Shadows of Malice has been one of the more distinct and interesting games that I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing this year and the news of an impending expansion propped my ears up like a beast on the hunt. Possessing a unique and sophisticated spirit, this game was a breath of fresh air out of lonely left field and I’ve been gulping it up ever since. Seekers of a Hidden Light extends the joy and bears that signature trademark feel of continuing to trod down the path its peers can’t even find.
I wouldn’t really call this an enormous or tiny expansion as its identity lies somewhere in between. On paper it may sound a bit soft, containing only two new functions but they are both well developed and interlock perfectly with the existing mechanisms providing for a full and dynamic fleshing out of the sense of adventure. One core quality of Shadows of Malice that some point to as a flaw is the repetitive nature of gameplay as you travel across the map from fight to fight with few other mechanisms to engage with. This was never an issue from my perspective as the color and narrative encapsulated in such few overriding mechanics gave my imagination more than enough to engage with. That huge stack of treasure, potions, and abilities were always ready to reveal the next big thing, like stumbling across a greatest hits album of a prolific band and hearing their A-work for the first time. This has always been a game I’d describe as riveting and engaging and Seekers merely extends that, as opposed to redefining it.
The first new system is the primary reason to pick this up and it’s the full blown quest mechanic that features several new decks of cards and a host of compelling ideas. Players may now spend an action at a Mystic to acquire a quest drawn from several potential categories. These classifications encapsulate the degree of difficulty required and the rewards scale justly. The simplest challenges demand you head to a specific terrain type and pass a luck roll, while the most difficult require you defeat a specific type of creature with an exact colored ability in a certain type of terrain. The majority of your questing will lie somewhere in between as you balance challenge with reward in an effort to gain the precious new Lux.
Completing quests earns Lux as well as potions and Soulshards. Lux is transferred to Mystics, called Lumos, which use the raw power of light to forge a new type of potion or rune. The potions provide awe inspiring effects such as allowing you to rotate a tile’s orientation or manipulate the luminous nature of wells. Runes on the other hand attach to equipment and provide a lasting benefit, but come at a greater cost, providing for a difficult decision between hoarding Lux to gain a rune or expending it for a quicker and potentially potent payout.
The quest system is a rather large change to the dynamic of the game in terms of providing a more diverse allowance of options and a large influence on how you must strategically tackle your approach. It doesn’t change the nature or overall feel, maintaining Shadows of Malice’s fantastic identity, but it puts a greater emphasis on your tactical analysis as you now have to put greater thought into how to spend your precious actions. A major concern is whether the quests are actually worth undertaking considering they require a number of actions to complete, but I was genuinely shocked and very pleased with the execution. Completing a quest is certainly not a simple decision as you need to feel out the tempo of the game and assess whether you can afford the spare time. It provides for delicious temptation to split your bands for greater action coverage and will require more discussion in cooperative play. All of this provides for an additional level of dynamic feel that is exceptional and hugely appreciated.
One aspect of the quests that I really enjoy is the fact that you can pick one up and hold off on completing it. There’s no timer or strong force pushing you towards the objective which marches right in line with the open and free-roaming narrative established in the base game. You can feel free to grab a quest while visiting a mystic, head west to obliterate the fell shadow creature stampeding towards a well, and then clear a lair on the way towards your quest. By giving players the agency to establish their own rules of engagement the game maintains that evocative flair and ease of pace that has become its trademark.
The second element of the expansion is less bombastic yet is still eyebrow raising. You can now collect bait from the dead beasts of the realm or by purchasing them from mystics. Bait may be used to help draw wandering monsters and manipulate the type of creature you’re looking to encounter. This is important because it works hand in hand with the quest mechanic by allowing you to mitigate the poor luck of never coming across an arborean or protean that you’re destined to slaughter and gut its appendage. As a small inclusion this is a very nice addition and comes across as an intelligent way to deal with strictures already established by the system.
One of the more subtle qualities of Seekers of a Hidden Light are the increasing hints of a greater backstory on the brink of emerging. Jim Felli has taken a measured approach to dolling out bits of established setting, avoiding a heavy-handed methodology and allowing players to fire at will. This is clever as it leaves a sense of anticipation without drowning out a collective voice and provides for a more relaxed integration that can be experienced over time. We’re sitting here, wondering what comes next which gently stimulates that sense of wonder and leaves you with a smile on your face as you can’t help but crave more.
Seekers of a Hidden Light is a huge win for Devious Weasel and another solid release bucking the trend of kickstarter. Well designed and properly developed, this expansion will find its way into your game and you will soon discover you’ll never want to play without it. With an increase of dramatic tension through narrative wrapped carrots of Lux dangling in the broken sky, it’s only a matter of time before you’re driving a crooked spear through the splintered husk of a bitter horror seeking that twisted claw to gain sweet sweet Lux.