Shadow Arena is a new type of battle royale from developer Pearl Abyss, creators of the very successful MMORPG, Black Desert Online. Technically Shadow Arena is not a new game, having originally been added into Black Desert, but it was then removed from the MMO so that they could flesh it out as a standalone game.
Dropping into Serendia will see you facing off with 39 other players all choosing from a library of nine heroes. Ranging from a close-quarters melee brawler to long-ranged archers and mages, each hero comes with a unique skill-set compiled of two base attacks, a kick, and also four unique abilities that require kills (from standard monsters) to level up, a bit like how abilities work in a MOBA. Each hero also has access to two utility abilities that will assist you in escaping tricky situations. As well as these abilities there are a whole range of items that can help you during each battle: health potions, sandwiches, and handguns are just a few that can be crucial to winning in this game.
Once the lobby fills up you transform into a black/red mist and are catapulted across the map to your individual starting location. Upon landing, the four-minute grace period will begin. During this time you will be expected to kill the monsters around the map and gather as much loot as possible. A feature that comes in very handy whilst looting everything in sight is how the game will tell you if you are in possession of better loot and you can automatically equip it by pressing 'G'. Whilst this is not a revolutionary feature it does make things just that little bit more user-friendly. During the grace period, it is possible to kill or be killed by other players, but you will retain all of your loot and respawn in a new location.
When it comes to combat this is where Shadow Arena loses some of its initial charm and the game falls short. Whilst it is well built and we found no bugs during our time with the beta, we did notice that combat was one area that would need major rebalancing. At times we found ourselves getting attacked with a two/three-hit combo and dying before being able to retaliate. Initially, we put this down to the fact that we were new to the game and didn't fully understand how to play, but even after playing the beta for a number of days we still found combat to be very one-sided favouring whoever would hit first. Most of the ranged abilities also have a very helpful aim assist mechanic which makes it almost impossible to miss a shot. So as a melee character trying to get up close, you will have to get lucky if you're going to avoid losing the majority of your health before you are even within range to do damage yourself - by this point, it's often too late and the fight might as well be over.
It terms of the overall design it is hard to fault the game, having the creative minds from Pearl Abyss at the helm we always expected that visually this game would be up there as one of the best looking battle royales on the market. Each heroes design is flawless, from the armour they are wearing to the designs of their weaponry. The animations are smooth and you flow through the world with finesse. Even in the middle of combat when so much is going on around you, the animations feel crisp, we never saw drastic framerate drops and the game just works.
As a whole, our time with the Shadow Arena beta was a mixed bag. Whilst the overall look and feel to the game was crisp and clean we just felt that certain heroes were too unbalanced. If Pearl Abyss could rectify these issues for the full release then the game has a lot of potential, however, if the unbalancing problems stick around past launch then it will be a short life cycle for this battle royale.
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