Sunday, 9 February 2014

Shadow Sun: One Guy's Review

RPGs on iOS usually come in three flavours. First, and unfortunately the most prolific, is the free to play game that goes in the RPG section of the App Store and describes itself as having "epic loot" and "massive battles". It usually has some generic fantasy artwork for its app icon, and the word "dragon" in the title. Next, is the action-RPG most of which doesn't do either action or RPG elements very well. There is usually a line in the description that proclaims it "the best game to come along since Diablo!". Then least common is the type of game Shaodw Sun accomplishes; a true RPG that excels at character development, story, and the world building. 

Right from the initial loading screen (above), Shadow Sun lets you in on what it is going for. The handpainted artwork is reminiscent of old tattered D&D book covers. In that vein, you start out with character creation that gives you plenty of choice. Shadow Sun does a good job of not shoehorning you into a certain archetype. My first play through was as a charismatic, rouge-ish archer who couldn't cast a spell to save his own life (literally). The usual suspects are here for statistics, and several skills require a minimum number of points allocated to a statistic to be used. Levelling up provides just the right balance of room to grow, while also not allowing the character to become a master of everything. Character progression through the story feels natural and by the end my character excelled in the areas I has intended and felt unique.

The storyline tells the tale of a land corrupted by a circle of mages that have unleashed a plague to distact the populationt while they undertake their nefarious scheme. Shadow Sun tasks the player with travelling in the city and surrounding areas to seek the source of the plague, and eventually deal with the mages themselves. The witting, dialogue, and  voice acting are all excellent. There is a feeling of grand scale to the story, and it enjoyed it thouroughly. While it is not the longest game ever made, it does not feel incomplete or lacking.  

Combat is a strightforward endeavour, which walks the line between being overly simplistic and sufficiently challenging. The action is moderately paced and using your skills is essential. You can have one follower tag along with you as a compliment to your character's skills. Each companion has two "modes"; an active and passive role. They offer occasional witty comments, as well as moral judgment on some of your decisions. I found the whole "approval" system somewhat undefined and did not witness any tangible impact on the game, but this may have just been due to a lack of opportunities. From a combat perspective, your companion is very useful. Playing a ranged character, I opted for the tank type follower and found I had very little difficulty dispatching enemies. and wondering if it was intended to be this risk free. The option for a harder difficulty setting was welcome and subsequent playthroughs revealed Shadow Sun can be a much more challenging game. 

Graphically, Shadow Sun is beautiful for the most part. The outdoor and indoor environments are highly detailed, brightly coloured, and crisp. The city really looks like an extravagant middle eastern setting, which is complimented with the arabic soundtrack and ambient noises. These little details stand out well and impress upon you how much care was taken in crafting Shadow Sun's art and sound design. Unfortunately, this makes it's minor flaws stand out even more. The low polygon count faces and hair look funky and out of place. The helm my character wore looked ridiculous in how it sat upon his head, and ended up being something you just tolerate. This issue aside, Shadow Sun offers nice graphical variation in your armour choice. Spell and weapon effects are also impressive. 

This is a world that is well defined, but also mysterious and varied. The bustling market area of the city and the windswept dunes of the oasis breathe life into the game. The world gains depth through the use of codex entries that give some backstory to the land, characters, and events in history. Travelling across the world is somewhat limited, although there is enough variety In the landscapes to avoid feeling contained. In many ways, Shadow Sun feels similar to Dragon Age: Origins in the world design and interface style. That is a good thing as DA:O is a great game that deserves to used as a mold for world building. 

There need to more RPGs like Shadow Sun in the App Store. With a little evolution, this could be a series that becomes a landmark in iOS RPGs. From the ending, I think it is safe to say there will be a sequel at some point.

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