Review: R.A.W. Realms of Ancient War (XBLA)
Realms of Ancient War or RAW (not to be confused with the game with sweaty dudes grappling in tights), comes at a time when the market is pretty well saturated with loot-based hack’n’slash RPGs. Is RAW one of the ones worth your money?
Unfortunately the ultimate answer to that question is no, or at the most an emphatic probably not. RAW’s biggest problem is that it feels like a last-gen game in almost every way, from graphics to design choices to uninspired classes. In addition to its faults, Realms of Ancient War just so happens to come along when we have something of an embarrassment of riches in the genre, especially if you also own a PC. Even if not, you have so much to choose from on the consoles in the vein of RAW that it becomes even more difficult to recommend the game in any sort of capacity. Which is actually a shame really, the developers at Wizarbox had some good ideas and the co-op has some really nice features that I’d like to see in other representations of the genre. To bad these few bright spots aren’t enough to elevate the game past dated and forgettable.
Realms of War takes place on a continent separated into 4 kingdoms that are at war. In an attempt to stop the fighting the Northern King invites all to the Realm of Heroes to hash things out and bring an end to the bloodshed. Something happens there though, the other 3 kings leave in a stupefied state, unable to make even the easiest of decisions let alone lead, and the Northern King is not seen from again. Ten years later the world is spiraling out of control due to lack of leadership as well as the attack of monsters to mix in with the everyday war. This is the world to which your hero comes to, and inevitably will attempt to save, though their motives might not be the same depending on your class. Ultimately the story has a lack of substance and is full of clichéd fantasy tropes we’ve seen a thousand times over, especially in these types of games. However, it’s really not a strong negative as most loot RPG hack’n’slash fests are about three things really: classes, loot, and skills.
The classes you’ll pick from are the standard 3 we’ve been getting in most of the games in the genre since forever: warrior, rogue, and wizard. Playing as you’d expect, the warrior is an up close melee monster with a limited skill set to reflect that, the rogue is a ranged character that can melee in a pinch, and the wizard is the guy who tosses fireballs and flaming meteors around, but is as delicate as a flower in a war zone. Skills overall are decently done, though there really isn’t a lot of choice as to what you should choose as there are some easy stand outs. Like usual as you level you’ll earn points that can be placed into different skills you choose, anything from a passive ability to an activated one.
As far as the actual art of combat in this game, well there is no art. You press the attack button, occasionally the button for a second skill and try not to die. To be fair, that’s the case with most any hack’n’slash loot RPG, the loot is the real draw here after all. However, the repetition of certain enemies along with dull and uninspired landscapes, not to mention lack luster loot, makes the game swiftly turn into a boring grind. For instance, if I ever have to kill another plump tiny spider in a game such as this again, I may just lose my mind. I swear, this game is a veritable spider killing simulation, with those little staples of fantasy games being featured in every single level you play and usually en masse. You will literally be smacking at the little suckers the entire game, and it drags down what little variety you do see in baddies because you end up focusing on seeing them over and over.
Like I mentioned above the game feels very dated, especially when compared with something like Torchlight 2. Graphics, though not that important, look like something off a PS2 and the levels themselves are stark and barren areas with no interactivity. Though I didn’t really miss smashing barrels, the utter lack of being able to impact the environment around you in any way was extremely off putting, other than the occasional treasure chest of course. This kind of barren feeling extends to sound also, as there is no weight behind your swings, in fact there is no sound when connecting with an enemy most times. Instead in combat the sound effects are looped each time you jam the attack button, meaning you may hear the initial impact, but none after that. It’s odd how something you easily take for granted is starkly contrasted against the rest of the experience when missing. These things alone would drag the game down to simply average or above, but it’s a couple other baffling decisions by Wizarbox that have me scratching my head.
