a lot more meaningful for me and means if you want to role play the evil guy you better be prepared to deal with the consequences. The only disappointment from the party members is that there is not a whole lot of depth to them after conversation. You may visit an area in the game that they have a connection with and they will hardly even talk. There’s also not much in the way of ‘loyalty quests’ or anything to connect them personally to these places and I feel like they lack a bit of depth in that department, which is a shame. A personal quest or two that included each of the characters you can add to your party would go a long way to solving this problem.
The voice acting is also of a high standard when it shows, but not all interactions are voiced. I’m not sure if this was due to me playing the early review release of the game which im told would be missing the odd bit here and there or if they decided that it just wouldn’t be practical to have every section of the game voice acted. Certainly the main story line arc was mostly voice acted and if I think about it long enough that’s probably enough for me.
There’s a lot to take in to account when getting into your first few proper combat situations in Tyranny, although if you have played Paradox’s other game Pillars of Eternity, you will feel semi-familiar here. Once you build up a party and level them to suit your play style things get a little easier, but initially I found it a touch hard to manage the ability overload you are faced with. There is the option to let AI manage your party members but this is best turned off if you’re thinking about tackling one of the harder difficulty levels as sometimes they can be infuriatingly slow to react, especially when switching between targets that are further apart from each other. Thankfully you can pause combat and manage each characters abilities and if things are moving to fast for you in real-time, there’s an option to toggle slow combat speeds.
Once you get into the thick of the stats, abilities and equipment management, it’s actually quite enjoyable if you like that kind of thing. The spell system allows you to essentially create your own spells and assign them to any character, with higher cost spells being restricted to characters with high lore values which are normally casters anyway. Spells are created with a ‘Core Sigil’ deciding what element or type of spell it will be, an ‘Expresion Sigil’ deciding how the spell will effect the target and an ‘accent’ which modifies anything from casting range to the strength of the spell or how long the effect of the spell will take place for. Each sigil has a lore value and this is what restricts you from just giving the strongest spells to every character. For your mage assuming you have one in your party, spell creation is something of a strong point in the game, allowing you to entirely shape the type of combat style you want later into the game once you’ve collected a lot of sigils.
On top of the spell system each character has their own skill tree with multiple options from which they can learn new abilities or improve combat traits like armour penetration or health. Certain pieces of equipment can also provide abilities but are mostly for stat improvement and aesthetic value. Overall the combat and ability system is fairly in depth and as a person who enjoys tweaking optimal stats and abilities I enjoyed the system that Obsidian have put in place here, certainly when compared to other games of the same genre which almost seem to shy away from making these things in any way complicated for whatever reason. In a game that isn’t entirely about combat it makes sense not to completely overload the player with combat based decisions and I feel this medium depth level worked well at not spoiling my enjoyment of everything else that Tyranny has to offer.
Graphically and in terms of level deign Tyranny is a really good looking game much on the same terms as Pillars of Eternity, which makes sense when you take into account that the same team developed it and it’s made with the same engine. The levels are really well designed both visually and the way in which they can be transversed and interacted with. It’s almost as if concept art has been improved upon by artists and designers leading to some stunning scenes and intelligent design. Throughout the whole game I don’t think there was a single area of the game where I thought the designers had slipped in quality.
Ultimately Tyranny is a game about making decisions and unlike some games who promise a lot it really makes these choices count. During my play I compared my choices and outcomes to that of a friend and I’m happy to say that there was no illusion of choice, your actions really do change things like the people you meet, the areas you visit and smaller sub areas that you may or may not have access to, how people react to you, what people call you, items you find in the game and probably much more than that.
To sum things up Tyranny is a well designed and enjoyable RPG that makes decisions count, has enjoyable combat, interesting characters and well written dialogue. It places itself in a fairly unique setting and certainly makes being evil a lot of fun. Above all of that I think the thing I like most about Tyranny is that it’s not very often in a game that I get to actually make the decision I want. In most other games I may be provided with options but certain game world rules mean that none of them suit exactly what I want to do in that situation. In Tyranny however I can happily kill off an NPC, slap someone in the face, throw them off a building, show mercy, save their life, take a bribe, or basically anything I want if I deem it necessary as I am literally the law bringer and in the end this is what makes it most enjoyable for me.
The Verdict – Red Mist
Platforms Available – PC
Platform Reviewed – PC
Please see this post for more on our scoring policy. Steam review code supplied by PR.
