Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms
Developer: Games Farm
If you’re like me, you know about as much about Kult: Heretic Kingdoms (Shadows’ predecessor dating back some 9 years) as you do heavy crossbow ballistics. To be clear, I know absolutely zero about heavy crossbow ballistics. Having had a quick squizz at some info and screens for the 2005 game however, it looks like it’d be right up my street. I wonder how come I missed it? Ah, probably youthful exuberance and heavy drinking are to blame, as they were for so many poor choices back then.
Still, now relatively sober, I’m in a position to explore the richness of a new RPG world, and as such have dived in to Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms – a game which at the very least should win some awards in the category for Most-Generically-Named-RPG-Of-2014.
Falling somewhere between an action-RPG like Diablo and a slower paced, Neverwinter Nights-style role-player, S:HK is a game that spans two fantasy themed worlds at once. Once past the Tom Baker (yes, that one) voiced introduction, you arrive in the shadow realm where your demon main character – The Devourer – kicks off proceedings. In traditional ARPG style you wander around and smack the crap out of spooky ghosts and what-not, sucking up their precious souls and exploring dark recesses. Once you find your first vessel however, things start to get interesting.
Shadows takes an interesting approach to traditional RPG party building, by making it somewhat similar to Trine, insofar as you hot-switch between characters, but only control one at a time. Your first choice comes in a Charnel House, where three recently deceased heroes are entombed; you must choose a body based either on whose story you find most engaging or -probably more likely – you work out which one is the ranged hero, which the tank and which the mage and choose on that basis.
You can only take one to start, so hoover-up your character archetype of choice and journey out into the world and re-unite the kingdoms, or smash it apart or kill the king or devour his children, or whatever the plot is supposed to be. If that sounds somewhat ‘handwave-y’ and non-specific, there are two reasons for this. Firstly, Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms is in Early Access and fleshing out and developing the way in which the story is delivered is still likely to be very much a part of that process. Secondly, the characters that you pick to become your avatar and the choices that you make with them allow – according to the developer – for a multiplicity of potential story paths and endings. At the very least, it’s nice that the game changes significantly based on your selections in ways outside of ‘how do I kill this kobold?’
Back to the fighting and exploring mechanics, you explore a variety of locations causing mayhem and death. Enemies drop loot, although not at the levels you’d be looking for from an ARPG. Interestingly, healing items are pretty scarce, which causes the players to try and be more careful than might at first seem suited to the game style. There is a different mechanic used for healing and resurrection than you might expect, which draws upon the idea of the ‘two worlds’, since the Devourer can harvest souls in the dark world that can be used to heal heroes in the light side. Switching between the two worlds is as simple as tapping the W key, which changes your avatar to the Devourer. Heal up your characters and send them back into the fray, or switch out one avatar for another and let them take punishment for a while. The game is designed in such a way that the player must switch between the two worlds in order to solve puzzles and make progress, in a manner reminiscent of Soul Reaver: Legacy of Kain. Also like that game, the transitions are appealing and add to the players’ immersion with the world.
Both worlds are crisp and cleanly designed – at times very visually appealing – however, like the title, it can tend to err towards the generic. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing however, as there is nothing wrong with familiar and comfortable tropes if employed with style. The stylishness from S:HK comes from its branching storylines and its characters’ dialogue which is lively enough to keep you clicking through the story.
Destroy enough monster scum and you can level up your characters at the same time as improving their gear through loot drops. The skill trees looked a little overwhelming at first, but are actually straightforward once you take the time to explore them and think about how you’d like to build your characters’ abilities. Of course, going forward you ideally want to create a party with a range of complimentary powers in order to tackle the range of scenarios the game is going to throw at you.
My only gripe with S:HK so far is that currently, I think the combat lacks surety and solidity. Like the dice-rolling Neverwinter type RPGS you can miss an enemy standing next to you with an axe-swing which is always frustrating. Likewise, there doesn’t always appear to be accurate feedback for the player both on hitting and being hit, which detracts from the enjoyment in this combat heavy title.
I’m looking forward to seeing the final version of Shadows: Heretic Kingdom and playing through it further with different characters and seeing how the story changes. There is already a solid RPG here for the price of the entry fee which will hopefully only get better as time goes on.
Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms is available for £22.99 on Steam