Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Armchair developer

It's easy to just label a game as mediocre and call it a day. Shadows Awakening is about a generic as they come. What's harder (and more interesting for blogging) is to play armchair developer and diagnose why it is generic and how it could be fixed. The isometric action RPG is a well established genre with stellar examples: Diablo 3 comes to mind as do older, classic console titles like Baldur's Gate Dark Alliance and Champions of Norrath (rest in peace, Snowblind Studios).

So what is Shadows Awakening missing, besides a name that makes sense?

First, and easiest: the loot drops suck and leveling up is unsatisfying. Diablo 3 works, as grind heavy as it is, because loot drops are constantly giving the player something new and shiny to use. A new piece or armor or a new weapon or even a new gem for slotting lands ever few minutes, keeping the player interested. Loot drops in Shadows Awakening are almost always worthless. It feels like the only good weapons are from scripted events which makes the loot drop lottery no fun to play because you never, ever win.

There are also not enough skills to learn to make each level gained feel tangible. Each character can only have three assigned skills at a time and the list of skills to choose from is not much larger. There are passive bonuses gained every three levels but they are almost all the same between characters and most of them are boring. And leveling itself takes far too long and suffers from tremendous XP inflation.

Second, and I will credit Chance for this term, the combat has no crunch. Hitting something in a game provides no tangible feedback beyond a little controller vibration so the impact must be presented visually and audibly. A good heavy hit should rock both the screen and the subwoofer. A bystander should take notice and cringe.

Combat in Shadows Awakening feels like fighting air. Just hold A and things fall down. Or disappear in a cloud of smoke. It just doesn't feel right.

This is a prime example of how a game can do nothing 'wrong' but still be a bore.

...

I have read the Game Informer article on Sekiro. It all sounded good, right up to the point where the director refused to discuss what the death penalty will be. I don't trust you, From Software, I just don't.

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