Shadwen is one of those games that I wish I liked more than I do. It’s got lots of clever little ideas, and attempts a slightly different angle on the traditional stealth game structure. But in practice none of those ideas work as well as they deserve to, and the entire experience ends up less than the sum of its parts.
It’s developed by Frozenbyte, creators of the exceptionally lovely Trine series. Trine 2
is one of my favourite platformers of all time. But Shadwen marks a significant departure from their usual fare. It’s their first completely 3D game. Frozenbyte experimented with 3D platforming in Trine 3, meeting with mixed success. But with Shadwen they’ve committed fully to a third-person perspective.
It’s also a stealth game, one which is vaguely reminiscent of 2014’s Styx: Master of Shadows, which was a competent but unambitious stealth platformer. Shadwen, intriguingly, is the opposite, aspirational but lacking polish. You play the titular Shadwen, an assassin on a journey through a shadowy fantasy land to kill a king. During her travels, Shadwen encounters Lily, an orphan girl who is in trouble with a guard for stealing an apple. In an unusual display of charity, Shadwen rescues the girl from her tormentor, and reluctantly agrees to protect her as the pair travel to the city of Rivendon.
The basics of Shadwen’s stealth are based upon time-tested methods. You must avoid the lines of sight of guards, sticking to the shadows, ducking behind objects, distracting them and using height to your advantage. But Shadwen immediately puts an interesting twist on these systems through Lily. For Shadwen it’s fairly easy to remain unseen, as her grappling hook allows for an easy escape to a rooftop or high platform. Instead, the central tension of the game emerges from creating gaps and distractions for Lily to use to her advantage, without accidentally revealing your own location.
If you’re worried that the result would be a tedious, overlong escort mission, fear not. Lily is actually pretty competent at getting about on her own. Perhaps a little too competent. The guard AI seems completely oblivious to Lily’s presence, even when she stands in places where they should definitely see her. That said, this is preferable to her constantly getting spotted by guards and failing the game for you, so I can understand the creative decision to make her essentially invisible.