Game developers like torturing people. Or at least they seemed to enjoy doing it more often back in the 80s, when a game over meant something. The development of the new modernized and expanded version of the adventure-RPG Shadowgate keeps all of this in mind. I had the opportunity to demo the game at PAX and step into this old school adventure for myself.
When I asked why this game and why now, the bit about torturing players came up. And it’s true. Shadowgate is only going to hold your hand a little bit to get you started before setting you on your way. You’ll be able to consult Yorick, a talking skull, for help, but should you hit him, he’ll clam up if you want the game’s hints. I went through the demo level exploring everything. The new art is definitely pretty, but the core of the game remains the same.
It’s a unique situation since the game remains true to its roots, working with an adventure style that means utilizing commands in logical ways in order to make progress. This reboot keeps all of the commands, but they’re conveniently clickable. This keeps the feel of the older game but adds in ease of play. You’ll also be able to bind your spells to hotkeys.
While demoing Shadowgate, as someone that wasn’t around for the original, I still found myself enjoying the art, as well as the emphasis on exploration and discovery. With today’s adventure games, you still have those elements, but there’s often more flash. This reboot comes with new content and some expanded puzzles, as well as other features like three difficulty settings, each of which presents the game in a different way. The difficulty change will, as I found out, affect things like the solutions to puzzles or the type of solutions that will work or not. I decided to play my demo on a regular setting, but it doesn’t mean that the easier settings are pushover easy. Those who believe that games have gotten too easy and gamers too coddled over the years will appreciate that Shadowgate preserves its difficulty. After choosing one of three doors, I wandered my way through after unlocking one of them, then attempting to pick up the shield, instead of using it on myself to equip it meant winding up a bit crispy. That is, as I learned, one of the game’s most classic moments, and becoming dragon fodder is just one of the many deadly ways you can reach an untimely death in this game.
As I played, I thought that the setup was a bit clunky for a modern PC gamer, with its reliance upon commands, but came to respect that the entire project was stubbornly old school (in a good way). Though I wondered who the Shadowgate audience might be today. Those nostalgic for the original and having played it might be giving this an ultimate nostalgia trip, but all of the unabashedly old school elements might be a little barrier to current generations of gamers that don’t know these elements. However, as I slipped into the game, it became much faster after a while, as I got the hang of it and the commands flowed naturally.
Shadowgate is a very decidedly old school game with its difficulty intact, built upon by the team at Zojoi with an eye to reboot it but not change the core (or much else). should you desire to wander around, LOOK-ing at everything, learning spells, and trying to live up to your potential and answer the call to aid. Shadowgate’s new artwork is a must, though you can change it to classic. If you’re an old school gamer or someone with an imagination that enjoys immersion and exploration, with a very old school feel, get thee in front of Shadowgate.