The latest digital release from Focus Home Interactive sees the understated Realms of Ancient War released on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC. A new title from Wizarbox, a studio which itself is somewhat understated, Realms of Ancient War is an original production that aims to capitalise on the weakening line-up of traditional action-orientated role-playing games (RPGs) on console, and budget productions on PC.
Realms of Ancient War, commonly abbreviated to ‘RAW,’ is a videogame designed for a mature audience. A contingent of gamers who have played many titles in the genre over the years and will continue to do so in the future: in that the videogame finds its worth as an enjoyable pastime, a stepping stone until the next big name comes along, and little else. It’s a perfectly enjoyable burst of gameplay for gamers who wish to invest in something off the beaten path, but it’s never going to convince the Call of Duty and Halo communities to lay down their firearms and pick-up their sword. And Electronic Theatre wouldn’t have it any other way.
RAW takes place in a land ravaged by a war that occurred ten years earlier. Players take on the role of either a Warrior, Wizard or a Rogue in their quest to prevent another new threat from taking control of the land at it’s time of weakness, all whilst pushing back against the looters and miscreants that try to benefit from the suffering of others. RAW is not a videogame designed for the casual observer; this is a dark high fantasy tale of war and ruin.
Of course RAW does adhere to all of the traditional rules of the action RPG that you might be expecting: played from a top-down point-of-view, the player battles through hordes of enemies collecting loot increasing their statistics, learning new abilities as they go. Each class has a different series of abilities available at their command, each of which lend themselves to a different skill tree. However, they are all fairly predictable in their offerings: The Warrior is a melee fighter, the Wizard commands spells and the Rogue is a speedy mid-range opener. It’s a shame that Wizarbox didn’t go whole hog and allow players to team up in groups of three so that each of the classes may be used at once, and further more the experience is bizarrely limited to local co-operative play only. The two-player gameplay remains enjoyable but, frankly, it is essential: RAW would be a very lonely experience without any co-operative gameplay at all.
The campaign is the only gameplay option, but it is a fairly lengthy endeavour. Even more so when you consider that playing as each of the three classes requires a separate save, and as such means that players will journey through the campaign three times in order to achieve true completionist status. Given that the combat is the biggest variant between the three and as might be expected is the bulk of the experience, most players will at least want to sample the unique delights of all three, if not complete three entire run-throughs of the campaign.
There are a number of other interesting additions to the formula dotted here-and-there, such as the ability to posses creatures, thus enabling a new movement and attack template, and the fact that RAW consistently tries to punish the player with a game of numbers. Once past the initial training quest it’s rare that you’ll take on anything less than an overwhelming number of foes, and as such your quick skills menu (two templates for equipping actions to the face buttons) will inevitably be designed for two different types of encounters: dozens of enemies surrounding you and larger foes. Finding out which abilities work best for each type of encounter is the most rewarding part of the RAW gameplay experience.
A reasonably good looking videogame, RAW packs in plenty of enemy variety and some very welcome effects and lighting design. As a top-down videogame, it’s those little details that make the difference; throwaway and incidental animations that add character to the world. RAW is very dark, with streets littered by corpses and blood splatter on impact, but it’s also very predictable. The sound quality is also little more than what you’d expect from an action RPG experience, never once standing out as anything noteworthy.
While the action RPG genre has diminished somewhat on consoles, there are some fantastic titles already available. RAW sits well amongst them, but doesn’t exactly revolutionise the formula. A few nice ideas make Wizarbox’s effort stand on it’s own two feet, and fans of the genre will surely respect that, but to the causal observer RAW will surely take second place to the likes of the Sacred and Marvel Alliance series, despite their age.