Review: R.A.W. – Realms of Ancient War

RealmsOfAncientWar

Blending expansive skill tree progression with swarms of enemies as a hero explores various caves, castles or other environments where loot is as plentiful as the monsters that inhabit it, dungeon crawling action games can be addictive and engrossing when everything is firing on all cylinders. Games like Diablo III and Torchlight 2 have represented the genre well this year, but unfortunately for console gamers these titles are currently only available to enjoy on a PC (or Mac). Console players don’t have the same fortune of playing either game on their system of choice, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any new options for this type of game.

Wizarbox has developed Realms of Ancient War (or R.A.W.) as a new hack ‘n slash dungeon crawler mainly targeted at the console crowd (although it also is available on PC).  R.A.W. takes place in a world split into four regional factions and offers three unique classes to play as, including warrior, rogue and wizard.  The warrior is all melee, the rogue mixes melee with ranged, and the wizard’s spells are generally better at ranged attacks, though some spells tend to work best as a knock back when enemies get too close for comfort.  Upon selecting a hero, R.A.W. then quickly introduces players to the defeated king of the north who joins his spirit with the body of the selected hero.  The first half of the game is spent traveling through the eastern, southern and western regions of the game world activating portals which, once all activated, will grant the defeated king the ability to return to the north and reclaim his throne.

Each of the realms has a unique theme from the next, ranging from catacombs, mined tunnels, caves of lava, jungles, and deserts on up to heavenly castles.  Plenty of detail was put into creating each area, but unfortunately the design gives the impression that pathways are present when they actually aren’t. Additionally, so much attention was spent on random details, that many objects seem like they should be destructible; unfortunately, the environments largely come across as static, non-interactive set pieces that offer little more than an attempt at fleshing out the world.  One other odd notion about the world is that certain world pieces are fixed and at times obstruct the view of the action.  An attempt to rectify this is to switch out the hero model and enemies with blue and red silhouettes.  This design choice almost works to help differentiate and locate the hero or enemy when they are hidden, but sadly the color palette is so muted that I often found trying to perform any sort of attacks while the hero or enemies were obstructed led to health loss on my end and no enemies defeated.

It sure doesn’t help that the hit detection is poor, failing to provide clear feedback for when an enemy is struck versus when one is not.  Using any of the attack options provides for an often uncontrollable direction for attack.  Obviously if I want to attack something on my right and my hero is facing left I need to face the other direction, however I found that even facing what looked to be the correct direction, my hero would then attack in a diagonal direction just north or south of where I was intending to attack.  Ranged attacks with the wizard and rogue also falter a bit with this lack of direct control over where an intended attack lands.  There is no lock on system nor even an aiming guideline, attacks are fired off in whichever direction the hero is facing.  The right analog stick is simply used to switch between attack sets. While this lack of control over which specific enemy is being attacked is a little frustrating, the overall arsenal of attacks somewhat mitigates the need to have that detailed level of control.  

The enemies, for the most part, crumble without too much resistance, but the sheer number of enemies can be daunting at times. Somewhat mindless button mashing will suffice on normal, yet toward the end of the game (with so many various attack options at my disposal), I ended up in a strategic routine of casting the same two or three spells which ended in a quick dispatch of all enemies.  To add a little spice to the mix, R.A.W. also allows the hero to posses some of the larger enemies. Possession gives players a chance to control relatively small acid spitting spiders as well as hulking ogres that can crush large waves of enemies quickly.

R.A.W. does offer co-op play.  Local co-op only, that is.  While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, there is nothing mentioned in the instructions that the game only offers local co-op.  Heck, the in-game manual doesn’t even indicate that two players can play at the same time.  Missing information like this is frustrating.  One other peculiarity with local co-op is that if player two drops out, any equipment that that player has collected or whichever spells have been selected all get wiped. Having to re-gear/re-spec whenever player two drops out smacks of sloppy design.

Not having a few extras that other titles deliver just means that the game focuses on the core gameplay and not much else.  As with most games in this genre, the story isn’t exactly strong, but it is at least interesting enough to help drive gameplay through each new section.  There are additional side quests that crop up throughout each area that help to flesh out the world and in turn offer exploration opportunities that might otherwise be dismissed.  One thing that is missing from the side quests and exploration, though, is a mini-map.  The only map in the game is an over world map which allows the hero to select their destination and replay a particular section again.

While the game doesn’t have the basic features or the same level of polish as other recent dungeon crawlers, R.A.W. still has its fun moments. Combat doesn’t offer the best feedback when attacking, but does provide a large list of attack options to work with.  Local co-op is a nice touch, but not having an online option is a bit disappointing and will likely leave many players wanting more. Overall, R.A.W. is not a bad game, it’s just forgettable and not particularly noteworthy in any single area to hold your interest.

SkipIt

Pros:
+ Lots of combat variations with three classes and skill trees
+ Local co-op

Cons:
– Combat feedback feels a bit off
– No online co-op
– Player 2 co-op settings aren’t saved
– No mini-map

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PSN, also available on PC and XBLA
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Developer: Wizarbox
Release Date: XBLA – 9/19/2012, PSN – 9/25/2012, PC – 10/4/2012
Genre: Action-RPG
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1-2 (local co-op only)
Source: Review code provided by publisher

About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.