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Shadows: Heretic Kingsdoms Interview
Since the days of Diablo 2, ARPG developers have been much more concerned with refining Blizzard’s mechanical formula than they have building on it. Slovakian studio Games Farm are working against that trend with their latest title – Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms – which has recently left Early Access on Steam.
We caught up with the head of development behind the game to find out more.
Fergus: So to start things off, can you give me a brief rundown of what Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms is and what role you play in the development process?
Peter: I am Peter Nagy and I am the head of the development of Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms.
Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms is isometric RPG and sequel to original Kult: Heretic Kingdoms back from 2004. It features a lot of original ideas which have [sic] been appreciated a lot by players (over 80% positive reviews) . Our vision was of a game between Diablo and Baldur’s Gate series and players have said [sic] how much we succeeded in achieving this goal.
Fergus: The ARPG genre has found new life in the last few years, why do you think that is?
Peter: ARPG is in my opinion very flat genre with very few new ideas brought to the genre. If you see the evolution between D2 and D3 which should be perhaps the flag title of the genre you can observe very marginal differences. I do not deny the quality of both games but I was missing at least something new, not just the same story and gameplay over and over again and again.
Fortunately there are a few new titles which try to make something with that but often fall down to the similar concept of randomizing items and endless loot and looking for a few better equipment. This isn’t….[our] preference to be honest so we tried to make it differently in Shadows. Whether it is good or bad is hard to say – some players may like it, some may not…
Fergus: Have any of the genre’s recent big successes (Diablo 3, Path of Exile) influenced your game in any big ways?
Peter: Of course – we cannot develop the game without looking at the most successful titles in the genre. But in the same [time] we have designed the game in the way [that] is far from a copy of both and I believe that any player who played Shadows will agree that we are going our own way which may be perhaps more risky but I believe the development of [a] game should not be only about copying other games…
Fergus: The meat and bones of any ARPG are the playable classes but Shadows: Heretic Kingdom’s looks to be bypassing this by allowing players to develop their character through the souls of their enemies. What inspired this and how do you feel it benefits the players and offers them something they haven’t seen before?
Peter: Our concept was somehow developed organically. We wanted to allow the player to control a single character but at the same time we loved the party system in other games and interactions between the characters. Now the player is able to use multiple characters in one character, combine their skills and powers to make the gameplay truly original.
It obviously will yet require some tweaking and balancing the skills to truly enable to use the potential of this system. But we hope to continue the development in Heretic Kingdoms in the future and take this concept much further along the way…
Fergus: How did you go about structuring the game’s dual world? What inspired the decision to incorporate puzzles?
Peter: We were always a big fans of puzzles in RPGs – puzzles seem to simply fit the genre. It is a bit pity that this has reduced a lot in the recent years. We hope to expand this puzzles concepts much further in Book 2 and possible next books.
Fergus: A lot of ARPGs live and die by their settings and stories, what has Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms got going for it here?
Peter: We believe the strong storytelling should be essential part of the singleplayer RPGs. I don’t believe that the most [successful] of ARPGs [are] built around the[ir] story – if you play for example Diablo, you even don’t have to start the game to know the story, which is a bit sad to be honest. This is the case of a lot of ARPGs these days – story is marginal while looting is the main goal of the game.
Fergus: How are you balancing staying true to the series’ past whilst also refining it for modern gamers?
Peter: Now that’s tough question. It is always difficult to bring innovation, legacy and bring it to the modern gamers. We did our best to combine the legacy with the new story, features and gameplay, while resurrecting puzzles and perhaps a few from old-school RPGs traditions. There is still a lot of work ahead for Book 2, but we hope the direction is right and a lot of players does agree – if you check the forums, players reviews, or press reviews, most of them are quite positive.
Of course, we will never be able to create the game for every player, especially not in this genre as the players have very different expectations from the game, [but] Shadows may appeal to fairly large amount of RPG audience from both action and hardcore spectra.
Fergus: The game’s got a number of branching narrative elements to it. What inspired this addition to the ARPG-formula and do you plan to allow players to carry these decisions into future Heretic Kingdoms games (a la Bioware).
Peter: Our belief is that story should be the essential part of each RPG (especially singleplayer of course). I believe this could have been seen already in Kult, but we’ve taken this vision much further in Shadows I believe and we plan to continue in this direction in the future sequels and games too. Somehow, RPG and ARPG [games] without story seem a bit bland. This is of course a personal opinion of mine – a lot of ARPG players may disagree with me perhaps – but I am quite [a] story driven player.
It is difficult for me to say how deeply we will be able to reflect the decisions from Shadows to sequels. Obviously, Book 2 will reflect the player’s decision, but we [are] considering [an] entirely different part of Heretic Kingdoms for Book 3, so the relationships may not be that obvious. But this is something we would definitely look to implement.
Fergus: What’s the future for Heretic Kingdoms look like? Any planned DLC or expansion packs? Would ever consider changing the isometric perspective or take things to a bigger MMO-scale?
Peter: There is upcoming Book 2 as a free update in early 2015. We are discussing some alternatives for the future sequels, Book 3 and such, but there is no definitive decision about that yet. We have some great concepts and we will definitely take the technology and gameplay further, I dare to say even much further.
Multiplayer is definitely one of the upcoming features, but I wouldn’t take it as far as MMO scale yet. Though we will see what the future will bring us…