R.A.W. (Realms of Ancient War) Review
Game: R.A.W (Realms of Ancient War)
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Available on: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Reviewed on: Xbox 360
These days, it’s nearly impossible to talk about isometric dungeon crawlers without referencing Diablo or, more recently, Torchlight. As examples of the genre, they’re rivalled only by one another, both franchises initially springing from the same creative minds and evolving over time into the mammoths they are now.
Unfortunately, this makes it incredibly dufficuly for the also-rans to make an impact, despite stoic efforts by the likes of Dungeon Siege 3 and Sacred 2. Try as they might they simply can’t acchieve the same mix of addictive playability, longevity and, well, charm. Because, for whatever reason, such a thing as charm makes a huge difference to the genre, whether it’s the assured swagger of Diablo 3 or the colourful likeability of Torchlight and its imminent sequel. In fact, it’s a lack of such effortless appeal that so severely impacts titles like WizarBox’s Realms of Ancient War (or “R.A.W” as it’s actually known). On the surface the gameplay really isn’t that much different to the aforementioned giants – it’s all just so very, very bland.
Problems begin early on when you’re asked to pick your character from the most basic roster of Warrior, Rogue and Mage. It’s so unimaginative it actually stirs the bile, leaving a bad taste in your mouth. You can’t customise your avatar in any way (you can’t even name them), and although they each start in a different area, such illusory variety amounts to about twenty minutes of actual gameplay before all three stories blend into one.
Specifically, the story concerns three kings who were summoned by a fourth to help avert a magical evil laying waste to the land. After the summoning, the three kings returned to their thrones enfeebled and broken, leaving the land in disarray, while the fourth king was imprisoned inside a magical crystal, there to wallow until an individual of a certain destiny releases him and takes up the quest to vanquish the evil Nothingness.
Beyond that, the story is of the by-the-numbers, go-here go-there ilk, interspersing levels with half-decent stylised cutscenes to drive the narrative on. Mines feature heavily, as do frozen wastes, dark forests and forbidding mountain steppes, but on the whole the levels are straightforward affairs in which the only real objective is to kill and loot everything. Indeed, almost every quest and sidequest involves killing or fetching something for someone, and a dirth of serviceable hubs makes the whole experience feel as though you’re forever being funnelled onwards with no real freedom beyond the option to go back and replay levels. Having no minimap at first seems like an ommission too, until you realise a click of the left stick reveals the location of your current objective. Thankfully it makes forced replays a little less painful.
Which segues me nicely into a semi-major complaint about R.A.W’s structure as a whole. For starters, it’s presented as a linear series of levels that must be completed a certain way; they never alter, so replaying them becomes dull very quickly, and they offer little in the way of surprises. But the most infuriating design choice is omitting the option to manually save altogether. The game autosaves on the completion of each level, but doesn’t track character progression separately to quest progression. This might seem like a way to increase the challenge, but in fact regular checkpoint markers dictate your respawn points, all the lack of a manual save does is lock you in a level until it’s done. In a standard action adventure this would be fine, in an Action-RPG where the focus is on levelling up and finding decent loot in random drops, every crash and every bug means you lose whatever you’ve earned in the level. And, unfortunately, R.A.W crashes regularly, or else suffers extreme slow-down at times from which it cannot recover without a re-boot. Grrrrrrr, indeed.
Enemy types vary from area to area, and there’s a decent amount of loot and weapon combinations, but every moment of R.A.W. feels not only as though you’ve done it before but that you had way more fun doing it, too. That said, there are a few positives. Spell effects, for one, are impressive to behold once you’ve levelled up a particular skill, and the option to possess larger enemies is an okay idea, even if in practice it’s either essential to progress the plot or altogether pointless.
The character specific unlockable skills don’t bring much to the table beyond the bog-standard area of effect or elemental attacks, though giving every character eight mappable ability slots makes cutting through hordes of goblins, giant spiders or bandits a varied affair. Drop in, drop out 3-player co-op is a great way to double the fun, but there are no multiplayer-specific challenges or bonuses and so the incentive to team up with friends doesn’t extend beyond your personal tastes.
The world itself has a familiar look to it, barely attempting to conceal its many influences, and while little details like scarab swarms in the desert or scurrying rats add a touch of ambience, character models are so plain and lacking in personality that you’d have to be the most inexperienced gamer ever to be at all wowed by them.
It’s all a great, great shame, because despite it entering an already-crowded market, R.A.W. had a certain potential. It’s just sad that the bombastic, aggressive, enticing trailers were attempting to sell a game much more exciting than it turned out to be.
VERDICT: Realms of Ancient War is not a bad game on its own merits. It’s a fantasy hack ‘n’ slash that offers the monster-slaying and loot-hoarding that you’d expect, but it does it in such a lacklustre, been-there done-that kind of way that you almost feel patronised when the pop-up tutorial explains the loot quality colour-scale that we’ve all seen around twelve-thousand times before.
Almost completely creatively bankrupt, horrendously buggy and not very pretty, even for a downloadable title R.A.W. struggles to make its presence felt. XBLA gamers would be better served by downloading the gorgeous Torchlight, PC gamers have attractive alternative options coming out of their ears and even those on PSN could pick up Dungeon Hunter Alliance for a more enjoyable romp. Disappointing, yes – but, sadly, not surprisingly so.