Birth of Shadows is one of those small, easy-to-miss indie RPGs. In fact, Google the name “Birth of Shadows” and you'll come up with a Warcraft III campaign before you even hit the Precision Games website.
Birth of Shadows is essentially a hack-and-slash title that’s sort of a distant cousin to Diablo. I say distant cousin because it sheds a number of typical hack-and-slash elements and takes a novel approach on a few others – most noticeably in that there's no hacking or slashing from the player character’s side, as it is a “magic-only” approach in which your character can only cast spells to attack. Birth of Shadows has an online component, in which you skirmish with others on developer-released maps, but for the sake of this review we are considering only its single-player component.
Quests & Story
The game's story is basic to the point of being uninspiring; at the start of the game you name your character and your character's fiancée, who obligingly disappears so you can chase after her, saving the world along the way with the assistance of the mysterious Majdarix. Hack-and-slash games are generally not known for their strong storylines and this one isn’t going to change their notoriety.
There are an enormous number of quests, ranging into the hundreds, though this number is really inflated as “go to this point and talk to this guy” is considered a quest, as is “pay the merchant a copper for a gem”, strangely enough.
All quests are of the fetch or kill variety. There is some variation in what you have to kill or how many monsters are between you and what you have to fetch or deliver, but that’s about it. The game's mechanics do not realistically allow for more variety; the player has zero input in the game's “dialogue” as your character's lines are picked for you and there is no inventory system, meaning items can only have functions for quests. Aside from having the choice to accept or decline certain quests, there really isn't a lot of freedom of movement involved here.
In fact, this lack of freedom is the biggest flaw of the character system. You are a shadow knight with a range of 16 spells that you will learn throughout the beginning of the game from a number of NPCs. The player has no real input or choice in this, so you'll always end up with the same 16 spells and de facto zero character customization. To compound this problem, level-ups always give you the same bonuses to your damage and offensive ability.
The only variation between different characters comes from how much grinding they've done. Each time you kill a number of enemies, you learn more about them, gaining ranks against them. The higher your rank, the more efficient you are in killing them. You can't get experienced at killing by destroying creatures weaker than you, but other than that this system is pretty supportive of roaming through a forest going through as many fights as possible.
The final element to the character system are gems. Gained by defeating fortresses or single enemies, gems are upgrades either to your character’s abilities, resistance against certain elements or – again – ability to kill certain NPCs. Much like the above, these gems do not appear to be randomized much, and every player will get pretty much obtain the same gems in every playthrough.
As mentioned above, there's no inventory. You carry the same armor and wand all throughout the game. Healing doesn't happen by healing potions but by spells during combat, and by regeneration between fights.
Graphics & Music
Birth of Shadows' graphics won't win any contests, but they're pretty effective at telling the player what's going on, which really is enough for any independent RPG. Aside from the protagonist’s really silly walking animation, they're fairly good if simple two-dimensional isometric graphics.