Preview: Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms

Preview: Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms

Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms is a dungeon crawling, loot driven RPG. While that may instantly make you think of games like Diablo and Torchlight, and a host of others in that genre, Shadows has an interesting gameplay mechanic that sets it apart. It starts with a robed man speaking about how this is not his story, but how he has a large role in what transpires. Going on about the area, the robed man mentions that he is the only living creature in these ruins "but far from alone," alluding to an unlikely alliance which might save us all.

When the game starts up proper you are summoned via a Mysterious Hooded Man from the beginning of the game. You are a Devourer, a type of demon. After a brief tutorial spent on getting used to the mouse and keyboard controls (click to attack and move, abilities and items bound to individual keys) you get to choose a character class that follows the standard archetypes of Rogue, Warrior, and Mage. Unfortunately, the Mage was unplayable for the build I was previewing.

Once you choose your soul/character, the game gets interesting and separates itself from others in the genre. You are essentially playing two characters at once, shifting between them as needed. In the Mortal plane, you play as the character you chose and fight the standard assortment of baddies. As per usual RPG fair, the first enemy you'll run into are spiders. Ah spiders.

In the Demon's plane, you'll fight more ghoulish enemies, and the world takes on a more incorporeal aesthetic. You'll often find paths where there your mortal character cannot not traverse. An example of this can be found in the Tutorial dungeon. Once you shift to your Puppet, as the game calls them, smashing a wall allows you to progress, but then your puppet is balked by a chasm your demon form can cross using an ethereal bridge. Not long after, you'll find flame traps in the mortal plane, and I am guessing what appear to be demon wards in the Shadow plane that will kill you quickly if crossed. The trick is, the puppet can find switches to turn off the flames on his side, allowing you to cross. It makes for a very interesting mechanism, especially in the later dungeons. For example, there are tiles that do damage. A switch turns off the trap but stepping on the wrong tile will reactivate it.

After that brief dungeon, you come to the first town where supplies and new gear can be purchased and quests turned in. Exploring the shadow plane holds some secrets. A man has killed his wife, and wants you to take the body and dump it in a certain location. However, in devourer form you can talk to her ghost, and she will give you an alternative quest to take her body to the guard captain instead. In Devourer form, you may stumble upon another demon who offers a pact, should you choose to accept it. He can grant the ability to acquire more souls providing that you complete a task for him. Because the demon doesn't say WHY he wants you to do this, it leads to a worrisome " this going to hurt me later" scenarios.

As you play on, your Devourer, who is only interested in his desires  at first (like most demons I'd wager), takes an interest of his puppets. The Hooded Man, who explains more later, hints that the souls may be having an effect on him. It will be very interesting to see what develops later.

A little more on the combat side of things. The Devourer has three skill sets, Magic, Range, and Magic, based on what you have equipped that compliment the three main characters. The other two characters are a little different. They have two skill sets depending on what they have equipped. For Kalig, its Two handed Blunt or Two Handed Blade, and for Jaskar, he has Light Bow and Heavy Bow. The final, Non Requisite for both characters is a  skill set of additional passives.

When you get to the first town, you'll see that being back from the dead, the characters have their own agendas. For Kalig, he wants to confront his son. For Jaskar, he needs to get a message to a group of friends, so it seems the characters will have a personal story of sorts. Later on, the Devourer gets more Puppets, or characters for you to switch to and from. If they die you can revive them at certain sites, but if they are all killed you are forced to continue on as the Devourer. When he is killed, the game is over.

Another nifty combat mechanic is the ability to heal up using souls in addition to the usual potions. You can hold only so many souls at first but the amount increases as the character levels up. You can ether use the space bar to heal over time, or if a puppet is defeated you can revive them on the spot if you have enough souls. Otherwise you will have to wait till you find one of the Cenotaphs to be able to heal and revive. The Cenotaphs also let you fast travel between any that you've found.

Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms is still in Early Access at this point, but is shaping up to be one worth keeping an eye on, especially if you are a fan of the genre.