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‘Shadowgun Legends’ Review – Epic but Not Legendary

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Shadowgun Legends (Free) from MADFINGER Games is finally here after what turned out to be a long development and beta period. If you’re not familiar with the series, it revolves around a group of mercenaries called Shadowguns who hunt down and kill aliens called “The Torment” who came from an unknown place and for an unknown reason. It’s all very Gears of War, which the earlier 2 games in the series clearly drew inspiration from, being third-person shooters. Legends’ combat plays out in first-person view,

I’m actually going to spend very little time talking about the lore of the series or the specifics of it as it seems fairly unimportant even to MADFINGER Games. The story and lore really only appears in loading screens and quest logs. There are no cutscenes or really anything that brings you into the story in a meaningful way. There are characters, sort of, but they really are just storefronts in the form of people.

But I digress, aside from the lack of any real narrative, the game does have a very strong Destiny or Halo vibe and the core concept feels very familiar for somebody who has played either series. This is in no way a bad thing. In fact, that particular formula works very well in a mobile title. So how does it all work in practice?

You initially find yourself dropped into the central hub. The hub features several businesses, each having their own NPC that governs it. There’s a bar, an area for dropping into PvP, a weapon shop, armor shop, cosmetic shop, and even a casino. As soon as I dropped into the hub, I was struck by the graphics. This game features very strong graphics cosmetically, but as the motion on-screen gets quicker, you realize some of the flaws in the graphics but none are too jarring. I had no stutters or lag on my iPhone X.

The first thing you’ll notice once you start completing missions is the emphasis on “Fame”. Fame essentially acts as points that define your global ranking. Make it into the top 20% and little camera drones will flock you when you first hit the hub and an announcement will be made to all in your local hub of your presence. This is not limited to just fame but also PvP ranking as well. As you complete quests and other tasks you will earn fame, which steadily moves you up the rankings.

After a brief tutorial phase wherein you complete a couple quests and learn how the shops work, you’re on your own. Completing quests is fairly straight forward. You find an NPC with a quest, which can be almost any NPC with a ‘!’ next to their name, accept the quest and then open the map to drop into the mission. Quests generally reward you with a piece of gear, XP and Fame. Side quests can be found from any NPC, but the main story quests can only be given by Slade. He’s the first NPC you meet in the tutorial and acts as your conduit for the main storyline of the game.

Most of the NPC areas feel a bit trivial however. The Casino has a few slot machines, both for normal and premium currency and sometimes reward you with more but it really always felt like throwing away currency. There’s a prize wheel that can be spun for normal and premium currency as well that rewards you with the possibility of more currency, combat gear or cosmetic items. The bar features drinks to boost your stats, there’s a sponsorship area where you can choose different sponsors which essentially just reward you with more currency ever few hours or every day. The main NPCs you’ll use are the 3 that offer gear/side missions and the 1 that offers storyline quests.

The missions themselves play out in a very simple fashion. You at first only have access to one planet, Nova Callisto, labeled as an “Earth-Like” planet but more become available as you progress through the game. Once you make it through the loading screen which gives you some backstory of your mission, you’re dropped into a small map area. There is very little exploration and the maps themselves are very linear. Most missions involve some tap-to-interact style missions where you kill the invading aliens in between. These aliens are known as “The Torment” and come in a few different varieties.

The combat itself happens in first-person view, and has a run-and-gun style. The game has auto-shoot turned on by default and while at first I wasn’t a fan of the mechanic, when I turned it off I immediately was frustrated with the inaccuracy of the controls. Once I turned auto-shoot back on, the game seemed to play as intended, the missions went quicker and none felt too difficult. The missions themselves were not difficult and I was a bit underwhelmed at the difficulty at first. Most of the enemies have almost no intelligence and don’t run from gun-fire or seek cover. This difficulty definitely ramps up as you progress and need for better gear becomes evident but only due to the damage inflicted by enemies becoming greater. The lack of deep combat mechanics and mission difficulty is definitely complimented by the length of the missions as none really lasted long enough for me to get bored.

Before I knew it I was back at the hub again collecting my reward, refitting my gear and preparing for the next mission. It actually became very easy to get caught up in a few more missions than I intended as I saw my Fame and XP climb. The gear also is a big pull. There’s a lot of gear in this game, almost an overwhelming amount of cosmetic and practical gear. Every piece of gear has its own stats and advantages. There are 3 different weapon types you’ll take with you into the game, your primary rifle, a heavy weapon (generally a sniper rifle, machine gun or rocket launcher) and a pistol. Your main weapon is the most important piece of gear in the game and it becomes important to check the stats before you equip anything as even though some weapons have better stats, it might not suit your play style.

I found myself moving away from the full-auto weapons shortly after discovering the weapons that would shoot in short bursts, which I felt was an advantage over the full-auto weapons due to the auto-shoot mechanic. The intricacies of the gear is really the pull of Shadowgun Legends, as every piece you equip affects not only your appearance but stats and, in the case of weapons, even play style.

