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.