Recently concluded was the closed beta for a new, old, but still relatively new battle royale from developer Pearl Abyss, creators of the popular Korean MMORPG, Black Desert Online. Shadow Arena was first introduced as a content update for Black Desert Online, later being removed from the MMORPG to be repurposed into a fully-fledged, standalone title set in the same universe. It’s back — with an extra coat of polish — but remains largely the same.
Shadow Arena is a 40-player battle royale in which participating players take control of one of nine Heroes, battling it out in the monster-ridden fields of Serendia. Unlike its deceased ancestor, the standalone experience is not focused on capturing the vast movesets and complexities of Black Desert Online’s myriad classes, instead focusing on simpler controls and a smaller, more flexible pool of abilities. Shadow Arena takes cues from the MOBA genre and class-based games to flatten out the learning curve, while preserving a degree of depth.
Skill-based death race
Choose between solo or duo modes, select your Hero, then wait around at the center of the map until it’s time to start battling. Each Hero has a basic, secondary/inherent attack, and kick, alongside four unique skills. Beyond expected cooldowns, each skill saps stamina from your stamina meter. Most actions, including sprinting do the same, making stamina management the most vital of skills in Shadow Arena. Certain Heroes, like Goyen, have skills that demand a chunk of health as well. Two additional utility skills — Dark Shift and Blink — give players the chance to escape dire situations somewhat intact. There’s also four slots for items, including essentials like health potions.
Skills are largely free-aim, with extremely generous aim-assist and hit boxes. More significant than their damage, perhaps, is their capacity to stun or knock down foes. Chaining skills to maximize stun duration is key to winning fights, with some Heroes being a tad more proficient at it than others. Goyen, again, was undoubtedly the favorite during the beta. Almost every match was populated with a dozen or two of these guys — a total nightmare for beginners such as myself.
Shadow Arena sells Goyen as a high-risk, high-reward Hero, but testers disagree. His most lethal attacks inflict heavy damage on both his victim and himself, but successful hits provide health recovery. Goyen’s abilities allow him to close gaps extremely quickly, and his follow-up skills practically guarantee foes spend a long time on the ground. I gravitated towards Ahon Kirus, modelled after Black Desert Online’s Sorcerer class, which I was most familiar with. Ahon’s potential for massive damage and easy stuns at medium range made dealing with a number of Heroes a breeze, and I ended up sticking with her for most of my time.
Heroes like Ahon Kirus, but especially Goyen, flooded every match I played. A few days in, it was as if half the Heroes simply didn’t exist. Fortunately, there’s plenty of time to tweak numbers between now and whenever Shadow Arena launches. However, because changing Heroes mid-match is impossible, it does concern me that certain Heroes are far less versatile than others. Certain Heroes I found myself repeatedly stomping on match after match (and vice versa).
Yet, slaying other Heroes is only half the fun; the rest comes from, well, slaying mobs. Much like any MOBA, the first half of the match is dedicated to hunting the helpless monsters that roam the map. Each mob has a guaranteed item drop, which you have to painstakingly collect one at a time. Seeing as your inventory is practically unlimited, I can’t imagine why pickups aren’t automatic. New gear is easy to equip: you’re only ever one button press away from equipping better pieces. Collecting three of the same gear tier allows you to merge them for one higher tier piece. All of this accomplished with a press of a button — no need to dive into your inventory.
Killing in comfort
Convenience is one thing Shadow Arena does right. Beyond an intuitive interface and useful prompts, gear bonuses are simplified into AP and DP, or attack and defense points. Early-match farming gives you the opportunity to raise your AP and DP to a competitive level before engaging in any high-risk fights. Furthermore, a grace period at the start of every match gives you the chance to respawn if killed. This way, everyone has the chance to farm up some decent gear to avoid one-sided slaughters.
Mobs also provide XP to unlock skill points, or drop skill point books outright. Additional points can be allocated towards upgrading your skills, to max of level 3. Once the grace period ends, mobs become more vicious, and additional boss mobs begin spawning, creating choke points and incentives for player-on-player action. If you down a boss or a player, you’re rewarded with a host of loot drops, which will undoubtedly boost your strength more than any single mob could.
But while the map is home to plenty of action, it’s difficult not to grow fatigued of its design. At best, it’s a generic slice taken out of Black Desert Online’s Serendia region, and at worst, it’s a flat field filled with common mobs. There’s little in the way of strategy insofar as level design is concerned. Even as the trademark battle royale circle continues to close in on you, it’s hard to distinguish where you are or where would be advantageous.
Eye on the prize
The only mob drop not usable in the match itself is Shadow Arena’s currency, silver. At the end of matches, you’re given a choice of three pieces of gear you obtained that match to take into a future match. If you’re not satisfied with those choices, you can reroll for 100 silver for another set of three. Selected pieces are thrown into a special storage, letting you choose which to smuggle into another match provided you complete a challenge.
A shop tab, which is inaccessible as of now, will likely be another place players can spend their hard-earned silver. Beyond the smuggling and shops, increasing your mastery with Heroes gives you the option to modify their skills with subtle buffs. These are permanent modifiers that come at the cost of skill stones earned from raising mastery levels. Unlocks are few and far between. Hopefully, the future of Shadow Arena is one with additional maps and more meaningful progression.
If you’re talking visuals, then Shadow Arena is the best-looking battle royale on the market. If you’re in the market for a game that’s easy to pick up and play, again, this may be the game for you. However, if you’re on the hunt for the next, innovative battle royale experience, you won’t find it here. Shadow Arena has come a long way, but it’s nothing other than an amalgamation of what already exists in the mainstream today.
Shadow Arena will be available on Steam.