In terms of IAP, Shadowgun Legends has quite a bit. But it doesn’t feel all that necessary after investing some time in the game. There are two types of currency; one can be earned through normal quests and the other is a purchasable premium currency used for buying gear packs, cosmetic items, individual armor pieces and weapons. Every 5 levels or so you also have the option of purchasing a pack which includes a piece of armor for all slots, but I quickly found that the armor I received from quests quickly made the armor I got from those packs obsolete.

There are 12 total slots you can equip items to: 1 head slot, 1 front slot, 1 back slot, 1 waist slot, 5 armor slots (shoulders, hands, torso, legs and feet), and 3 weapon slots. The front, back, head and waist slots are purely cosmetic and most items cost premium currency. There are also tiers of gear which range from the yellow legendary down to the gray common items. There are even stickers you can by to apply to any armor piece and paints which are used to recolor your armor pieces.

With all of this in mind, there is a massive amount of customization options available, but none of this feels too compelling early on in the game as you’re shedding old gear so often you can’t get attached enough to any one piece that recoloring it or applying stickers feels worthwhile. I found more enjoyment in collecting paints, stickers and other cosmetic items for the end game when, I assume, my gear changes less often. It’s also worth noting that not all of the gear has a “practical” appearance to it, as Egyptian god heads, kitten heads, giant chains and more are all purchasable. Every few hours the store gets a refresh on armor, cosmetics, colors, emotes and stickers.

Aside from the gear, you can also augment your character with the skill-system. After every level you earn, you get a skill point to spend. Some are passive and increase your overall HP, while others unlock skills you can use in battle, like a grenade or auto-turret that pops up and automatically starts targeting enemies.

It wouldn’t be worthwhile however, without being able to show off all that ridiculous gear and new skills in PvP. There are a 6 different PvP options available; Duel, Ascendancy, Voltaic Fist, Bronze Arena, Blade Dancer, and Silver Arena. Duel features a 1 on 1 duel between you and another Shadowgun. Ascendancy is a 4 on 4 team battle where you fight it out death-match style. The other arenas feature wave after wave of the Torment which you team up with other Shadowguns to take down.

Voltaic Fist is the first and seemingly only co-op dungeon available for you to complete with 3 other Shadowguns at the moment. When I first tried Voltaic Fist, I thought I knew how it would play out; a slightly larger than solo-mode map which you progress through, killing wave after wave of enemies until you reach the final boss which only your combined might can take down.

This is indeed how the mode is intended to play out, but never actually did. Voltaic Fist is almost completely bogged down by the infuriating tap-to-interact tasks you need to complete in-tandem with your team, a team with which you have no verbal or written communication. Most of these matches were spent wandering around the map looking for a series of switches to tap, no instructions are given as to where these switches are and players just ran around the map until eventually all the switches are tapped. After 4 attempts to complete Voltaic Fist I never actually figured out where all of the switches were on my own.

Inevitably, 1 or 2 of your party gets bored and logs out, leaving you undermanned later in the dungeon, where it’s basically required that you have 4 members to hit switches simultaneously. Needless to say, this is nearly impossible to time with 2 or 3 members and without any way to coordinate your efforts, even if you’re the 1 member of your party that figures out a way to complete it, you can’t tell anybody that and you watch helplessly as your fellow Shadowguns wildly press buttons and shoot things until everybody eventually quits.

I was never able to make it through a single instance of Voltaic Fist and the experience was so infuriating it took me a full 2 days to even work up the fortitude to launch the game again. Fortunately, you eventually realize completing this is not required and whatever gear you receive from it nobody else likely has anyways and you move on, even though every time I see that game mode in the PvP menu I still feel a small twinge of frustration. Voltaic Fist is nearly entirely broken.

Everything else in the game plays out like it’s supposed to, nothing feels too long and the game is very enjoyable in bite-sized chunks. Shadowgun Legends does a great job of distilling the enjoyment of a game like Destiny down to a mobile experience but none of it feels especially polished. The combat is fluid and quick, the gear system feels satisfying, and the missions don’t last long enough to become a drag. There’s so much to do in this game you don’t ever spend enough time on any one thing that it starts to feel boring, which I realize isn’t the highest praise for a video game, but it remains a fact.

Despite the overwhelming amounts of gear and cosmetics, the frustrating PvP and the lackluster missions, I still enjoyed my time with Shadowgun Legends once I realized the real pull is the progression. I was never given enough of the story to care about the characters or missions, so really it was the Fame progression and gear that kept me coming back. That doesn’t necessarily bode well for longevity. The combat plays out quick enough that the lack of accuracy or depth seem to be masked by the intensity of the encounter and the solo combat plays out quick enough that nothing gets too frustrating.

Overall there was enough fun to be had that I kept overlooking the small frustrations to log back in. There’s a lot that’s right with Shadowgun Legends but it’s built on lackluster mechanics that never truly feels like a satisfying or well-built FPS. I don’t see the appeal of Shadowgun Legends lasting that long but for now I find myself logging back in and grinding for Fame and gear. MADFINGER Games has stated their intentions to support the game for a while so here’s to hoping a lot of these issues are ironed out over the coming months and the mechanics are tuned to be a bit more satisfying.

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