Shadow Realms: MwaHaHa

The door is opening…. the first one comes out. Do I wait for the others to put in an appearance or do I jump on this opportunity? Fortune favours the bold, but that can cut both ways.

Why wait? He’s alone. He’s isolated. He’s my first victim.


Welcome To Embra

Late on Thursday, the supreme overlord of MMOGames and her lackey sat in the Bioware area behind closed doors. Overlord? Sorry, I meant editor and well… me.

We were there to see Biowares latest property, Shadow Realms. Soon after the presentation there would be a playtest. If you like what you read below, I should point out that alpha sign up is available here.

So what is it? Shadow Realms is a Four Versus One action RPG with story driven elements. Based on a Modern Fantasy setting of their own design, it covers both the world we know and the world of magic, Embra.

You have two options for play, you can be on the team of four as the heroes of the story or dust off your copy of the Evil Overlord list and try your hand at the immaterial Shadowlord. Either way there’s bound to be fun. While comparisons to Evolve are inevitable, it’s hoped that the story aspect and the setting will hold it apart. I have to admit ever since I started getting my regular Harry Dresden fixes, I’ve been a real sucker for modern fantasy. Shadow Realms, as shown in the alpha demo, has the same sort of vibe as The Secret World. There’s a story here, an unknown power and evil to be fought.

Only it’s going to be fighting back hard as you try to take it down.


Pilot Episode

During the presentation, there was much discussion about that Bioware staple. Story!

Sure they could have made a quick and fun 4 vs 1 combat game but without something to keep it fresh, even an engaging game gets stale. Bioware being Bioware naturally turned to the idea of a role playing campaign. You’ll be levelling up your hero (or Shadowlord) as you play and engaging in story episodes. Mysteries, twists and new locations are all just ahead of us. Sure there’s the magical world of Embra but there’ll also be our own world mixed in. If that doesn’t lend itself to epic battles in iconic areas, what does?

If they can hook people with the story, that’s most of the battle done. After all admit it, who doesn’t want to hop in to an ongoing quasi DnD dungeon crawl run by Bioware? Also if nothing else, if rocks fall and everyone dies, you don’t have to guess. You’ll know.

Yes, the DM does hate you.


It was time to play the demo, fingers were pointed around. Suddenly I found myself being singled out. Maybe it was the beard, maybe it’s the fact that I was lurking in the background and grinning.

“Do you want to be the Shadowlord?”

Oh yes. Yes I do. Please excuse any maniacal laughter you may hear.

Shadow Realms is offering, so far, six hero classes. Warrior, Assassin, Wizard, Cleric, Ranger and Warlock. This means that there’s some decent mixes possible for any given game. What could they do? Oh I have no idea. Sure I was vaguely aware that the Cleric, damn his eyes, was able to heal people up. Yes I was able to see that the Warrior was the tank of the lot and able to take damage and deal it out with equal ease. The Wizard brought the magic and damage, well… on his side. I had my own toys. Finally there was the Assassin, slippery and lethal… she proved the toughest nut to crack.


Given that I was playing the Shadowlord, most of my views come through that lens. Shadowlords are invisible to the hero players and can make a nuisance of themselves by setting traps and other skills that unlock as the party progresses through the dungeon. Sorry folks, you can’t go nuclear on people right out the door. The other nice touch is the ability to possess any of the monsters that inhabit the game area, granting you access to their skills and letting you direct them yourself. No more AI monster, say hello to a human out to get you but initially indistinguishable from the rest.

For anyone rubbing their hands together in glee, eagle eyed heroes will be able to tell what minion you are in. Still, there’s always more minions. Mwahahaha.

Rocks Fall…

Part of my admitted lack of knowledge about the abilities of the heroic player characters comes from the fact that with limited time to play the game, I couldn’t really grill the dev team on exactly who does what. Still, sitting on opposite sides of the room it wasn’t hard to grasp the idea that the Warrior was the big guy with the axe and the grim refusal to just DIE.

The other part? I was having too much fun. It was apparently a worry during conception and testing that people might not want to play the Shadowlord, might not want to have a role in actively attempting to ruin the day of four other people… Sign me up. I will be the official Bioware Shadowlord and play against all comers.

Being thrown into a playtest can sometimes be a little jarring. You have to pick up the abilities and concepts quickly or you’ll just spend the precious time with the game flailing around and not really getting anything. Shadow Realms on the other hand was, for me, incredibly easy to pick up. Traps that need to recharge? Got it. Possess minions and go stab a guy? Yep, no problems. The ability to float around the heroes and pass by them unseen as I decide my next ambush? Novel but not hard to understand.

Shadow Realms

…Everyone Dies

I admit I have bought into the vision. An action RPG is great fun. A flashy story driven action RPG can be even more so. Scripted events though are simply that. Sooner or later someone always works out the boss skill rotation or gimmicks.

In the same fashion that people will make comparisons to Evolve, there will be commentary about Left 4 Dead. The AI director there was a great attempt to keep things fresh and different. Replace that with a player Shadowlord? It adds that wonderful layer of confusion and spontaneity that will keep Shadow Realms fresh for a long time.

Will he possess the end of crawl boss? Will she keep herself floating around and dropping traps instead? Will they attempt to duplicate a character and sow confusion?

I bought into it all. The DnD feel of a campaign. I was playing the Shadowlord against four heroes. It was my job to DM the game, make it tough, make them work for the win. After all I couldn’t just be a passive evil.

It started when the first one came out of the gate early. My first victim. My first taste at the sublime pleasure that is being the bad guy in good fun. There were dicey moments for the other four media and business folks facing off against me. I had some early successes which apparently amused our Bioware handlers. They had some successes of their own, taking down the waves of minions and facing off against the traps.

In the end though…. in the end. I prevailed. The last one left alive was the slippery Assassin, eventually taken down.
Rocks fell, everyone died.

It felt so good to be so bad.

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About Jonathan Doyle

Once long ago Westwood made a space game. Earth And Beyond was the start of the journey. From there, through Paragon City and to the fields of Altdorf, there were battles. Westwood brought me to MMOs. City of Heroes refined my love for them. Warhammer brought me to writing about them. He loves all things space, sci fi, Warhammer or heroic.