First off loot itself is extremely limited, both in scope and aesthetics. Most times when you equip an armor it’s the same model, only distinguished by changing something from blue to red for instance. Furthermore there is no variety in weapons at all really. I played as the warrior most of the game (though I did try the other classes), and you have two choices: an axe or a sword. You will dual wield one of these types of weapons (dual wielding not optional) and there is really no difference reflected in the gameplay, indeed you’ll be simply picking which one has a higher attack or looks prettiest on your character. In a genre that leans heavily on being excited for that next piece of equipment, RAW fails to pull you in with this category. In addition, I felt that the armor changes that were there were not that graphically appealing and because of the height the camera pulls back to (with no option to control it at all) you can’t really see anything on your person anyway. Of course mileage will vary on whether or not you think the armor is aesthetically pleasing, but it still stands that what changes are there you can hardly tell were made anyway once equipped.
That brings me to my next disappointment, and another thing that makes the game feel so dated. You have no way to control your camera within the game at all. That means no zooming in to the action or out, no rotating for a better view of it. On top of this misstep there is no mini map to speak of, which I missed greatly and between these two problems makes the game feel like it’s 1990 all over again. Somehow though these flaws don’t even add up to be the most disappointing decision in the game.
Probably the oddest of all here is Wizarbox’s decision to essentially add in lives like you were playing Mario, instead of playing a game like Diablo. Each level you will receive a number of soul stones and each time you die you’ll be pulled back to a checkpoint and one of those will be depleted. When they all are gone you’ll start the entire level all over, which by itself isn’t really that terrible. After all, you should be penalized in some form for failing within video games, but the fact that you also lose all your levels, loot, experience and skills is one blow too much. “Doesn’t that just mean that the game is harder and therefore more challenging and rewarding?” one may ask. Indeed that would be the case, except for the aforementioned fact that playing through the levels can be a dull grind anyway and when you add to that you are unlocking the same loot over again, regaining the same skills, and tagging the same levels, it takes away all your drive for playing basically. Not to mention that the deaths you do rack up will most often not be your fault. Usually when I died it was because after three or four encounters with 2 or 3 guys suddenly half the screen is filled with enemies, writhing around my character like he was the last discounted iPod on Black Friday. You literally can’t even move and there are no skills that will save you. After you’ve replayed the level two times just to die by no fault of your own and start all over level and loot wise, you begin to wonder: “Why am I playing this again?”.
The most disappointing part of the experience is that Realms of Ancient War has moments where you can see the makings of a good, possibly even great game. One of the features in the game sees you being able to possess some larger creatures and wreak havoc on the other baddies, which is fun and satisfying. The power is explained in the story and even the element of the story that allows you to use the power is kind of neat and not exactly standard in the genre. In fact it’s one of the few things that redeems the story a bit and one of the mechanics that I wish other games of this genre had. Where RAW really does things right though is with its local co-op mode, so much so that you wonder why nobody else has done some of these things. For instance, normally somebody can’t just jump in and start playing this type of game with you. Usually it just won’t allow you, but even if they do they start at level one and are absolutely of no use to you at that point. Instead anyone can join your game on any level with one of the other two classes and they are automatically leveled up to match the level of your character. On top of that, since loot is usually attributed to a certain class, there is no real arguments over loot. You simply hand over whatever doesn’t say your classes name on it, which Wizarbox also manages to make incredibly easy and intuitive. Instead of dropping loot on the ground and telling your buddy to run over it, here you just simply highlight what you want to send to your co-op partner and click a button that auto sends it to their inventory (provided they have space). These things mean that, like most all games of this nature, the game is infinitely more playable with a buddy. That goes double for this game though, as not only are the aforementioned mechanics solid, but when you die if your buddy stays alive 5 seconds you can come back which eases the pain of soul stones.
Sadly, these brief glimpses of promise aren’t enough to outweigh the flaws. At the end of the day RAW simply feels like it belongs in another generation of gaming. It’s really hard to recommend a game in this state for the 15 dollar asking price when there is so much out there in the genre that is just much more solid, and most importantly, fun. However, if you’ve played every other loot game out there, and are just absolutely dying to play another (and don’t have access to a PC), plus have a co-op partner ready and willing, you may find some enjoyment out of Realms of Ancient War. Pretty much everyone else though should steer clear of this game.
A copy of this title was provided to The Paranoid Gamer for reviewing purposes. To purchase the game, or queue to your Xbox for trial, please visit this page.