I’ve played every Battlefield game apart from the first Bad Company and Hardline. I’ve tried every game online apart from 1942 and Vietnam and I think Battlefield 1 might have the best online action of the series since Battlefield 2, a game which I still rate as one of the best (though flawed) online shooters. What I like about Battlefield 1 is that it has stripped away some of the excess fat that had grown around series over the years, while also improving in some key aspects.
After playing the open beta and goings hands on at EGX, I wasn’t convinced that the game would succeed in multiplayer. Having played it online on live servers, I can say that it works. It isn’t perfect, no Battlefield game would be complete without its fair share of bugs (though I haven’t experienced any game breakers so far), and complaints about balancing.
Bug wise, I’ve experienced a few niggles with the squad system. In one round I couldn’t join any open squads, or even create my own. There is also the trouble of people locking squads when joining a game as a party. For a series that had a great squad system in Battlefield 2, it is frustrating that problems are still arising.
The balancing concerns lie around the Behemoths that can come to dominate a map, but despite inflicting heavy casualties, they won’t always turn the tide of battle back in the losers’ favour. A team with any modicum of sense will quickly set out to destroy the Behemoth and in most maps, there are plentiful ways of doing so. Planes are plentiful on maps where an Airship can appear, while a combination of fast attack boats and planes can quickly take down a Dreadnought.
I’m not convinced that the Armoured Train is suitable in all circumstances though. In one fight through the Argonne Forest (one of the finest infantry maps), one of these beasts appeared towards the very end of the round. It didn’t appear early enough to swing the tide of battle, but on a map without any other vehicles, it could prove to play too decisive a role in the action.
While I’m not over the moon about the Behemoths, I am suitably impressed by planes, something I haven’t been for many a year. Not since Battlefield 2 (and only during some patches) have I felt that planes complement the battle waging on the ground without being a depressing tank-busting sight or feeling that they live in an entirely different game with maps too small to handle their speed.
This is where the setting of Battlefield 1 shines (as much as that makes me cringe to write considering it is set during The Great War) as their slow speed means even amateur pilots like myself can keep them in the air for more than twenty seconds, and their fragile airframes remove the need for dedicated anti-air tanks or equipment. Gang together with some friends and you will soon do enough damage to a fighter to take it down, while working with pilots, you can help rid the battle of pesky lone snipers.
Another neat trick that applies to both planes and armour, is that you can only spawn into one from the spawn screen (where you can select the type of plane or tank you want). Gone are the dark days of Battlefield 2 where hordes of fly-boys and tankers would hang around at the main base waiting for their desired weapon of destruction, oblivious to the wider battle. With the spawn timings of the vehicles seemingly random, you are doing your team a disservice by waiting at the spawn screen for one to appear.
The ground action itself it thoroughly enjoyable, as it often is in Battlefield games. But the change in weaponry from modern automatics to bolt action and early semi-automatic rifles and ratty-tatty light machine guns is welcome. The changes just slightly alter the pace of the action, bringing it down just a touch. You don’t feel like you are playing a different game, but it’s enough to bring things back to the days of Battlefield 1942, a game I played for hours on end against the bots.
The action is of course aided with some very fine maps. During the open beta, I wasn’t convinced by the Sinai Desert map in Conquest mode, but close it down for a game of War Pigeons or Rush, and it feels just right. The Argonne Forest is a formidable infantry grinder full of bunkers, trenches and dense foliage to hide in. Monte Grappa is full of Alpine charm and offer a brilliant mix of air, ground and armoured warfare. Clambering around the rocks and knifing an unsuspecting sniper is delicious. Amiens offers a city environment waiting to be blown to smithereens while Ballroom Blitz is a majestic tour around French grandeur. Until the bullets fly.
What is perhaps best is the way the maps alter depending on the game mode you are playing. Playing War Pigeons (effectively a capture the flag without home bases) in the Sinai Desert focuses the action on the town, while Rush (with telegraph stations replacing M-COM stations) sees you advance from the desert outside town offering a mix of everything you want if you progress as an attacking force.
The heart of multiplayer though are Operations, a game mode complete with narration during loading to set the historical context and adaptable instructions from generals depending on how the course of battle plays out. They best described as a mix of Conquest and Rush and each Operation is spread over two or three maps, depending which one you choose.
The attackers have three attempts to conquer the four or five sectors on each map with each death ticking away at their ticket count. If they can’t conquer the map in their three attempts, they done for. The defenders have unlimited tickets, and must prevent the attackers capturing the flags at strategic points in each sector. Lose control of the sector, and the battle moves onto the next part of the map.
