If you’ve been following my work for some time now, you’ll likely know that I’m not quick to use descriptors such as “one of the worst games I’ve ever played,” but, after less than an hour of play, Devoid of Shadows may have truly earned that descriptor. It’s rare that I so immediately dislike a game this much, and I very much dislike being quite this negative about a game, but that hour has brought to light a myriad of issues that would make continuing to play this game not only a chore, but very possibly truly infuriating. As such, I am simply going to write about this game, rather than review it, as I recognize that I’ve barely experienced any of the game, much less enough to write a proper, scored review.
For those that haven’t heard of Devoid of Shadows, it is an indie roguelike ARPG that looked promising prior to release. It offers traditional ARPG gameplay, RPG-style leveling, stats, skills, and a crafting system that utilizes a research tree of sorts that is akin to the upgrade system in Rogue Legacy, where you have to unlock various utilities by building parts of a castle. In it, you play as one of three vampire lords and ladies, each of which represents a different class, who is trying to stop a coup effort of sorts from taking their throne.
On paper, it sounds fine and the graphics, while not top of the line, are quite nice, conveying a very dark feel to go with the dark setting. The problem is that this game is broken and underdeveloped in nearly every way.
To start, I’d like to talk about two features that simply aren’t there. The store page claims that “the game has 21 levels of dungeons with random world generation.” While it may have 21 levels, it does not have random world generation. Thanks to a myriad of issues that I’ll get to later, I’ve replayed the first actual level several times now, which has been identical every time. As I had thought that perhaps the game only generates one version of each level for each profile, I even tried creating a new profile, choosing a different class in the process, and the first actual level was still the same as when I first played it. As the game is roguelike in nature, this is rather disappointing and may lead to players repeating the same content over and over in their quest to take back their throne.
The game is also described as a roguelike, but, in my experience, that is also not true. The way it seems that the game is supposed to work is that there are 21 levels that you work your way through. If you die, you can use a “coffin” item to respawn at the beginning of your current level and try again. The implication is that, if you don’t have any coffins, you will have to start the entire game over. However, the way that it seems to work instead is that the game gives you one coffin right off the bat and then doesn’t take it from you when you die. As a result, you can keep dying endlessly, only to start the same level over again.
Devoid of Shadows features a small tutorial led by a character known as the Mortician. The tutorial is as barebones as it gets, barely telling you how to play and only directly leading you through the acts of breaking barrels for crafting components and killing an enemy. It gives you small tooltips about each of the other features, but the descriptions are fairly vague and chances are that you’ll have no idea how to use any of the game’s more intricate systems without taking a much closer look at them. The tutorial is also fairly poorly done in general, at one point ending a dialogue with the Mortician only to require the player to talk to him again right after. There is no marker denoting that you have to talk to him again and, if it weren’t for the fact that there are practically no other objects in that room to interact with, this very well may have led to quite a bit of frustration.
The tutorial is also where you’re first introduced to the game’s truly terrible English localization. For the most part, the dialogue is just stiff, written in rigid ways that native English speakers simply don’t speak in. There’s far too much of it at first, but it’s mostly tolerable. Then, as you progress through the early dialogue, you are introduced to lines such as “He will now run to report Him,” which, in the context, makes no sense. There are also dialogue boxes where the text runs outside of the text box, leaving you unable to read it.
Gameplay largely follows your basic Diablo-like ARPG formula; you explore dungeons, click repeatedly on enemies to attack, and use various combat abilities when they’re not on cooldown. Companies of all sizes have been creating games like this for over two decades. There’s no possible way that they could get the most basic elements of core ARPG gameplay wrong, right? Wrong.
Even the game’s core gameplay is broken at its most basic levels. One thing that all ARPGs need is responsiveness to clicking, but there are many times that the game will seemingly ignore one out of every so many clicks, sometimes even ignoring multiple clicks at a time. A few times, I’ve been right next to an enemy, mashing my left mouse button, only to find out that the game had glitched up in some way and that I needed to move my character before I could continue attacking that enemy.
However, even when the game is responding, combat feels disconnected. While you do visually attack enemies, the actual moments that enemies take damage do not match up with your attack animations. As many of your abilities are simply queued to replace your next basic attack on use, rather than being used upon pressing the key that the ability is attached to, this can make combat feel uncertain at best, as you wait for your next attack to hit.
Exempting these issues, combat is still more of a chore than anything. The store page boasts that “gameplay is rapid, bloodthirsty and intransigent that does not forgive a single mistake.” This is also not true. Enemies move far slower than your own character does and have a low attack range. Additionally, your health slowly regenerates when not in combat. Combined, these elements create an environment where you simply go into otherwise impossible combat situations, get a few hits in, run away, wait for your health to painfully slowly regen, and repeat until all enemies in a room are dead. Occasionally, you will get one enemy who was separated from the pack as it blindly followed you out of the room and you will be able to easily pick them off, thinning the pack even more.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, a higher aggro range and/or faster enemy movement would not solve anything. The game has no pathfinding. Your character moves blindly in a straight line towards wherever you click and enemies move blindly in a straight line towards you. Even if there were no way to escape enemies due to a higher aggro range or faster movement, they would still get stuck on practically everything in the level, completely unable to path their way around whatever it is that is in front of them.
The most unforgivable issue that I had with Devoid of Shadows, however, comes down to a bug involving save games. On its own, the game is a chore to play, but the save issue that I experienced is downright infuriating and seems to have irreparably corrupted that particular save.
In Devoid of Shadows, you have several “profiles.” Each of these profiles represents a different active save. The game automatically saves your progress at the beginning of each level, but will not allow you to save mid-level. After my first session, which lasted three levels, I quit out and specifically went back to the main menu and reloaded my game to ensure that it did save my progress. It did, so I quit the game for the day to return to it the next. Upon returning, I found that I was back on the first level. I still had all of my items and the abilities that I had unlocked, but I was not where I had been when I quit playing and reloaded the game last time. I then played through the tutorial and moved to the first actual level.
Once I loaded into the level and began fighting enemies, I noticed that I was doing far less damage than I had been previously, so I pulled up my character sheet. Whereas the axe that that specific character is given during the tutorial is supposed to do 20-odd damage on its own, my stats stated that I would only do six to eight damage with it equipped.
I then dequipped it to see if it was just a bug with the axe and if I could “reset” its stats that way. In the process, I learned that a bug had occurred, just not the one I thought had occurred. You see, when I dequipped my axe, my character sheet stated that I would do -13 to -14 damage. At some point along the way, my damage had literally gone negative.
Sure that it wasn’t the case, but eager to test my theory anyways, I re-equipped my axe, pulled an enemy away from the pack, and began dealing damage to it. Once it was at around half health, I dequipped the axe, began hitting it again, and found that I was literally healing it, as you can see in the video embedded below.
It was at that point that I gave up on Devoid of Shadows entirely. The game’s core gameplay is buggy and underdeveloped on its own, but I could survive that. What I can’t survive is knowing that, somewhere down the line, perhaps very near the end of the game, I may yet again fall victim to a bug that not only resets my progress but makes that particular save unplayable.
Given the amount of bugs and completely broken or underdeveloped features that are present in Devoid of Shadows, I can’t recommend that anyone even consider playing it, much less for the price of $17.99. It isn’t always responsive, there’s no pathfinding, enemies get stuck or lose interest easily, and you may very well end up with negative damage upon reloading your save. Devoid of Shadows is one of the worst games that I have ever played, devoid of all fun or even playability, and I am all too eager to scrub the experience from my mind.
Those who would like to try out Devoid of Shadows for themselves with it can buy it now via Steam for $17.99.