PREVIEW / Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms (PC)

 

From the developers formerly known as 3D Games who brought to gamers the world over air-combat simulation titles like Air Conflicts, Air Conflicts: Secret Wars and Attack on Pearl Harbor comes Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms, the follow-up to their dungeon-crawler hit Kult: Heretic Kingdoms, Developed by Games Farm and published by bitComposer Games, Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms is the continuing chapter in the Heretic Kingdoms series. The Action-RPG is currently available on Steam through the Early Access program and is scheduled for a full release in the fall of 2014. Set just a few short years after the events of Kult: Heretic Kingdoms, the Devourer finds himself in the middle of a terrible conspiracy and is henceforth propelled into an epic journey through a world of dark fantasy. As the Devourer, you have the ability to swallow the souls of the dead and return them to the mortal world as your puppet. Or, is it the other way around? Be prepared for surprising plot twists and epic battles if you are brave enough to rise to the challenge.

 

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The Devourer: All brawn, no filler.

 

Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms is played on an isometric field that is very similar to games like StarCraft II and Diablo III. Combat is approached in three basic ways from a Warrior (melee) and a Hunter (ranged) to a Mage (area effect magic). Gameplay is very easy to get into, however, there is also a considerable amount of customization that can be done to buff up your characters as far as their skills and weapons are concerned. Continually making sure that you have the best weapons and equipment selected will affect not only which active skills you can use to attack, but also their stats, resistances, and passive skill bonuses. As the Devourer, capturing the souls of mortals allows you to travel between the world of the living and the Shadow Realm where you reside. This party system is at the heart of Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms and gives you the ability to react to action that is happening on the battlefield and adapt by tactically switching between the Devourer and any souls he is currently using as puppets.

To give you an idea of how this system can allow you to advance in the game, consider an enemy that is proving to be a little more difficult to best than you first thought. You can either switch to your powerful mage to dispatch it with magic or just slip into the Shadow Realm with the Devourer in order to outmaneuver your enemy. Having to think about the type of party members to bring with you on missions is an important strategic consideration as you want to have the best abilities at your fingertips if you need them. The Devourer can bring along three additional puppets and it is up to the player to decide between the three kinds of attacks (melee, ranged, magic), between different types of elemental damage (earth, wind, fire, water), or between different tactical configurations (ranged, heavily armored, fast movement). The deeper you delve into the fate of the Devourer, the more souls that you can consume and the more gameplay options will become available.

 

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The lighting effects, even at this stage, are very nice.

 

Being that Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms is in Early Access, the visuals of the game are still going through polishing. However, what is available to play at this point looks fairly decent. There is a subtle, dynamic day/night cycle that happens in the game that makes the world feel alive and thriving. Lighting effects are spectacular especially in the dungeons where hallways will be lit by only torchlight and lanterns cast an eerie glow on anything caught within their glare. The character models are still a little rough but they look very presentable and are very detailed and carefully crafted. The Devourer himself is part bio, part armor and part ethereal and looks very cool as you navigate him through the labyrinths. In addition, other characters and creatures that you may come across such as giant spiders, guards and shopkeepers are all representative of what you would expect them to look like and embody just a small sampling of the type of elements that your journey will eventually bring you to in the game world.

The sound effects in Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms is also very nicely done and help to immerse you in this fantastic world filled with magic, monsters and mayhem. Spiderlings reveal a satisfying squish as you dispatch them with your mace while the clang of metal on metal rings through the halls of a deserted hostel that has been taken over by ghosts. Clay pottery urns clatter and wooden crates splinter under the weight of your axe as you search for gold coins and health poultices. The soundtrack is a perfect fit for this fantasy world and makes the adventure feel exciting and dangerous all at the same time. All of this comes together to create an atmosphere that is at once foreboding while offering an adventure that is substantial and fun.

 

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All controls and menus are right at your fingertips.

 

Again, Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms is in Early Access so this isn’t a complete experience yet. For the Early Access fee of $27.99, Games Farm and bitComposer Games is offering the entire first chapter featuring hours of gameplay with more than 10 different maps and locations, two different playable main characters and the first boss fights. Throughout the course of the Early Access phase, more features like voiced dialogues and a crafting system will be added, as well as new quests, items and new playable characters. If you are thinking about getting the game, I would suggest that you purchase it now as this will be the cheapest that it will be. You will get all future Early Access updates as well as the final build for the Early Access price. This is a very stable build and I haven’t encountered a whole lot of bugs other than when I first started playing, gameplay was really slow and choppy, however, a quick adjustment to the resolution fixed that problem and I was off clobbering giant spiders in no time. I have played a lot of Early Access games that were a lot less polished than this one so it was a nice surprise to be invited to experience a little taste of what the final build will offer. Games Farm has stated that their main goal is to develop combat diversity to allow for strategic planning and to avoid the game just becoming another mindless, hack’n’slash and I think that they are well on their way to achieving this goal. Jump in early if you can because I think that you will be pleasantly surprised by how this one turns out in the end.

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