Friday, February 10, 2017


A stealth game that is also essentially one huge escort quest feels like a concept set to fail. It is certainly something I would never buy at full price (not that I do so generally anyway) but I did put it on my wishlist to wait for a better deal. I reckon the game has not sold too well because pretty soon after its release it was almost constantly discounted in some store. During Steam's winter sale, the discount got to 75% and I finally bought Shadwen.

A small production

The game reminded me of Velvet Assassin in its scope. I guess stealth games made by smaller studios tend to focus on the gameplay and put less effort into world building. Frozenbyte is not the smallest indie studio out there, though, as they apparently employ about 70 people. Still, Shadwen is light on story and lore. Apart from the chapter-start voice-overs and few overheard guard conversations, you largely concentrate on the core gameplay -- sneaking and eliminating enemies.

Shadwen, the title character, is on a mission to kill the king in the city of Rivendel. At the beginning she saves a girl called Lily who then tags along. What the characters say between chapters seemed to be based on if Lily has seen you kill someone (or a guard accidentally push another off an edge). You need to play the game twice if you want to hear the full story. Which one of the four (or rather more like two and a half) endings depends on if Lily's knows you are a killer and if you kill or spare the king at the end. I feel the best one was where Lily and you venture off together. Oddly enough that is the result of having Lily seen a kill but then you sparing the king. One would think zero kills were the best one.

Mechanics-wise Shadwen has a bit more going on in it. For instance, there are multiple different gadgets you can craft from materials scattered around in chests. You do not need to use them, however. In fact, I used only a single poison dart trap on my all-kill playthrough. Otherwise knife and grappling hook were more than enough to get rid of everyone else. I suppose the use of items tends to be more or less optional in any stealth game to progress, but I feel that in Shadwen, it is even less required.

Somewhat arcadey

What makes the game so easy is how time stands still when you are not doing anything. It makes Shadwen like a baby's first stealth game, giving an unlimited amount of time to plan your approach at every point. You can also rewind time, which is not an in-world thing either rather than a more arcadey reloading mechanic. It allows you to figure out quicker what works. With classic reloading Shadwen would probably be somewhat brutal as the protagonist has one hit point and hostile enemies spotting her will instantly use their crossbows with 100% accuracy.

The grappling hook can be used to swing around, climb onto ledges, as well as to pull things (mostly crates). Swinging can be somewhat confusing with the time halting and rewinding -- it is sometimes hard to tell how much momentum you have if you stop mid-air. Of course, you can then rewind again if you did not make your jump. I do not know how far you can rewind but I never met a limit.

Another thing that made the game easier (at least the all-kill run) was how effortlessly enemies can be pulled one by one away from others. Stepping into one guard's cone of vision to allow him to get a glimpse of you will lure only that one guard to investigate. The others will turn around to look where you were seen and then turn back as they were. I think that in other stealth games I have played this has not generally been the case.

With just two guards you can also pull off a riskier stunt by dropping on one from high enough to kill -- not assassinating, since it is slower to recover from -- and slashing the other, which will stun him allowing you to then jump on him for a takedown finish.

The number of enemy types could have definitely been higher -- there are two of them in total. Maybe some only carried swords but basically there is a guard and a more heavily armored guard. The difference is that the latter is immune to backstabs. Drop kills still work, however, provided you jump from at least the height of two crates. Thus they are slightly more vulnerable than the knights in Styx: Master of Shadows.

Not the worst escort quest

I have to say that the whole escort concept could have been implemented in a way more annoying way. You do not actually need to protect Lily at all. On my first playthrough I pretty much ignored her completely. I killed everyone and then proceeded to the exit where Lily was always waiting.

On my second, no-kills run I paid more attention to her. It was pretty obvious how Lily worked after a short observation. She has a route from hay pile/bush to another. If no enemy cone of sight cross the route, Lily will proceed to the next point. If an enemy happens to turn back to the route, Lily will go back to previous hiding place. Enemies do not see nor attack her even if she crosses their sights. Thus going through the game without kills merely involved a lot of moving crates to create distractions.

There are three optional difficulty related options in Shadwen. The first two I had disabled -- enemy cone of visions and helpful outlines. I am not sure what exactly the latter was supposed to highlight since talking guards and Lily had outlines even with the option disabled. The third one makes Lily move on her own. Without it you have to press a button to signal her to continue. I am not sure if she goes to where you are looking at or if she barely proceeds on her route. Or maybe she will try to come to you.

It sounded too bothersome and I had the auto-walk option enabled. I had already played the game through once already after all. Shadwen is not a very long stealth game, though, which is another reason to not buy it at full price. My playthroughs clocked in less than 6 hours per run.

No comments:

Post a Comment