Isometric action RPGs can be very fun experiences on consoles. For me, most examples of the genre have been entertaining and engrossing. While usually having multiplayer helps that a lot, there are some that have pulled off being single player, or are entertaining enough to not need a second (or third, or fourth) player with you to keep you awake.
On the surface, Shadows: Awakening looks like other competitors in the isometric action RPG space. In some ways, it also plays like them. You run around, kill monsters, get loot and complete quests. Your characters travel from one area to the next, working toward your goal. Several town and dungeon areas have teleporters, so you can jump to them for shops, or to turn in quests. Button layout is what you might expect, with the A Button doing your auto attack, and the other three face buttons using other skills. Unfortunately, you can only have three other skills equipped at a time.
However, it has a few distinct differences. One, there is no multiplayer. Yes, it's a bummer, but you get a party of up to four characters to make up for it. The central character is the Devourer, a demon who is bound to a hero's soul. He exists in the shadowrealm, while the puppets exist in the mortal world. You can switch between them at almost any time. In fact, you will need to. Certain paths only exist in one realm or the other, and switching between them allows you to access them all. Different enemies also exist in each realm, with some that cross over as well. It's not an unheard of mechanic, but it's used very well here.
Another difference is the soulstone. Instead of chugging potions to survive, you use charges of your equipped soulstone. Getting a refill of health or mana takes one charge, and different types have different max numbers of charges. Defeating enemies and absorbing their souls slowly refills your charges. Again, it's pulled off very well. I always had access to healing, and was able to refill it without any difficulty. That may change on harder difficulties though.
Thankfully, all characters share the same experience, and level up at the same time, even the ones you aren't using. Every level increased gives you five stat points to distribute into four different stats. Effects of each point increase are shown as you put them in and before you confirm them. Each character also gains a skill point, which can be used to buy a new skill, or saved up to power up an existing one. Since you can only have on three at a time, I tended to only try out the ones that sounded good, and power up the ones I found most useful. Talent slots are unlocked every three levels, and allow you to equip a passive ability. These are decent, but usually not super powerful. The ones available are based on your main stats, and you don't seem to be able to change them once set.
|There is a HUD in the game, I swear!|
There are also several slots for different pieces of equipment, but not every character can equip every type. That's not even limited to weapons, either. Most make sense, since very large or small characters would need different size boots or gloves, or might not even have feet! My only gripe with equipment is the reliance on the dreaded random number generator (RNG for short). Sure, the shops sell some stuff, but enemies don't respawn and money is limited, so you can't buy everything. Otherwise, you are stuck hoping that good stuff drops. Unfortunately, the loot is entirely random within a level range. I got a lot of drops for characters I didn't use, and worse, for characters I didn't even have, nor could have at that point. That's not unexpected of the genre, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.
Early on, you must decide who is your first puppet: the fighter, the mage or the hunter. Me being me, I had to decide between the mage and the hunter, so I went with the hunter first. As you go through the game, you have opportunities to add more puppets to your party, but only three can go with you at any time. I was excited to get my second puppet, who was...a hunter. Yeah, I guess I should have picked one of the other two then.
As I pressed on, I got another puppet after the first boss. This was a large skeleton fighter that hit like a truck. Awesome! He complimented the Devourer and hunter well. The next puppet I found was unexpected. Upon being interrogated, I was faced with a choice. I first accidentally agreed to sell out a town for freedom, but that wasn't what I wanted to do. So, I loaded my previous save (thankfully there's no silly one-slot-autosave nonsense here), and decided to fight him instead. Not only was this a better personal choice (I had no reason to sell out the town), but I killed the boss and added a new puppet to my roster. He ended up being another fighter, which again showed that I should have just picked the mage in the beginning.
On the normal setting, the game isn't very difficult. Save for a few circumstances, it was just right. The "few circumstances" are annoying traps and boss fights, but that's mostly from the lack of a dodge or real defensive move. You can save pretty much anywhere, and getting a game over just forces you to reload your last save. The story length is really good too, giving you a suitably epic tale to weave through. Plus, the different characters you can use gives good reasons to go through it at least once more. While there are a host of sidequests, the game is pretty linear, and the maps are set. That's not a problem for me, but I know some people won't like that.
If you enjoy isometric action RPGs, then definitely check out Shadows: Awakening. It looks familiar, but has some unique twists that make it feel fresh and fun. I recommend trying it out!
Fun isometric action RPG. Switching between characters and worlds is a great concept.
The dungeon traps are way too deadly for how sensitive the hit boxes are.
I put a belt on my wood elemental, which he's not supposed to be able to equip. Oops. You can take the person out of the tester job, but you can't always take the tester out of the person.
(Review code for Shadows: Awakening was provided by the publisher)