Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms

"I really wanted to like Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms a lot more than I actually did."

The most important thing to me about an isometric, action RPG is the satisfaction per left click ratio. If that sounds like the perfect combination of snobbishness combined with subjectivity... perfect, because that's what I was going for. But in the end, one has only so many left clicks one can spend in this finite existence, and in my opinion, it makes sense to measure the use of one's clicks by the pleasure produced by each click.

If we are to measure Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms by this metric, the game sadly falls short of what I'd call standard.

But if we step back, life is really about more than just left clicks isn't it? And Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms at least attempts to offer some very clever solutions to common pitfalls in the genre. Shouldn't that be worth something?

You are a spirit of some kind, and you control various "puppets." This is the central conceit of the clicks that follow. You can switch between the various characters you have under your command with the simple tap of a hot key, and each of them have different skill trees and abilities, strengths and weaknesses. You can also switch to the controlling spirit itself, and when you do so, the entire look of the game changes to something more ethereal. It is even possible to discover secrets and solve puzzles by switching between the spirit and physical worlds. But beware! If your spirit character dies, it is game over for you, so it is best in a tough fight to work your way through the health bars of your puppets first.

This is a really, really good idea. It elegantly solves one of the big problems with your Diablos and your Torchlights: after a while, you want to try to another character, but at the same time it means starting over. Not so with Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms! While the first puppet you choose is either a warrior, rogue, or mage type, other puppets you gather have aspects of what those classes provide. A big rock golem thing has awesome defense but is quite slow. A giant wasp is quick and relies on various poisons. As you progress through the game, you gather more and more of these puppets, and the various combat options really open up.

The problem is that no matter what you are using, everything just feels a little bit sluggish. Warrior types in particular seem to swing like they are in mud, and sometimes you find yourself left clicking furiously because the first click that starts the attack didn't register properly. Compared to giants in the field like the aforementioned Diablo and Torchlight and maybe lesser known excellent properties like anything by Soldak (Din's Curse, Drox Operative), something about the experience just isn't as responsive as it should be. That's a problem for a game like this where you are going to be doing lots and lots of clicking, and the difference between winning and losing a fight on harder difficulties can come down to a keystroke being properly registered.

The story itself in Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms has you generally kind of acting like a jerk villain, but I'm okay with that. I'll admit I started to skim through some of the lengthier lore explanations as I just didn't find myself particularly invested in the world, but there is a lot to crunch on here for fans of this game's predecessor, Kult: Heretic Kingdoms. I always like to give kudos to a game for effectively establishing a real tone — in this case, it's a harsh and unforgiving one that reminds me a lot of the first Diablo game in terms of a world out to get you. Whereas Torchlight is more lighthearted, Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms builds a world that doesn't look like it would be much fun to live in, and overall the tone works. In addition, your choice of first puppet (warrior, rogue, mage) has major impact on the story, and there is excellent replay value here for those into the lore.

The music and sound are quite good. The musical score is effectively done, and the moods of the songs feel appropriate to the setting. Everything dies with satisfying crunches, but once again something just feels a little bit off about the timing of the sounds. Things die with satisfying sounds when struck, but with noticeable lag between the moment that I actually pressed the button and the payoff.

There is more to come for Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms, as the actual game you can purchase now only includes "Book One" of what is going to be a two part game.

Overall, I really wanted to like Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms a lot more than I actually did. I absolutely adore the central concept of being able to use multiple characters, along with the interaction between the two worlds you can perceive when actually playing the game. But when you do this much clicking, the clicks themselves absolutely must feel satisfying and responsive. Unfortunately, compared to other games in this genre, that key part of the experience feels sluggish by comparison. I reflected this in my different scores for Gameplay and Control — lots of great gameplay ideas, subpar experience interacting with them. My overall score is indicative of the fact that there is enough here to still enjoy the game, which on the whole I did. If you are a fan of this genre like I am, there are enough new concepts that you'll get your money's worth. And if you're a fan of the Heretic Kingdoms universe, there is story aplenty to enjoy. But it all could have been much more.

I really applaud Games Farm for having the ambition to do something different, and I will absolutely give Book Two a shot when it comes out. But it is difficult to give the game high marks based on the execution here. It makes me appreciate once again just how difficult it is to get a game to truly feel responsive, and I hope Games Farm tries to refine their left click experience as the development of Book Two progresses.


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