"I never said the souls of fallen warriors were necessarily human..."
Games Farm is a Slovakian game developer whose RPG oeuvre includes last year's Vikings: Wolves of Midgard and 2014's Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms. Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms is a follow-up to the 2004 title Heretic Kingdoms: The Inquisition, made by the developer 3D People. (Games Farm essentially rose from the ashes of 3D People.) According to the Kalypso Media spokesperson who moderated RPGFan's E3 meeting, Games Farm wasn't 100% thrilled with how Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms turned out. The upcoming Shadows: Awakening is both a sequel and a reimagining of Heretic Kingdoms, delivering a more complete story in Games Farm's Shadows universe, much more to the developer's satisfaction.
In Awakening, the player controls The Devourer, a powerful demon summoned into being by a mysterious hooded figure. The Devourer exists in the Shadow World, a parallel world inhabited by demons and other ethereal beings. The Devourer can consume the souls of the fallen and manipulate the physical forms of some of them to enter the Human World. Much of the gameplay of Awakening consists of controlling The Devourer in the Shadow World and switching between The Devourer's soul puppets in the Human World. There are 14 souls of fallen warriors for The Devourer to consume-slash-recruit in Shadows: Awakening, and each of them is a fully-realized character in their own right.
The world-switching and soul-switching mechanics are perhaps the defining gameplay features of Shadows: Awakening. Entering the Shadow World pauses time in the Human World, and some geographical features may change (i.e. a broken bridge in the Human World may be assembled in the Shadow World). Some enemies may have barriers or other aspects that may only be affected in the Shadow World. Within the Human World, the player can switch between souls at will. Each soul has separate levels, stats, skills, and equipment and coordinating attacks and performing combos between different characters is encouraged. For example, a rogue character has an oil slick attack which reduces enemies' fire resistance, inviting players to switch to a mage for follow-up fire spells.
The action of Shadows: Awakening takes place on isometric spaces with detailed maps revealed as you go, resembling a Diablo or Torchlight game. The Shadow World is always dark, misted, and full of swirling magic energy, while the Human World's geography is a wide variety of city and natural environments. There are at least three city hub areas in Awakening where players can plan and customize their team; in dungeon and overworld areas the player is restricted to three Human World characters, and each character (including The Devourer) is limited to three equipable skills at once from a selection of eight. Skills are upgraded with skill points acquired through leveling and a handful of other discovery-related means.
The fountain of loot springs eternal in Shadows: Awakening with silver currency, many weapon rarities, essences for enhancing equipment, and stat boosts dropping from defeated enemies and hidden all over the world of Awakening. Each character (including The Devourer) also has a customizable set of passive skills called Talents, unlockable at specific levels. The player manages their party of four characters at a time from a choice of fifteen, with three skills assigned to each character out of eight, dozens of talent options, and hundreds of equipment pieces. That's a lot of tinkering.
The very first fallen warrior that The Devourer assimilates is a choice between three: a barbarian warrior, an agile archer, and a sorceress wielding fire spells. Which one The Devourer chooses determines Awakening's main story path. For example, the warrior wants to avenge his own death from a few years earlier at the hands of his own son; the sorceress was the princess of a powerful empire, 250 years before the present day and must process the current state of her homeland. Part of Awakening's replay value is this choice between story branches. In addition, a few souls available for The Devourer to recruit are mutually exclusive: the example shown by the Games Farm representative were a treant mage and a fierce giant hornet (hey, I never said the souls of fallen warriors were necessarily human). Whatever event or side quest that results in recruiting one of them makes the other unavailable for that playthrough.
Alongside the main quest of Shadows: Awakening are a wealth of side quests. Many of these quests are affected by player choice, with differing rewards and Karma stats based on those choices. The stats menu keeps clear records of The Devourer's points into Greed, Charity, Cruelty, and Mercy, with The Devourer's wraith-like appearance becoming more angelic with higher Mercy and Charity numbers and more demonic with higher Cruelty and Greed. Exactly how these Karma scores affect the rest of Awakening's story is unclear at this time, but these side quests have meaningful rewards and story consequences determined by the player's decisions.
Since the player character is essentially multiple souls inhabiting the same body being manipulated by The Devourer, banter between The Devourer and his collection of souls takes interesting angles. Virtually none of The Devourer's puppets seem happy to have their bodies appropriated for the demon's bidding, and make their resentment clear. Two of the souls were a romantic couple in life and didn't depart under the best of circumstances. All of Awakening's dialog is fully voiced and totals up to 15-20 hours of recorded dialog. Notable rainbow scarf-wearer Tom Baker voices the mysterious Hooded Man met at the very beginning. A single playthrough of the game is well over 20 hours, and Games Farm CEO Peter Nagy told RPGFan that Awakening has over 60 hours of content overall, including side quests and differences between playthroughs.
Players who owned Heretic Kingdom prior to the launch of Awakening's beta earlier this year receive Awakening for free. While Awakening takes place in the same world as Heretic Kingdoms and has a few cameos from that 2014 title (including controlling another Devourer demon), playing Heretic Kingdoms is not a requirement for understanding Awakening's story. Shadows: Awakening represents Games Farm's most complete vision of a vibrant, darkness-tinged world of Shadows many years in the making.