Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Review: Ravensword: Shadowlands

Ravensword: Shadowlands is a Western style role playing game in the vein of The Elder Scrolls only not quite as good. Similar to its console brethren, it offers large sweeping vistas which you will soon discover are not quite as sweeping as you were led to believe just moments before. Though this is unsurprising given that this is a mobile game and we should be thankful for whatever we can get that isn't Fruit Ninja.

After you hit the start button, the game plops you sword and shield in hand to fight some monsters. Here you learn the basic mechanics of the game: move around and attack. You can also block with a shield, which is nice, if entirely unnecessary. You do battle with a few somethings before stumbling onto a bigger something before an even bigger something comes along to kill everyone. Except for you of course.

But before you have a chance to say "well that was pointless", you wake up in bed, recovering from your injuries. Yes. That old chestnut of RPG game design. Here you get to access the character creation screen, because apparently the monster in the previous section has stomped your face off entirely.

You then learn that as the sole survivor of the attack - rather than having excellent health insurance - you are in fact the only one able to stop the inevitable destruction of the entire planet. Why you and not someone else is not really all that clear. It's probably due to your ability to take numerous arrows to the chest as Ravensword has decided to wave the "high fantasy" flag.

And as is the case you'll have many high fantasy creatures to kill in your pursuit to save the world. Skeletons, orcs, goblin ice giants, giant spiders and fucking dinosaurs. Because as we all know the only thing that would have improved The Lord of The Rings is if Frodo rode into Mordor on the back of a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Combat is enjoyable if repetitive. Much like The Elder Scrolls games, it is handled in similar fashion to most first person games. You aim where you want your weapons to hit and then you press the button to attack. You have your typical swords, maces, bows, crossbows & hammers along with runes which allow for magical attacks. Though they aren't as effective as one might hope and more often than not will still have you reaching for your gun. Yes, there are also guns in the game.

I realize how difficult it must be to maintain some semblance of originality while being wholly derivative, but simply adding random features to your game does not equal originality. I get that we're in a land of fiction and make-believe, but even within that land, there is an accepted continuity. While it's okay to mess around with that continuity, random re-appropriation breaks the immersion.

We've already accepted that we're in a land of dwarves and elves. We've already accepted we're going to see medieval England dressed up in a certain set of cliches, particularly when the game itself seems pretty adamant about sticking to it. It doesn't make much sense to use dinosaurs when there are perfectly good fantasy lizards stalking around in the form of dragons. Though it isn't game breaking, it does feel immeasurably stupid. Like suggesting Raging Bull be shot in 3D.

But back to the combat, there is some depth requiring a bit more strategy when one would expect at first. Melee weapons draw from your energy pool which also happens to be your mana pool. Ranged weapons on the other hand require no energy. They do have painfully long reload times in comparison to swords, however unlike melee weapons, you will never be flailing around an area waiting for your energy to regenerate just so you can fight back.

Playing with ranged weapons is surprisingly far more enjoyable than one might be led to believe, particularly the bow & arrow which acts as a bow & arrow would. While not every shot needs to be carefully considered, there is some strategy to be had. Your arrow's trajectory must be taken into account if you expect to live long enough to throw the Ring of Power into Mount Doom or whatever it is you're supposed to be doing.

And then there's hunting which is almost more enjoyable than the whole of the game. While each section has plenty of animals to hunt, only certain sections have animals which you can hunt for food. Fortunately, they are rather plentiful and are mercifully easy to take down. Except for the boars who will kill you with the slightest provocation.

While not mandatory, without food you will begin to go hungry. Though you apparently won't die even if you're starving, the hungrier you are, the less your health and energy is able to regenerate. This wouldn't be an issue except the game does nothing to tell you this, happily letting you sell off your food for handfuls of lock picks that you will never, ever use.

Thankfully though, much like the prophesied hero everyone keeps telling you that you are, you are exceedingly difficult to kill. That is at least until you reach the Mountains of Madness where you will proceed to die multiple times because you forgot to murder enough woodland creatures in the last section to level up. It's a good thing that encounters aren't difficult in the least and leveling up is insultingly easy.

While I certainly wouldn't call Ravensword: Shadowlands a terrible game in the least, it does certainly highlight a lot of issues that mobile gaming suffers from. As a mobile game, it stands alone and really represents what gaming on Android & iOS devices could very well look like in the future. It shows quite a lot of potential for the platform and dare I say is rather enjoyable.

But as it stands, it's a mobile game that desperately wants to be a PC game. And as a PC game it simply doesn't hold up. Unlike Fallout or Skyrim, the game does very little to draw you into its world. And now that the game is playable on the PC, its shortcomings are even more glaring. Given the glowing reviews on the iOS & Android Marketplace, one's perspective on the game really changes with regards to the hardware you happen to be playing it on. I can only imagine how good reviews would be had it been running on the Atari Jaguar.

Still, for RPG fans looking for something with more meat than the typical mobile outing, Ravensword: Shadowlands is definitely worth a look.

Get it for Android | iOS
Developer: Crescent Moon Games


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