Platforms: PC, PS4
Release Date: 17th May 2016
Shadwen is an upcoming first person stealth/action title by independent Finnish developer Frozenbyte. Shadwen is set to be a return to form for the stealth genre, going back to the skill and mechanics-driven gameplay of the early Thief games. There is a feeling that contemporary AAA titles have little space for stealth—even the Assassin’s Creed series, positioned by Ubisoft as a “social stealth” franchise eschews skill-based evasion and platforming for sheer spectacle.
Frozenbyte is best-known for their Trine series of puzzle-platformers. Trine 3: Artifacts of Power launched to mixed reviews last August. Shadwen is powered by Frozenbyte’s in-house engine, and is slated to release in May 2016, for PC and PS4. A playable demo of Shadwen arrived on Steam in February, giving players a taste of Shadwen’s core mechanics. The demo was used to promote the upcoming full release of the game in a unique manner: Shadwen’s launch price was discounted for every person who installed and played the demo. This brought the final launch price down to just $14.55.
Shadwen was announced in December 2015. The announcement was accompanied by a one and a half minute debut trailer focusing on the game’s core mechanics—platforming, assassinations and physics-based environmental kills were showcased. Shadwen’s time-manipulation feature was also highlighted. Shadwen runs on an in-house engine, and features an implementation of Nvidia PhysX. As with the Trine games, Frozenbyte makes extensive use of environmental physics in Shadwen, for platforming and combat. As shown in the announcement trailer, physics-based environmental kills—such as rolling barrels onto enemies—can add to the straight-up stealth aspects of the game.
In February, Frozenbyte released a playable demo of Shadwen. In addition to giving players a taste of what was to come in May, the demo was also a part of a unique promotional campaign. In a Gamasutra interview, Frozenbyte’s Marketing Manager Kai Tuovinen spoke of how, as a relatively small indie studio, Frozenbyte didn’t expect a demo of the game to elicit significant interest in and of itself, and conceptualized the demo discount campaign to give Shadwen greater visibility. The crux of the demo discount campaign is this: Steam player stats were collected for all players who downloaded and played the demo. An overall Community Score was tallied up by taking every player into account. The higher the Community Score, the greater the discount Frozenbyte would offer on Shadwen at launch. The campaign was successful enough that Shadwen’s launch price was brought down to $14.55, from an initial $35 pricepoint.
Shadwen’s story revolves around an escort/partner-style narrative thread, as seen in the likes of Ico. The titular character, Shadwen, is an assassin out to kill the king, though she must look after Lilly at the same time. Frozenbyte claimed that it wants to explore the consequences of violence in videogames through the interplay between the characters Shadwen and Lilly. Similar to Dishonored, Shadwen doesn’t punish players outright for killing enemies. However, Lilly’s reactions will vary if Shadwen kills excessively. If the player adopts a hardcore stealth approach, it is possible to finish the game without killing a single enemy.
Shadwen’s key protagonists are Shadwen and Lilly. Shadwen, the titular character, is a female assassin on a mission to assassinate the king of the unnamed land in which the game is set. Shadwen (the character) is accompanied on this mission by Lilly, a frightened, young orphan girl. Although other plot details remain scarce, Shadwen’s actions are said to have impact on Lilly, implying narrative consequences for violence.
Frozenbyte claims that Shadwen brings actual stealth back to stealth games. Recent AAA franchises such as Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty fail to innovate, focusing instead on yearly release schedules, with main series entries that rehash older mechanics instead of building on them. Moreover, “difficult” elements such as stealth and first-person platforming have increasingly been weeded out of AAA titles in an effort to make them more accessible. As a result, the latest entry in Assassin’s Creed—what Ubisoft calls a “social stealth” franchise—has more in common with action-adventure games like InFamous than genuine stealth titles like Metal Gear Solid V. That being said, Shadwen is a third-person stealth title at heart, in the same vein as the MGS franchise. Core gameplay centres on guiding Shadwen and Lilly through the game’s winding levels, while avoiding detection by guards—every area has an alarm bell and you fail if a guard rings it.
The key differentiator here is Shadwen’s time-warp feature—by default, time advances in the game only when the playe move. This has obvious tactical advantages—enemies are frozen in place, so guards will only follow their patrol cycles when the player is moving. Moreover, there is the option to let time flow normally, allowing the player to set up guards and NPCs in perfect positions, before making a dash for cover. Shadwen’s rewind ability is reminiscent of the Sands of Time trilogy, allowing the player to rewind the game to a set time before making a mistake. Taking a cue from its work in the Trine series, environmental physics, courtesy Nvidia’s PhysX middleware, takes centrestage. Rolling barrels and other large objects onto enemies is just one of the many ways the player can use the environment to their advantage.
Note: This wiki will be updated once we have more information about the game.