Operations are a great blend of all the elements that make Battlefield great, and are the one game mode where a Behemoth feels like it justifies its place in the action. Team work is required to capture and hold the control points in each sector, and medics are essential for the attackers to prevent their tickets bleeding away. As the front-line changes through the action, you get to experience every aspect of the majestic maps that DICE have crafted. Ballroom Blitz takes you from the trenches outside the Château, to the outer courtyards then the middle of house itself. Finally, you end up attacking the gardens at the rear to complete a truly astonishing battle.
One of the more understated changes that DICE have made with Battlefield 1 has come with the changes to the progression and unlock system. You still receive stupidly large amounts of points for every interaction (bring back the 2 points for a kill from the early games please), but you can now target different medals to achieve through the week with a medal rewarding you with a hefty bit of bonus XP. Medals have various stages to complete, with a stage being as simple as getting 10 kills in a round or more specific such as reviving 20 squad members. The medals rotate on a weekly basis, each with different requirements, and they will surely have the long-term aim of promoting team and squad cooperation, along with class diversity.
Classes have been pared back to Assault (with anti-armour tools), Medic (to revive and heal comrades), Support (heavy weapons and ammo supply) and Scout (snipers) along with Pilot or Driver kits for spawning in planes or vehicles. A simple, and clear, mix of roles and responsibilities that players will become more accustomed to over time.
As you progress through the ranks, you will also progress through Class ranks, both of which will unlock different weapons for purchase with War Bonds (earned with promotions). Some weapons are Class specific, while others can be used across the classes. And unlike previous games in the series, there are a sensible number of weapons to unlock (many are simply variations on a Factory weapon model) with a limited number of attachments for each.
I’m all for cutting down on the number of unlocks and customisation options, in recent years across the FPS genre the number of different weapon configurations has become something of joke. We will never go back to the straightforward days of 1942 or Vietnam, but we have a fine balance here.
I have no doubts that Battlefield 1 won’t be for everyone. Some will miss the modern weapons and vehicles, others will find the slight change in pace of the combat frustrating. On the whole though, DICE have done a stupendous job with Battlefield 1s multiplayer component. There are some stunning maps to behold with the game modes offering a pleasing variety to the action. Weapons and vehicles (especially the planes) are generally, well balanced, and I for one haven’t experienced any game breaking bugs. It’s disappointing that the French and Russian armies aren’t present yet, and I’m holding out hope they will appear along with some singleplayer, but overall? This is a great game.
The Verdict – Red Mist
Platforms Available – PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Platform Reviewed – PC
Review based on code supplied by PR. Head here for more on our scoring policy.
When EA first announced Battlefield 1, I had concerns over how they were portraying the Great War. I wasn’t the only one who expressed misgivings, and others have put forth their opinion in the past week. But having played through the singleplayer War Stories, I think DICE have paid the events of 1914-1918 the respect they deserve. …
It’s been a few weeks since I delivered my first hands-on impressions of Dovetail Games Flight School, and now the game has been released, it’s about time I delivered a Verdict on it. Please keep in mind that I am approaching this Verdict from the point of view of a casual sim-er.
The first thing that I want to say about Flight School, is that I’m not sure who the target audience is. It is an introduction to flight simulators, and is something of a prelude to the fully featured Dovetail Games Flight Simulator that should be releasing later this year. With two planes as standard (the Piper PA-18 Super Cub and Piper PA-28 Cherokee), and a third (the Diamond DA42) coming along as free post-launch content for those who didn’t pre-order, you won’t be getting behind the stick of any 747s or A380s here. There are missions to complete, but with only 9 present, they won’t tax experienced pilots for too long, while newcomers will know whether this is the game for them after completing some of the extensive tutorial lessons.
The relatively small amount of content leaves me pondering why any dedicated fliers would move on from Microsfot Flight Simulator X for this, knowing a meatier package will come later this year. Then for those who might want to get involved in flight simulators, they will be paying out for Flight School (admittedly, at a budget £11.99), then forking out again for the full simulator if they really do enjoy it. If it is being treated as a demo, it seems pretty expensive. Certainly then, it is worth considering whether this is what you want, or if you want to wait and try things out with the full package. If there was a discount on the full simulator for those who own Flight School, that would be interesting and might make this more appealing to newcomers.
