Shadows: Awakening Review – PlayStation 4

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When you’re playing in the backyard of an industry giant like Blizzard with their genre-defining Diablo series, you have work really hard not just to be noticed, but to survive at all. Diablo is such an institution at this point that not even a series as popular and well-regarded as Torchlight could make it out of the backyard alive. While Shadows Awakening may not completely knock it out of the park, it does enough different and interesting things to stand on its own merits and justify a closer look.

There is narrative depth to Shadows, but unless you’re familiar with the Heretic Kingdoms titles, of which this is the first on PS4, you’re not going to get much from it. Still, there’s enough meat on the bones to see you through and keep you somewhat engaged in what’s happening throughout. You play as a Devourer, a demon summoned from beyond with the goal of resurrecting a group of heroes to do your bidding. Your powers will allow you to either save a kingdom ravaged by Devourers, or let it burn to the ground.

From a gameplay perspective, there isn’t much here that you’re not already well aware of. Crawl through dungeon, collect loot, level up, fight bosses… rinse, repeat. Specializing via leveling is divided into three traditional classes- warrior, thief, and mage. Gaining the souls of warriors from each of these classes will allow you to mix and match their powers on the fly as you progress through the game, and seeing how each ability chains together and interacts with the others makes for a fun variation on the traditional dungeon combat model. This variety applies to the loot as well; there are hundreds of armor, trinket, and weapon variations that all mix together in interesting ways.

So, here’s the part where Shadows differentiates itself from Diablo, and justifies your time and attention. The single best part of the game is the design and implementation of the different realms. The shadow and mortal plains are accessible via R1/L1, and each plain changes the map you’re running through- offering up different routes, combat opportunities, and separate loot. The feature essentially doubles the exploration, and extends the playtime in a healthy fashion I haven’t seen too many other titles in the genre attempt. It may be a trick, but it’s a neat trick that keeps you invested.

There are a few graphical issues, along with audio glitches- but these weren’t severe or frequent enough to take away from the experience. Perhaps the biggest issue from a UI perspective was dealing with inventory. Put simply, it’s bulky, cumbersome, and nowhere near as user-friendly or intuitive as Diablo, Torchlight, or other titles in the genre. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it is an issue, considering the staggering amount of loot there is throughout the game.

Shadows Awakening is a fun distraction. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it does put a fresh spin on it that’s enough to bring in longtime fans of the genre. If you’re in the mood for some dungeon-crawling, and don’t feel like firing up D3 AGAIN, you could do worse. Worth a look.