Hack and slash games can be, at the very least, a fun time. There’s something extremely satisfying about cutting down massive hordes of enemies all at once. A sense of enduring accomplishment pervades many of these titles, often accentuated by distinct aesthetics or IP integration. These features might increase the replayability of a game to really squeeze the most out of every provided mode. However, such is only partly the case in Fansipan Limited’s action RPG Shadow Knight Premium (or Shadow Knight: Era of Legend, as it appears once downloaded onto your device).
A Dark and Stormy Knight
The main scenario of Shadow Knight Premium presents itself in the typical post-modern indie style. Minimal information is provided about the shadowy protagonist of Harmonia, a land under attack by umbral monsters. You slice through waves of these creatures, tasked with bringing peace to a world besieged. That’s pretty much it.
While the game’s cinematic trailer hints at a deeper world and lore, the actual experience is devoid of anything more than justification for the action. Of course, that may be enough for some. Unfortunately, though, there isn’t a lot more to see to make up for this shortcoming.
The Actual Hacking and Slashing
Primarily, Shadow Knight’s core gameplay is traditional 2D hack and slash RPG action with light platforming elements. As you level up character through course completion, new combat options become unlocked to further diversify your moveset. This pairs with an extra free unlockable character (with more available via DLC) in an attempt to set itself apart from similar ARPG’s. After defeating all three worlds in a “chapter” of the story, you gain access to two higher levels of combat difficulty. The variety offered makes runs enjoyable for a time but will feel repetitive once all available abilities are unlocked by level 20.
The most interesting feature of the main campaign is the reuse of its enemies. While there is one final, unique boss at the conclusion of each 10-course world, mini bosses from the end of each individual course reappear as regular enemies throughout later stages. This means that when you learn the weaknesses of a mini boss, you apply that knowledge to further, minor enemies. Alternating fights between simple drones and more intricate minions keeps players on their toes, and rewards for consistent play lead to a sense of accomplishment. These rewards range from in-game currency to stat boosts.
Outside of the main story mode, there is an arena option for PvP fights using your customized character. Marring this severely is an equipment system that makes match-ups impossible to predict, as you have no indication of the stat boosts of your adversaries’ items. There are also very few parameters for matchmaking, often forcing new players to fight against severely higher-level opponents.
Hitting a Wall
All these features are fine on their own but are ultimately limited. As of this writing the story has only been released up to the middle difficulty in the second chapter. To even unlock the second chapter, players must fight through all three worlds in the first chapter on all three difficulty levels. The result is a repetitive cycle that makes progression insanely difficult without in-game currency or ads.
The difficulty spikes extend beyond any reasonable ”get good” allowance. Players may grind on lower difficulties to level up character and equipment stats. However, this on its own is still limited to the same 30 courses over and over. What results is a sense that the developers wanted to pad the core gameplay, leaving them time to finish the game post-launch. This is obviously not very reassuring of gameplay longevity.
While the main gameplay of Shadow Knight is accessible to players from the get-go, there are a significant number of annoying paywalls. Two of the four playable characters are locked behind microtransactions, limiting the aforementioned moveset diversity that comes with leveling up. These new heroes are locked exclusively behind payment and are not unlockable from story progression like the initial bonus character.
Additionally, an insane amount of advertised equipment chests appear to the player upon launch, overwhelming the home screen. It is frustrating when you just want to jump into a game and it’s constantly yelling at you, “SPEND MORE MONEY ON ME.” Thankfully, keys to unlock rarer items can also be achieved otherwise in-game or through watching a short ad. These alternatives are a nice concession but do little to relieve the crowded UI.
Shadow Knight Premium could have a lot going for it when just looking at the surface. A proven formula, stylized visuals, and opportunities for growth all earn points in the title’s favor. Unfortunately, this game is just flat-out unfinished. There is enough content for a couple of hours of play, but the regurgitation of interesting features can only remain engaging for so long. Hopefully the folks at Fansipan Limited will return to this to provide a bulkier post-launch package. Until then, players should go in knowing what to expect— a fun albeit brief excursion. Harmonia will have to wait for its liberation by our hero until the next update.
Is It Hardcore?
While what’s immediately present in Shadow Knight Premium provides some enjoyment, hitting the wall of what hasn’t yet been added to the game may discourage players from coming back if or when the game actually IS all there.