There are a few great VR RPGs available out there from the fantastically immersive The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR to the wonderfully puzzle-filled dungeon crawling of The Mage’s Tale and more. But compared to other genres like shooters or immersive adventure games there really aren’t a ton of VR RPGs out there and it’s a shame. It’s likely very difficult to make them well with rich, engaging stories, satisfying combat, enough challenge, and deep, immersive gameplay — but it’s what I want more than anything. Which is precisely why Shadow Legend has been on my radar ever since it was announced late last year.
Shadow Legend is a modest-sized VR RPG from Vitruvius, the same developers that created the Lucky’s Tale-inspired 3D platformer Mervils. In Shadow Legend you play as the Grand Master of the Knights Templar in a story-driven medieval action-RPG tasked with defending the kingdom against the onslaught of demon king Lord Adaroth. It’s a very by-the-numbers story that does just enough to keep you engaged, but is far from worth remembering.
This is also a great example of why traditional trailer footage just can’t do a VR game justice. When you flatten textures and animations into a video they look worse than they do inside the headset and even though Shadow Legend isn’t gonna turn many heads with its sheer visual fidelity, it actually does look really nice and (most importantly) artistically consistent. The generally poor voice acting and occasional animation stiffness are both constant reminders though that Shadow Legend is in fact very much an indie game.
With that being said, it’s easy to forget at times. Whereas Vitruvius’ previous game, Mervils, looks a bit like a high school hobby project visually, Shadow Legend has some really nice bits. The environment designs, from a distance, look incredible and some of the levels are laid out with a tremendous degree of creativity. And the level of interaction is just out of this world. Far too often VR games are more about what you can’t do despite reaching out with your hands and trying but Shadow Legend is all about player empowerment.
Want to feed that horse, pet that dog, or cook that steak? Go right ahead. In this way it reminds me of the first time I played The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind on PC years ago and realized I could do things like pick up forks and eat the bread off of tables. I won’t go so far as to say that Shadow Legend will have the same impact on the market or anything like that, but in a world where Blade & Sorcery, a physics tech demo, is the most impressive thing to happen to VR RPGs and VR melee combat in three years is frankly disappointing and it’s exciting to see an actual game with more than 20 minutes of content realized and released. The physics are nowhere near Blade & Sorcery level, but at least the devs here have crafted an actual game.
Combat in Shadow Legend is a bit shallow, but at least it feels good. Most enemies just walk up and face you head-on with a bit of shuffling and sidestepping. When they attack you need to block or deflect their strikes and then strike back — the harder you swing, the more damage you do. The catch is that once they get weakened areas will light up such as their upper arm or neck to designate when you can lop off limbs or decapitate them. That’s the benefit of fighting the undead, I suppose.
There aren’t a ton of environments in Shadow Legend. Admittedly a lot of the length is going to come from your own exploration and completionist agenda since each area is packed full of hidden coins, runes to find, and tons of random side activities. When you open up the menu it even shows you a list of activities and how many runes are still left to find in that area making it easy to keep track. It’s a little tedious after a while to be relegated to a scavenger hunt, but the earnest personality and care given to the world make it a joy to poke around for at least the very first time.
One bit that’s worth pointing out is the use of Windows speech recognition feature for dialogue. When speaking with NPCs you can opt into the mic-enabled voice recognition that’s standard on Windows PCs to have the game actually listen to your voice while you read dialogue choices out loud instead of just picking the option with a button. It’s extremely immersive and works great. My only gripe here is that the text is enormous and extremely distracting while you read it. Like, comically large.
For fans of VR titles like Vanishing Realms, Vengeful Rites, The Mage’s Tale, and other action-RPG style experiences should absolutely put Shadow Legend high on their list. It lacks the sheer enormity of Skyrim VR’s open world, obviously, and it’s not quite as long and polished as The Mage’s Tale, again, obviously, but it certainly scratches that itch to be immersed in a fantasy kingdom full of demons, magic, and sword fighting.
All in all Shadow Legend feels a bit like a proof of concept more than anything at this point. Calling it a tech demo is far from accurate because there is very much a story here with voice acting, NPCs you can interact with, a narrative to follow, and a linear progression of events with a conclusion. This is a fully realized game, make no doubt about it, with roughly 4-6 hours of content depending on your playstyle, but it does still feel under-realized in a way.
It’s as if the original vision was so much more grand and ambitious but wasn’t doable with such a tiny team and minuscule budget. With that being said, what we did get with Shadow Legend is still really impressive.
Shadow Legend probably isn’t going to blow any minds or make believers out of anyone that has decided VR isn’t for them, but it does deliver on its promise of offering a feature-filled single player VR RPG that tells a complete story with action and intrigue. Production values and clunkiness aside, the mere fact that Shadow Legend feels like an actual game probably says more about the state of the VR market than it does the quality of the adventure itself. At the end of the day when I lay down my Knight’s Templar sword and finish slaying demons, all I could think is how badly I wish there was more.