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- Shadow Realms
Shadow of glory.
If BioWare has a core message it wishes to send to the gaming blogosphere, it's that the developer will be delving headfirst into multiplayer. While Dragon Age: Inquisition will have a four-player cooperative mode paired alongside but not connected to its epic single-player campaign, BioWare's new IP Shadow Realms, whose trailers have been live-action and extremely cryptic, will be hinged on its asymmetric 4v1 cooperative mode. Evolve may just have a worthy competitor nipping at its heels.
Before the gaggle of journalists corralled at the appointment made too many preconceived notions of what Shadow Realms was about, BioWare assured that the game will still have a single-player campaign that its fans have come to expect: branching dialogue trees, character customization, and comprehensive lore. But while they have the PAX audience within shouting distance, they've decided to showcase the tied multiplayer mode to spread the word of the upcoming alpha. For a game based in the modern day where everyday folks become hunters who must fight against demons who are spewing from portals into our world, that marketing strategy makes perfect sense since this is a convention where attendees cosplay as superheroes anyway.
Some might glance at the multiplayer mode for Shadow Realms and surmise that it's pretty much like Evolve, and while there are definitely similarities, BioWare's interpretation is inspired by tabletop RPGs, specifically those with a dungeon master. In the demo session, as the team of four players attempt to descend into the darkest recesses of a dungeon, the fifth player controls the Shadow Lord who drifts unseen and causes as much havoc as possible upon the would-be heroes by planting traps and summoning monsters. If they reach the bottom and enter the portal connected to the demon world of Embra, then the Shadow Lord can make one last-ditch effort by controlling the gigantic demon in that dimension and who can breathe unearthly fire that scorches the land. But if the party succeeds, they will be handsomely rewarded with treasure keys and loot.
Sitting in the position of cleric, who essentially follows the role of a paladin, I made sure to maintain melee pressure while healing the party if they got themselves into trouble. The amount of healing is extremely light, though, requiring members to dodge effectively and use potions only when necessary since they only have limited stock. The same goes for revive kits, which are shared amongst the team. The party can find additional potions and revive kits by smashing barrels, but exploring the gothic dungeon any longer than your party needs to only opens more opportunities for the Shadow Lord to inflict more damage, so you'll need to pick your battles carefully.
For specifics, my cleric could perform three core abilities that have a separate cooldown—a life steal, a binding circle that traps enemies, and an area-of-effect smite. The all-party heal charges with successful attacks, but it can be activated at lower energy levels for a minor heal. With only four abilities, every character is clean and precise, though we were told that our characters were starter builds at around Level 5. Though the demo didn't have the ability to switch between builds of a given class, it will be as the game moves into alpha and beta phases.
By contrast, the invisible Shadow Lord can plop down spike traps, set bombs, choose the bestiary of the dungeon like hobgoblins and bane wolves, and possess any monster on the board for direct control. The most wicked strategy involved letting one of the party members pass an area, leading the other players running behind into a false sense of security, and place a spike trap between them. From there, anyone caught in the trap will then take collateral damage from bombs. Anything that reduces the party's healing resources, which the Shadow Lord can see, is well worth the effort.
Though Shadow Realms is early in development, some of the design elements have been ironed out in broad strokes. Content will be delivered episodically, and characters will be able to share some progress in level and abilities between single-player and multiplayer modes (to what extent is unclear). Also, dungeons will be randomly seeded, so that environmental traps will be arranged differently, ensuring that running a dungeon multiple times doesn't become stale and that the party earns every treasure key and gold piece.
BioWare has yet to set a release date or a monetization plan for Shadow Realms. You can sign up for the closed alpha for PC now at ShadowRealms.com.