There’s a pretty cool concept driving Ravenswatch, the new multiplayer roguelite from Passtech Games, the studio behind the superb Curse of the Dead Gods. It eschews the procedural tomb-raiding of that title though, instead throwing you and up to three other players into a nightmarish world wherein you have just four days to become strong enough to vanquish the Master of Nightmares.
What makes it interesting is the characters you do it with. The eponymous Ravenswatch is like a secret society of public domain heroes. Little Red Riding Hood, Beowulf, the Pied Piper of Hamlin, Aladdin… There’ll be 10 when the game finally launches in 2024, but so far I’ve seen six (though only four are playable in the current build). Perhaps Ravenswatch biggest issue is that these characters are finite – or they’re just not using their imagination.
Well known characters as mentioned above are mixed in with characters like Melusine, who may be a take on the Little Mermaid, and the generically named Snow Queen. There’s plenty of famous folklore or fairytale heroes out there, so these additions feel a little out of sorts. That said, a lot of what I’ve played is still placeholder. There’s a long way to go until launch, and Passtech haven’t finished balancing difficulty, adding features, or even putting in all the art assets.
Ravenswatch does have Passtech’s trademark artstyle and procedural level design. Each stage is a series of rooms (though it’s more open than in CotDG), and each one may contain upgrades such as chests or tomes tied to timed challenges. Upgrades are somewhere between those found in Curse and the system seen in Hades. Levelling up gives you access to a choice of randomised upgrades, the right combinations of which can utterly change how you play. They can add effects to your existing skills, or modifiers to damage type, health regen, or critical hit.
The real feather in Ravenswatch’s cap, though, is the character roster. I know I joked about who they are in some cases, but that doesn’t change the fact that each feels utterly unique to play as. Scarlett, for example (that’s Little Red Riding Hood to you and me) is a werewolf. During the daylight portion she uses bombs and daggers and sudden strikes, but when the sun sets she transforms into a huge beast that deals higher damage and can tank hits at the expense of her original speed. You can’t control this change either; it’s entirely beholden to the ticking clock.
Then there’s the Pied Piper, who acts as a ranged character pelting enemies with musical notes and building up a horde of rats as you play, that you can unleash on a target to do huge damage. The Snow Queen commands the elements to freeze and control the enemy. Used in conjunction their powers can synergise in interesting ways. For example, the Piper can lay down an area of effect that weakens enemies, the Snow Queen can slow those who come through it, allowing Scarlett and Beowulf to go to town with dps on enemies trapped inside.
Combat is fast and responsive, with the same sense of fluidity and impact as we saw in Curse of the Dead Gods. Enemies will attempt to overwhelm you, mixing attack patterns and types almost randomly. When you die you can resurrect using a shared pool of raven feathers, but when they’re gone the run is over and you’ll start afresh. How progression will work between runs isn’t entirely clear yet, but certain elements do carry through.
Each character has a standard attack, a “defence” skill such as Beowulf’s block and shield bash, and a few Special attacks. Survive long enough and you can unlock an ultimate ability too. You’ll need to experiment with each to decide which works best for you, but all are viable for soloists and team players. Be aware though, Ravenswatch is much tougher played alone.
Exploring the map is a joy each time, though, not least thanks to the excellent music. But there are also NPCs to find that offer quests, caves to delve into for secret upgrades, and at least one locked dungeon that requires a key and rewards you with a powerful ability boost for beating the miniboss. You can collect glowing yellow shards with which to visit the Sandman to upgrade existing boosters or buy “consumables” which increase health, crit chance, defence or attack for the duration of the run.
When the time is up you’ll be taken directly to the boss fight whether you’re ready or not, but a strong enough team can ignore the timer and go straight for the big fight. Defeating the Master Nightmare will unlock the next area, but it’s a very tough battle even when you’ve upgraded a few abilities.
As with their previous title, Passtech intend to keep Ravenswatch in early access for a while until they feel the time is right for a full release. It worked wonderfully with CotDG, allowing them to release a superb adventure game that has only gotten stronger since launch. I’ve no doubt Ravenswatch will benefit in the same way to deliver an exciting, unique take on this dark fairytale world.
Ravenswatch is coming to PC early access on April 6th, and consoles later.