If you do want to get into Flight School, at the very least, it will give you a good grounding for the basics of flying some of the smaller planes that are commonly found in flight sims. The tutorials are in-depth and will cover most situations you will encounter in the Free Flight mode and the missions. They can be frustrating; some of the tolerances for making a mistake are very slight, and for a beginner, they don’t always do a great job of telling you where things have gone wrong and how to correct them. These issues aren’t as severe as when I talked about them in my preview, but it can be frustrating to fail a tutorial when you think you have done everything correctly. It is definitely worth reading the manual to get a feeling for the keyboard and mouse controlled cockpit controls. Trying to fly solely with a Xbox 360 pad will leave you wondering why the tutor keeps telling you off. If I had a joystick setup, I get the impression that everything would have come much easier.
The Free Flight mode is perhaps the highlight of this package as you can choose a flight path across vast swathes of the globe. I’ve taken journeys in my native Welsh valleys, flown over Austrian mountain ranges, explored parts of India and even flown under Sydney’s famous harbour bridge which made me smile, even if I did fail the landing back at the airport.
It’s provides you with a glorious sense of freedom, and the landscapes in different countries are distinctive. It is a shame though that some of the airports and major cities are lacking in detail, or just look like they belong in Flight Simulator 98. Of course, that is an exaggeration, but it doesn’t seem like it has made a leap forward from Flight Simulator X which Dovetail re-released on Steam last year. The planes on hand are impressively detailed (at least to an untrained eye), and there is a noticeable difference in how the Super Cub and Cherokee fly.
Overall, Flight School is a welcome introduction to flight sims, though as I mentioned earlier, I’m not entirely sure who the target audience really is. The positive is that my experience with Flight School has left me extremely interested in seeing how Dovetail’s full simulator turns out. Flight School is a solid game, especially at the budget price, but please go in with your expectations set accordingly, I’m talking to experienced fliers here. This isn’t a new Flight Simulator X, it really is just a training school for new fliers and on that front it does a good job, but judging by some of my videos, I could do with trying the landing tutorial a few more times.
The Verdict – On Target
Platforms Available/Reviewed – PC
Please read this post for more on our scoring policy. Review copy supplied by PR.
January 1951, the world is in flames and has been in a state of near constant war and I have dropped more Nuke’s than I would like to admit. I think back to the early months of my adventure with Italy in Hearts of Iron IV, and I can’t help but wonder what might have been if I had made some different choices. …
This is only a short Verdict on The Banner Saga 2. Jon was originally lined up to take a look, but work matters took priority, so I have bravely stepped into the breach. However, I haven’t played the first Banner Saga, so this review is coming from a newcomers’ perspective.
For reasons that will forever be lost to me, I never played the first Banner Saga when it came out in 2014. Looking back, I was busy racing around in Assetto Corsa and watching the Super Bowl. Two very valid activities, but it meant I missed out on Stoic’s inspired artwork and storytelling. Now that I have played some of The Banner Saga 2, I realise that I will have to go back and start the adventure from where it belongs – the beginning.
Before I do that, it is worth sharing some words on the second part of the Saga. The first thing to say, is that you can come into The Banner Saga 2 without having played the first game in the series. A handy recap brings you up to date with the story, and when you start, you can choose to import a save file, or start afresh with Alette, or her father, Rook.
Being new to the series, I chose to start with Alette, a young archer who is charged with leading a caravan of survivors to safety and escape the Dredge while taking part in some extremely good turn-based battles.
I might have come into the story at the mid-point, but I have already found myself engaged with the characters and the world as a whole. Part of that is down to the excellent writing and important choices you have to make as you make your journey, the other part is thanks to the beautiful artwork. Whether it be in the battles, while the caravan is travelling, or the moments of conversation, the artwork is constantly drawing you in, and informing you of the world these characters inhabit and their motivations for being there.
I didn’t think I would find myself drawn into the story so much, but that is why I feel like I need to leave the game shortly after completing the first Chapter, and go back to the first game so I can fully appreciate the histories of these complex characters. I could easily carry on playing The Banner Saga 2 without completing the first, but I would feel that I am doing a disservice to creators in not being fully aware of the context of the decisions I am making.
The decisions you have to make as the caravan travels towards safety (at least, I hope there will be safety) in Arberrang are thought provoking with sacrifices potentially being made for the greater good. Will you leave your followers who are struggling to get picked off by the Dredge, or will you stand and fight?
It might be simple, but the turn-based battle can lead to further consequences later on. Combat has a pleasant depth as you balance different Hero types and abilities against a formidable foe. Fans of turn-based strategy will have a field day here, sadly my strategic abilities aren’t my strong suit so I’ve been playing with the difficulty turned down.
