"…it's worth keeping Shadows on your watch list rather than your wishlist."
It's hard to get past a title as generic as Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms. It's misleading in this case too, because while Shadows is built upon a very Diablo-esque foundation, it has a number of interesting and original gameplay mechanics that set it apart from its action RPG brethren. While you can already purchase it on Steam for a staggering $29.99, it's very clearly still in a pre-alpha stage.
Little of the story was revealed during Chapter 1, though it certainly had a dark, mysterious feel. My primary playable character was a Devourer: an apparition that can control the souls of those it encounters. As a Devourer, I could only exist in the shadow world, which meant most physical objects and characters could not be interacted with. Conversely, certain areas that couldn't be accessed in the physical world, such as broken bridges or crumbled doors, could be easily passed by.
Early on, I had a choice between three (only two so far in the early access version I played) dead adventurers who I could "reanimate" and control: a warrior, archer or mage. With a physical body, I was then able to swap back and forth between puppet and Devourer in order to move between the shadow and material worlds. If a puppet died, I could revive it by expending the souls of enemies I'd defeated. If the Devourer died, it was game over. As I progressed through Chapter 1, I obtained a couple of other puppets to use, but in the early access version, they had no skills and were effectively useless.
Collecting and using souls functioned as a healing system for all characters. Each time I killed an enemy, I gained a certain number of souls. By holding spacebar, I could then use them to heal or revive a character. It's a clever idea, but Shadows wanted me to rely on this mechanic far too often. As a result, enemies dealt incredibly high amounts of damage, forcing me to stop and heal frequently. It made me feel weak and significantly slowed down my progress. When I ran out of souls, I would literally leave my game and go get a drink while my health regeneration ring slowly topped me back up instead.
Aside from the Devourer/puppet switching, Shadows played much like fellow action RPG titles Diablo and Torchlight. Battles took place in real time and involved clicking on your target incessantly to attack. There was a wide variety of skills for each playable character (including the Devourer), and new ones could be learned with points as I levelled up. Interestingly, two of the three different skills trees each character had were associated with a particular weapon. Archer Jasker, for example, had access to different skills depending on whether he had a light or heavy bow equipped, which was great for customisation.
Equipment was hard to come by though; very little was picked up from chests and crates, and what you could buy from merchants was far too pricey. There were a few unoriginal fetch side-quests to complete, but even they provided meagre monetary rewards. A better balance between drops and equipment cost will hopefully be implemented before a full release.
While the visuals are pleasing to the eye, they're not astounding enough to warrant the toll the game took on my mid-range PC. Even on the lowest possible graphics settings, my frame rate was a little jumpy. This made combat more difficult than it needed to be, and I often had to click something twice for it to register. I've heard from others, however, that even with a stable framerate, the game and animation felt sluggish.
At this early stage, it's hard to recommend Shadows at its high purchase price. It's an intriguing and potentially engaging game, but there's not yet enough content and still too many technical issues. Considering some characters can't be played, there's missing voice acting (though what's there is voiced by Tom Baker!), and there's only a few hours of content, it's worth keeping Shadows on your watch list rather than your wishlist. But keep it on there, because devouring the souls of enemies has plenty of potential.