The premise of Shadwen is an intriguing one. From the same folks who brought us the Trine trilogy, Shadwen is a third-person stealth action adventure in which a young girl accidentally befriends an expert assassin on her way to commit regicide. The table is set to combine sweet innocence with cold-hearted ruthlessness. It's Superhot by way of Leon.
I Just Wanted An Apple!
This is an era after a great war. War as we all know has an impact on everyone. Shadwen starts off with the introduction of Lily, one such victim of this war. A poor orphaned girl from the village who is desperately looking for some food. She infiltrates the Chapel which is heavily patrolled by guards who seem to be wrapped up in their own fear due to the recent conflicts. Lily goes into the chapel and reaches an apple tree, which is supposedly her real destination, but a guard spots her.
Meanwhile the titular Shadwen, a female assassin, is also breaking into the chapel in order to settle a score with the king. At that moment, she arrives wielding her dagger to save Lily from the boisterous guard, only to take her under her wing in order to stop the girl from blabbing about her murderous plans. From then on you'll have company; a dynamic duo and an intriguing start to the game.
Time to kill
From this point forward, almost everything will be done by Shadwen as she continues her quest onward to kill the King, with occasional help to open the gates. There are numerous ways by which you can succeed in this quest without slaying guards like Attila the Hun. Levels can be bypassed either putting all the guards to a permanent shut eye or leave them as is, all the while looking after a little orphan girl.
A simple concept, but there are a variety of gadgets to choose from while going about it. Shadwen bears a dagger all the time and a grappling hook which she can use to create distractions and reign terror among the guards. As you progress in Shadwen, you’ll find schematics of different weapons in the guards’ armory chests which make for for even more inventive methods to take out enemies. Sticky bombs and decoy toys were the standouts by far, allowing you to take out or distract entire groups of guards.
During the start of the campaign, I couldn't understand how to do some simple grappling or make long jumps. As it turns out, there is a time freeze to each and every action in this game. In essence it's similar in concept to Superhot, whereby time only moves when you do. Stand still and nothing around you will move.
The Element of Surprise
This game is not based on attacking the enemy head on as, while Shadwen can take care of herself, the little girl cannot. Instead you must stay silent and plan your approach. And this is where Shadwen excels beautifully. Not only will you have to clear the path ahead for yourself, but also devise a path for Lily to follow your trails too. There are numerous bushes and haystacks in the chapel where guards can be hidden. The grappling hook can be used to get to higher locations as well as moving around objects to create distractions. Where there is disturbance the guards will divert their original positions to that place. Bear in mind though, it'll only take one arrow to put you down, permanently!
So basically it's somewhat teamwork no matter who does more. I actually wish there was more gameplay with Lily in some levels but she is only good at opening gates and listening to Shadwen's fairy tales. In terms of her usefulness she's about on par with Ico's partner.
So you killed a guard, fancy that?! If the other soldiers found the corpse of their mate lying in front of them, you are history. This is the frustrating and intriguing part. It would make you rewind time and freeze it in order to look around at what you are really doing. Shadwen true quality of being stealth based game is this. Kill but dig the grave too.
Didn’t I kill you already?
For the most part of Shadwen you’ll be killing guards. Lots of guards. Some are heavily armored and others are just wearing something as a formality. However, despite the difficulty of the elite troops, Shadwen gets a shade boring after a while. There are 14 levels of massacring guards and then a meeting with the King. In between, you are literally just killing soldiers. All the guards are incredibly superstitious and it seems like a real missed opportunity not to use this to your advantage. Instead it's all just rinse and repeat.
Some of the longer levels are a little exhausting, but judging from my playtime it took roughly nine hours for a slowpoke like me to complete the game. Those after a meaty, all consuming game to splash their cash on would do well to look elsewhere. There are no boss fights or any other special events or tasks deep within the game which could have kept me focused. Heck it’s just you and the guards.
The Lack of Cinematics
Which brings me onto the other crux of the game, the supposed driving force of Shadwen - the story. For the most part you'll be hearing narration of events, which can help break up the monotony of gutting guards time and again. That said, the narration is no substitute for proper cinematics. It certainly would have been nice to get an in-game history of who Shadwen really is.
Shadwen indeed sets the bar fairly high for stealth based games with its unique approach on real-time/turn-based gameplay. It lacks content and deserves more well thought out alternative gameplay moments, but overall we are talking about a fine game here which wears its heart on its sleeve. If you're looking for a stealth based adventure to keep you hooked for a few evenings entertainment then go grab Shadwen, you’ll (probably) not be disappointed.