Shadwen is a third person stealth escort game crafted by Frozenbyte, best known for the Trine series of games. You play as Shadwen, an assassin on a mission to kill the king. Early in your journey you save a little girl named Lily from a guard and she then accompanies you on your journey through a medieval city on the way to execute your target.
Unfortunately, the story in Shadwen is the weakest part of the game by a large margin. It pretty much makes zero sense. First of all, there is no backstory. You begin the game as the little girl, Lily, who is on her way to an isolated apple tree to grab an apple. She is caught by a guard but before anything can happen you begin playing as Shadwen ( this intro playing as Lily and Shadwen serves as your tutorial as well) and save Lily from the guard. You are on a mission to assassinate the King who has just defeated the old royal and taken up residence in the castle. For some reason, you decide to take Lily along for the ride. There seems to be no legitimate reason to take this little girl along with you since you already saved her from the guard. From this point until the end of the game, you sneak and/or kill your way through the city with Lily in tow, chatting with her between chapters (briefly).
That is basically the story. Listening to guards speaking throughout the game serves to build up the lore of the city and the war that just ended but beyond that there is really nothing to the story except Lily and Shadwen getting to know each other (for good or bad depending on how you prefer to play the game (more on that in the gameplay section)). The ending reveals that Shadwen and the king have a personal grudge but no other information on that is forthcoming. Then you and Lily either decide to travel on together or part ways (depending on how murderous you have been during your playthrough and if you chose to kill the king or not).
Ultimately, the story in Shadwen was as vague and loosely written as it could possibly be. There didnt seem to be any real reason behind most of it. That earns the story part of my review a 3 out of 10.
Whereas the story in Shadwen marked the weak point of the game, the gameplay itself was the best part. This is a stealth game through and through and it is handled quite well – almost to perfection. It does become sort of a joke that you are always hiding in bushes and haystacks, the latter placed throughout the city despite a distinct lack of horses or other hay grazing critters, but whatever. Assassins Creed did the same thing (with the addition of horses of course), so I can forgive that. What really makes the stealth in Shawden shine is the guard placement and rotations and the open world aspects of each chapter that may be limited in size but offer you a vast array of options to complete each level.
You are presented with three styles of stealth play: total stealth with no kills, total stealth with some kills, and total stealth as a psycho who kills everybody. Fortunately for the good citizens of Rivendel, they are basically under martial law through the entire game so you only ever encounter the King’s guardsmen. The way in which you approach the game will in small part impact the ending you receive(good, bad, almost good). In my opinion, the best ending is the sort of good ending which to me was actually the only good ending, and so a play through where you kill as you like is perfect to achieve that one (as long as you dont kill the King at the end….and although this is technically a spoiler, not really since the devs themselves have been liberal in discussing this on the forums). However, based on the gameplay variance you could get three distinct playthroughs out of this that are all different based on the strategies you employ and the approach you take. My playthrough lasted about 9 hours but I also took my time.
You initially will craft a grappling hook and this will become your best friend (aside from the aforementioned haystacks) as you can use it on any wooden object. Although the obvious and oft applied use will be to climb and/or gain height advantages, you can also use the grappling hook to move objects such as crates which can be used to distract guards so you can more easily sneak by them or assassinate them. This will also give Lily greater opportunities to move past the guards as well. There are a variety of other items you can craft ranging from bombs and traps to decoys. I didnt find these to be particularly useful but they are there if you want them. Materials are found in chests located throughout the game and blueprints for them are likewise found in chests.
When enemies can be heard they glow white making them easy to see. When they are actually alerted they glow yellow. This clearly lets you know where they are at pretty much all times. You can still run into guards you haven’t yet seen and heard but ultimately this is a useful tracking tool.
So with all of that said, the most useful feature in the game is the rewind/fast forward option and this is integral to all aspects of gameplay since time only moves when you do. This world is frozen unless you are moving or employing the rewind/fast forward option. Shadwen will use this to great effect since any decision can be re imagined and redone to your heart’s content. This is especially important, as you will die anytime a guard actually sees you (they all have crossbows, so presumably you are shot dead). However, since you can rewind time at will, you actually never die and there is no limit to how far you roll back time. The fast forward is used a little differently. Although you can combine it with selective rewinding to perfect a jump or attack, it’s more practical application is for when you are sitting still but need time to advance normally. This will allow guards to continue on their patrols and such.
The gameplay in Shadwen was pretty deep and extremely well done. The first few minutes will feel awkward but once you get the hang of things this game plays seamlessly. 9 out of 10
The graphics were not bad in Shadwen but they weren’t anything like previous Frozenbyte efforts. I think their goal was to create a more muted world similar to what you might experience in one of the Thief games and to an extent, they were successful. The events in the game also happen at night so it makes sense that the world would lack a certain luster. That said, I didnt find most of the game to be particularly noteworthy in this regard and in fact, from one chapter to the next, most of the assets were repeated throughout. If you’ve seen one chapter, you’ve basically seen like eleven of the fourteen others (there are fifteen chapters in Shadwen). Only three of the chapters felt truly unique when compared to the others and those were my favorites personally. There were however a couple of very nice moments that enhanced the experience from a graphics standpoint.
A little above average but nothing too spectacular and quite reminiscent of late generation six to early generation seven graphics. 7 out of 10
The audio in Shadwen was fairly well done perfectly in some regards and poorly in others. It’s a quiet world obviously, as it is nighttime and there is generally less going on, but I found the dialogue amongst the guards in particular to be a highlight. Other nuances like crows and such really helped add to the depth of the city such as it was. Conversely, the voice acting, what little there was with Shadwen and Lily was pretty underwhelming.
7 out of 10
If you are craving a true stealth game, Shadwen will satisfy that urge immaculately. It truly shines as a stealth game. Despite Shadwen also being one long escort mission, it still is as good as it gets with regards to stealth. I think only Dishonored really does a markedly better job. Shadwen has many flaws, but overall, it is a game worth experiencing.
Overall, Shadwen provides 6.5 corpses of unfortunate guardsmen hidden in glorious bales of hay out of 10 possible.