Full disclosure: Beta keys for the final test of April 17-20, 2020 were provided by Pearl Abyss to OTK!. This article is based off the game’s current build during the said period.

Shadow Arena is the latest game made by Korean game developer, Pearl Abyss. It’s the latest in a long line of battle royale/arena-based games, pitting 40 players against each other in a massive map. The game’s setting is lifted from the developer’s other highly-successful MMORPG, Black Desert Online, with its well-known NPCs as the playable heroes.

A New Arena

Right off the bat, players are taken to the main screen without any prompts or background about the game. It’s a matter of figuring out what to do in this lobby area, which is easy enough to do with the glaring “START GAME” button at the upper left corner of the screen. A number of game modes were already made available at the start. Ranked battles are done through Solo or Team modes, while unranked matches can be done through practice modes, custom games, or against AI/bots. As of the game’s current build, the Team mode only parties players in pairs. There are nine characters to choose from, all of which come from Black Desert Online’s lore. Each character has their own strengths and weaknesses, and also a unique set of abilities. Simply put, they are all differentiated into just two archetypes: melee and ranged.

What sets Shadow Arena apart from the other battle royale games is mixing a number of RPG elements into the battles. Each character is given an initial set of Attack and Defense Points (AP, DP) at the start of the game, and four unique skills mapped in numbers 1-4. The map is also littered with chests and monsters, giving players the opportunity to loot for better equips, gather curative and buff items, and collect skill points. While the skirmish is going on, the sub-objective of the game is to improve survivability and battle prowess by increasing the character’s AP and DP high enough to go against the 39 other combatants in the playing field. Skills can be levelled up to three ranks high with incremental improvements as it goes higher. Equips can be looted around the whole map through chests or monster drops, and can also be fused to obtain higher rarity items. The game also doles out map-wide mini-quests by spawning world boss monsters. Killing world boss monsters allows the player to activate one of the many altars littered in the map to gain a temporary boost to the character’s stats. Although the game lacks a tutorial phase, tooltips and notifications in the game HUD become a helpful guide in navigating through the arena.

The Real Test

The main objective is still your typical battle royale game: eliminate the other players while the map slowly contracts into a smaller fighting area. Once the game starts, players are given a four-minute grace period before the black fog starts to contract around the map. While revives are still allowed during this short time, it’s also a prompt for players to start farming for AP-DP upgrades and buffs.

Based on our observations, the current build of the game in this final beta test still has a few concerns to fix here and there. One glaring concern comes with the characters and its balancing issues. Some characters, like Goyen and Haru, can easily stunlock opponents for an extended period with a combination of normal attacks and skills, giving players an unfair advantage over other opponents selecting a different set of characters. Moreover, highly agile characters, like Orwen (and even Haru too), have trouble evading from the stunlocks  with the Q and E special evasive actions. The issue is further exacerbated with an inconsistent hitboxes for different characters, and some latency issues that make it harder to combat other opponents.

Thankfully, since Shadow Arena takes its design from Black Desert Online, the overall graphical presentation of the game looks stunning even on its lowest setting. Character designs are diverse, and the map is rife with a combination of rural structures, forests, and rocky terrain. Even the voice acting is consistently reminiscent of its original source. Minor details, like weapon skin changes and skill effects, are also distinct and highly detailed. The mobs and boss monsters could use a little more diversity in its design though, but it’s a minor concern here.

Not Yet Final

Having plunged into the battle royale genre, there’s a lot to like from Shadow Arena. The diverse mix of characters with their own unique abilities certainly deepens the gameplay from just the ordinary 40-man arena battles we’ve come to know. The RPG elements also add a layer of challenge and strategy for all players in the competition. Being a pre-commercial build, bugs and balancing issues are to be expected. And we hope these issues get fixed before the commercial build of the game gets released. Fans of Black Desert Online can properly imagine Shadow Arena as its PVP descendant. And here’s hoping the fanbase and players extend beyond just BDO players.

BONUS: Pandasal’s clueless gameplay of Shadow Arena