That’s not a problem though, it means I can be more relaxed and enjoy the story moments that develop during battles while ensuring I maintain momentum in the game without being let down by my own ineptitude.
While I will be leaving The Banner Saga 2 early, it is for the best reason, I want to become further invested in the tale that Stoic are telling. For anyone who played the first game, this is a must-buy. For anyone who is a fan of good storytelling, fantastic artwork and good turn-based action, I recommend picking up both games, I doubt you will be disappointed.
Platforms Available/Played – PC
The Verdict – Head Shot
For more on our scoring system, please read this post.
Evoland 2 is the successor to the 2013 game Evoland, developed by French studio, Shiro Games. Created for Ludum Dare #24, the original game found near universal praise from fans for taking the RPG of yesteryear, cherry picking best parts of what made them great and sticking them all together with a great soundtrack, strong visual aesthetic and some on point cultural references. The icing on the cake was to take the player on a journey between the 8 bit and 3D worlds depending on the narrative developments. This combination of features led to some people regarding it as one of, it not the best indie RPG ever made.
When you give the sequel its full name Evoland 2: A Slight Case of Spacetime Continuum Disorder, you get a feeling for the unique selling point. Not only are you transferring between 8-bit and 3D worlds, you are also travelling forwards and backwards in time. The farther back you go, the older the game looks. You start off in the tutorial with a green-screen Game Boy mode and move up to the present which is portrayed in wonderful smooth HD.
You are not alone on your adventures. Companions follow you around for most of the game granting you abilities to help traverse the environments removing boulders or tough foliage as well as providing a combat ability in any of the scenarios the game throws at you, be it in RPG mode or any of the other modes the game possesses. Companions are invisible most of the time only popping out in person during story points.
While playing you will trip over references and nods to other popular RPG’s. One moment you will be reminded of Zelda while opening a chest and whacking weeds, next, you will be thinking about the Warcraft games while you are having a conversation with King Arthos about an attack from the city of GENOVA which then reminds you of Final Fantasy VII. You get the point. If you like spotting references, you will love this game.
There is an entire section where you escape from a dungeon in stealth…while hiding in a box. The game even MAKES you choose a preset nickname for your hero at one point. I chose “Solid Snail” as an homage to that dungeon escape and characters occasionally reference that choice, guaranteeing a chuckle..
One of the few complaints about the first game was the length. You won’t be able to make that complaint with this game. More levels, more short mini games, more story elements. More of everything. Yet it’s the story that I have a gripe with. This an issue with any text based game. It can take several minutes to complete a conversation between your characters while you are just watching and not interacting. While, that is typical of old style RPG’s and is a deliberate choice, it’s just not one that works very well when long periods of plot are being churned out on screen.
If that is the worst side of the Evoland 2, the good stuff is a whole lot better.
Without so much as a warning the game throws you into other genres so you are not just playing a top down RPG. All of a sudden you will be in a platformer, scrolling left to right and jumping onto blocks. Or a scrolling spaceship shoot’em up! and many more. They also included genuinely difficult puzzles you have to complete in order to progress the story. In a scene in a library you have to pass 6 of 8 trials. They too are challenging and will take longer to do then you would expect. These changes to the tempo and style in this manner is a refreshing change up to what would otherwise be a traditional RPG.
The core of the game is a perfect modern representation of old RPG’s in the 8 bit sections and then switching to a side scrolling platformer was very intuitive and at several points you spot throw backs to games from that genre too. Super Mario Jellyfish and Echo The Dolphin style air pockets underwater, amongst many others.
The game also has many collectibles for masochists. Gold Stars, Achievements and even a card collecting based mini-game are all present. (Think Final Fantasy VIII’s Triple Triad.) All of which are available purely as an optional pursuit. There is a rudimentary crafting system with a blacksmith providing the highest tier items if you can provide him with the rare ore which exists scattered amongst the time zones and a witch who can improve your companions skills and provide potions if you have the correct items for her. The is no map or objective list at all. This is probably a design choice to throwback to what the classic RPG’s were like but I did find that when I returned to the game after a break, I had forgotten what quest I was on and had to roam around looking for where I was supposed to be heading.
Overall, I had a blast with this game. These days every time there is a sequel to a much loved game you are almost pre-programmed to think that they will mess it up, betray what the original stood for and cash in. Not in this case. The sequel has been done correctly. It hasn’t cheapened the core values of what came before, it has expanded on them in every direction and has been an utter delight to play.
The Verdict: Head Shot
Platform Available/Reviewed – PC
Review code supplied by PR for the developer.
