Shadwen Review – Unfortunately too many shortcomings

Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux
Developer: Frozenbyte
Publisher: Frozenbyte

What or who is Shadwen?

Shadwen (the woman you play as) is an assassin, hunting down the King. But as she progresses with her quest, she happens to come across Lily, an orphaned girl. Lily decides to go along with her, but as the guards get too close, Shadwen is forced to take action. What action that is, is up to Shadwen as it will affect Lily’s perspective of her. Will Shadwen risk the girl’s trust by resorting to violence, or try and find another way while keeping her real purpose concealed? But really…it’s difficult to care.

Truthfully, I had a tough time with the story, because it isn’t all that interesting, bar a couple of moments. There’s no mention anywhere why Shadwen has it out for the King, making it difficult to care for the storyline or any of the characters. This all originates from the introductory cinematic, where the game begins randomly with Shadwen in the King’s presence. There’s a brief exchange with words, with a cut to the first level, and no explanation. Throughout the game you replay the journey that Shadwen made into the city to get to the King, which doesn’t really add much, and we already know the outcome from what is shown in the intro cinematic. For the majority of the game, you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing and you’re just playing a game with barely any meaning.

Before I go on, there are alternate endings, but without ruining the game for you, you should be able to figure that one out for yourself…….(ok, it revolves around your decisions involving Lily and the guards). A single play through doesn’t exactly take that long, with me completing it in  roughly 6 – 7 hours, and another 7 hours on top of that for an alternate ending. So there’s at least some replay value in it for you.

Shadwen Story Intro

Needs some polish

Shadwen could certainly do with some more polishing. Lily would sometimes (well often) run in front of the guards, or run into their line of sight, yet not alert them. Not sure if this is intended, but it’s still pretty immersion breaking and something that shouldn’t be happening in a stealth focused game. This took away some of the difficulty during my play through.

There are no lives. If you die or get caught, you can simply rewind time and correct your mistake(s). Rewinding time to fix your mistakes is too easy and there should be something to punish your mistakes. A simple restart at the nearest checkpoint or level after being caught or dying could be what happens. Or perhaps give three lives? This would all make you value your life more and to be less reckless, and believe me, I was playing recklessly because there aren’t any restarts to punish your mistakes and there isn’t a downside to being rash.

How does it play?

There’s a similar feel to the Prince of Persia games, Assassin’s Creed series and other stealth games. Shadwen takes what made those games iconic and mixes them together, doing well in this regard. Playing it brought me back to the days of playing Prince of Persia on the PlayStation 2, where I’d rewind time when I made a crucial mistake or when I was hunting down targets to assassinate in Assassin’s Creed. Shad wen allows you to relive some classic moments and it’s great fun, especially with multiple ways of dispatching the guards. The fact that it uses mechanics from past games isn’t a bad thing. In fact it’s how Shadwen uses them, and it’s the game’s saving grace.

Shadwen Stealth Drop Kill
You saw nothing…!

Rewinding time in any game is always damn cool, and Shadwen is no exception. One little gripe I have with it is that using it doesn’t cost anything. There’s no resource like the Sands of Time slots or set time you can rewind for. I feel that the game would be much better giving it a downside, because at the moment, there aren’t any and it feels less difficult and impactful and as a result. You value things more when they’re limited or have limits.

The whole rewind time mechanic also isn’t explained. How and why does Shadwen/Lily have the ability to rewind time? Does she have a trinket or is she able to manipulate time with her own body? I feel there’s a lot of missed opportunity here for more levels (even just 1 or 2) to explain/show how she is able to control time. Not only is there a rewind mechanic, there’s also a thing where time is stopped if you don’t move, which can be an annoyance when you’re not used to it, but you’ll be fine after a level or two. What could make it better is if you were able to stop time or pause it with the press of a button. It does however, add some good real-time strategy to the game.

With all stealth games, you’re limited to what you can do. The real gameplay value is how you go about doing it, and there are many different methods but ultimately it comes down to two ways. You either kill guards or leave them alive. But how you do this is completely up to you. Fancy doing it the old fashion way by using your blade to assassinate any guard in your path? Or perhaps you want to use barrels, boxes and traps to distract them. Using your blade to take out the guards is the simplest method, but using traps and the environment is where things start to get more interesting.

There are a variety of traps at your disposal, but in order to use them, you need to gather the schematics and materials to craft them (gained from chests). One of Shadwen’s traps is a Poison Dart Launcher, which does exactly as it says, it launches a single poison dart (or two if you have the other schematic), killing any guard. To add to this, you can attach traps to any object. If you wanted to you can set a trap on a barrel and drop it onto a guard from a height. Using your rope and objects to use physics to your advantage is also another way of distracting or crushing your enemies. There are many fun ways of taking out your enemies if you’re creative enough! 

Shadwen Inventory and Crafting

Despite the apparent polishing that could be done, there’s a charm about this game, as with the Trine series. This comes from the voice acting and music/sound effects, which always have a strong attention to detail, and it’s what makes me adore Frozenbyte’s games so much. But as a whole, the game severely lacks.

I get what they’ve made or tried to do and in a couple of areas it works, it really does, however there’s too many issues with the game. These being the guards not alerting when Lily is clearly in front of them (almost breaking the immersion at times), naming items in your inventory to make it easier to identify what they are and to limit the use of the rewind mechanic to make it more valuable or instead, to make your mistakes more punishing. The different ways in which to kill or distract the guards, the traps and stealth play are the only good points about the game, but unfortunately, they don’t make up for the technical issues it has, not to sound like a broken record. I simply can’t recommend it.

Score: 43%

What  are your thoughts on Shadwen?


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