The Average Gamer

Hands-on with Shadow Realms

Shadowrealms - ShadowlordBioWare revealed Shadow Realms at gamescom, an online, third-person 4 vs 1 action RPG where small groups of heroes battle together to defeat a Shadow Lord. There’s a suitably supernatural plot explaining why heroes are needed to battle Shadow Lords, close portals and generally repel the Shadow Legions hordes but it’s just window dressing to a fun series of full-on battles complete with epic boss battle fight.

The game’s focus is very much skewed towards the action side of action-RPG. While there are still strong RPG elements to both character customisation and skills development, Bioware have said that it’s not a stats-based game. Instead, it’s more about skills in attack and dodging. Unless you’re a Shadow Lord; then it’s about being incredibly devious and evil.

As a Shadow Lord you get to float about the world invisibly, set nasty spike-filled traps, pack levels with hand-picked monsters, cast magic spells and take full control of monsters using a possession spell. Thanks to a doppelganger spell, unlocked later in the game, a Shadow Lord can take on hero form and lead an unsuspecting player into cunningly prepared spike trap or surprise attack them from behind. Being a Shadow Lord is fun.

On the other side of this good vs evil battle there are six hero classes to choose from: assassin, cleric, ranger, warlock, wizard and warrior. Each class has its own range of abilities on top of basic strike attack and dodge. I played the Assassin class whose main attacks consisted of poison darts (ranged attack), blade cyclone (area attack) and assassinate (close attack).

I used the assassin’s superior agility to spin into battles, quickly reel off the blade cyclone and assassinate attacks before spinning out to a safe distance and slinging poison darts everywhere. There was also a special ability called Shadow Clone which created a temporary, and equally fighty copy. Each ability also has its own cool-down time so you can only mash your basic strike attack while waiting for everything to recharge.

The overall gameplay is fairly simple but hectic. Heroes must fight their way through a series of rooms, each populated with monsters by the Shadow Lord and a single exit locked by a mystical Shadow barrier. Defeating all the enemies drops the barrier, allowing you to progress. During battles, you will stumble upon sneakily-laid spike traps if you aren’t careful. The Shadow Lord we were battling against laid one halfway up the staircase leading to the room exit which we all blindly walked into in our post-battle haze.

Our Shadow Lord also liked to take control of his monsters and attempt to hack us to death. Always be suspicious of monsters sporting a glowy aura as it means they’ve been possessed by a human and it’s better kill them quickly before they do too much damage. Or not. They could be an incompetent monster and actually be useful.

Shadowrealms - WarriorDuring battles there’s a limited supply of health potions available via a quick tap of the Q key. If that’s not enough and do you get knocked down, assuming one of your team notices you can be revived within 30 secs by using a trauma kit. There’s a limited number of these available and they are shared by the whole team. Failing that, you die and watch as a spectator until you get resurrected at the next safe area.

Safe areas or checkpoints are dotted throughout each level and serve as a welcome respite from the action. In these rooms you can regroup and take on additional health potions. But, on the flip side it gives the Shadow Lord the opportunity to place further traps and further wrangle their monsters.

At the end of all the room fights lies the big showdown with your particular Shadow Lord. Our battle took place inside an arena that looked like the surface of the moon. The Shadow Lord also had a load of minions on hand and a giant health bar which took some serious grief from us to deplete. My Shadow Clone attack, which I’d fortunately saved for this battle dealt the final closeup killer blows while everyone else was fighting all the minions. This wasn’t a long battle by any means, maybe 5 mins tops, but it was action packed and great fun like the rest of the game.

Bioware plan to release both additional story and world content on a episodic basis and there’s a closed alpha coming in the next few months which you can sign up to on the Shadow Realms website.

Shadow Realms will be coming to PC in 2015.