I’ve been playing Valkyria: Chronicles to give you our verdict on the recent PC release. So that’s what I did. So what do we have? Well it’s (really) bad port and has an anime style that while I have no issue with, doesn’t exactly get me excited either. Oh and OH SO MUCH EXPOSITION. Seriously, there’s a lot of talk about flowers. And goat poo. I’m not even making that up. Yet… I’ve grown, step by inexorable step, to love this game.
Jump to the cut for the inevitably hilarious shenanigans that follow… …
It took me a while to get into Europa Universalis IV when I played it last October, it was only once I turned to online play that things fell into place and I understood what the game was all about. With the Art of War DLC pack, I knew straight away what I wanted to do – dive into the Thirty Years War as one of the German states and cause some chaos.
I hack and slash but the enemies keep at me thick and fast, surrounding me from every angle. Slowly they chip away at my health, forcing me to drain my soul reserves in order to replenish my health. I pull back to a previous area hoping to pick off a few grunts before the full force hits me again. Alas it’s no use, there are just too many. Fortunately I have one last trick up my sleeve. Not one that many mortals would openly admit to, but then again I am not just any mortal. I have already been resurrected once today and don’t plan on giving cause for a second time. My secret… well, you see I have a demon in my soul and can transfer to its shadowy world in a mere second.
And just like that… I vanished.
The cross dimensional mechanic is easily the best thing about Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms, meaning you can start and finish quests, find secrets, solve puzzles and encounter entirely different enemies in both the realm of the living and the shadowy realm of the dead. In fact one of the best moments of the game came when I discovered some poor betrayed soul haunting the afterlife, only to take pity on the story they told me and exact revenge on their betrayer back in the mortal world. It’s this added sense of depth that makes the questing in exploration in Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms all that more enjoyable, especially when travelling through previously visited areas. Another high point is the all too rare boss battles, which provide a real challenge even in lower difficulties. These encounters are filled with unique abilities and situations that make them stand out amongst the hundreds of normal enemies you will encounter over the course of this game. They require tactics, patience and often multiple attempts, which is exactly what I would expect from an ARPG that knows what it’s doing.
If Shadows: HK was able to keep up this level of performance across the entire game, then it really would be something special. Unfortunately just like a freshly unearthed gem you can see that it has value, that there is something special there, but it’s rough around the edges and needs some work to mould it into perfection. Shadows: HK has plenty of plus points but lacks the polish and overall direction of an ARPG that has larger funding behind it.
One of the main problems I have with the game is the way the story is delivered. There is a very short prologue that does little to set the story for you, the cutscenes are poorly processed and it’s not until you are a few hours into the game that the story really begins to open up thanks to the great voice acting and pick up and read lore books that you find dotted about the levels. Combat is also very slow to begin and again it’s not until a few hours into the game, once you have a full party of characters and you’ve had some time to level up abilities that the combat becomes more exciting. Even then it is still slow when compared to other ARPG’s.
Another major bugbear, although not necessarily a problem depending on what kind of a game you are expecting, is the looting and crafting systems. Gear drops are not frequent and I rarely found myself using the crafting systems to build myself armour or weapons. Instead most of my character progression was achieved through leveling up abilities and stats and by picking up the odd gear drop. If you are looking for an instantly fast paced ARPG focused on gear drops then you might want to look elsewhere.
Of course there are many good points to Shadows: HK and if you are willing to put in a couple of hours to get past the initial slow start, the games combat and story really begin to open up and become more enjoyable. Another positive to note is that the game is really easy to get to grips with in terms of understanding the UI, maps, combat mechanics, character movement and travelling through the levels. Questing is a particular plus point for me as I found the cross-realm mechanic really added a sense of depth to what would otherwise be quite linear quests. There are occasionally also moral choices to be made, that whilst not ultimately storyline changing, do directly affect the game world.
At first I wasn’t sure about Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms slower pace but found myself sinking hours into unlocking new characters and completing challenging quests just so that I could see every area of the well designed and smart looking levels. Upon completion it now ranks among the top games in my steam list for play time and that’s only with part one of the game. Book two is planned for release in 2015.
The Verdict – On target
Platforms Available – PC
Platform Reviewed – PC
Please see this post for more on our scoring policy. Steam review code supplied by PR.
Why am I writing a Verdict on a game that came out nearly 18 months ago I hear you ask? Well, it is because a fun Halloween themed DLC pack was released a few weeks ago, a piece of DLC which convinced me to go back to the game and give it another try. It was fun last year, and it is still fun now, just with added content… …