Realms of Ancient War (R.A.W.) by Wizarbox is the latest entry in the all too rarified hack and slash genre. R.A.W., available via both XBLA and PSN, offers the very base choice of playing as Rogue, Wizard or Warrior – no customization whatsoever, it’s purely stock characters. While there is a major issue with the next statement I’m about to make, theoretically, you can play the game either alone or with a friend (I’ll speak to this presently). Strangely, despite having three classes available to play as, the game only allows two players max.
While there are a lot of good things to say about this game, from price to visuals, there are some serious gotchas both great and small detracting from the expected hack and slash experience – think Daggerdale, but in some ways even worse (in others, perhaps better…it’s a trade off). So let’s get the bad news out of the way first.
When someone mentions the words “hack and slash”, most of us visualize a massacre of breaking crates, barrels, and everything not nailed down, in addition to the ostensible onscreen opponents of the moment. But not here: for whatever reason, that is not part and parcel of the R.A.W. experience. Sure, you can still collect coins and objects, but only ones dropped by slain enemies. Also missing is a map. Seriously, there’s no map. I mean, even if you had to pause the game every so often to peruse an isolated map menu, that would still be better than nothing at all – which is what you get here. No mini map in the corner, nothing you can call up…it’s all a damn mystery. Needless to say, this makes traveling through the game more difficult than it needs to be.
Making progress more difficult is the level design. There were several points where I thought I could travel in a certain path or direction, but the area was purely for show. So yeah, trees and broken walls prevent you from continuing on in whatever direction they show under. Where it gets really weird though, is how it’s not even possible to climb ladders or ramps!
Another one for ya. The game does not allow you to adjust your camera. While a lot of hack and slash dungeon crawlers tend to default to a high overhead view, almost without exception, you’re able to pull in and see if not a first person over the shoulder view, then at least more of a standard character level view. Here you’re forced to deal with a fixed camera with an extreme high overhead view which further has an unfortunate tendency to make your movements more or less invisible behind walls and similar structures, more or less totally hiding you from view in the middle of a fight(!). I can’t tell you how many battles I fought blind, because I was able to see neither myself or my opponent through the course of the struggle. In that respect, it’s lucky there aren’t any hidden items or entranceways, because there’s no way you’d find them…
But all that’s little stuff. Where it really becomes unforgivable is in how co-op play is encouraged (at least in terms of two players among 3 classes…), and yet rather than rewarding the second player for joining the party, the game casts that partner and their efforts and achievements away as less an afterthought. Ready for this?
- Second player stats are not saved. Any achievements that can be earned can only be earned on the first player account.
- Co-op is not drop in and out. Once the second player joins the party, they’re stuck there until you decide to end play for the night.
And here’s the real kicker:
- When you pick up the game at your next outing, that second player is given a nasty surprise. (wait for it…) That’s right, none of the items, weapons, armor, stats, levels gained, spells learned or money collected is retained. Not one. Literally, everything that player did is lost to the aethers, and they’re essentially forced to start from scratch.
The only saving virtue here is that the game is kind enough to start the (now naked, broke and spell-free) second gamer off at the same level as the first player, so that when they’re done screaming at you, the TV, Xbox Live or PSN and the game’s developers, they are able to reassign all those points again and regain lost spells and skills. The best workaround I came up with was to have the second player give everything (I mean, literally everything, even the clothes off his or her back) to the first player…the gotcha being you must remember to do this before the level ends. That way the first player can transfer all that stuff (minus money, which still is lost to time and dust) back to the irate second player when you restart the game. But should we have to go through all these contortions just to play through the game in more than one sitting with a partner?
OK, so enough of that, let’s go on to why you probably will want to check this one out (seriously). As with other hack and slash/action RPGs, R.A.W. allows you to upgrade your skills as you gain experience, which results in more powerful spells, increased skills and stronger (and fancier) attacks. A total of eight attacks or spells can be mapped on your face buttons, via a toggle achieved by use of the right thumbstick.
One of the odder innovations R.A.W. brings to the table lies in how you have the option to effectively possess certain enemies. While I question the intrinsic logic of this (are we evil spirits or something? How the hell is this possible?) and the “cheat factor” (as taking possession of a monster will leave it deceased upon your returning to your own character’s body, making this a shortcut for taking tougher foes down), I have to admit, the geek in me enjoyed going around attacking people as a Beholder (and using its native powers). As mentioned, you only get this option with certain foes and for a brief period of time, but it’s a bit of a split proposition: on the one hand, it’s funny and leaves the monster dead after use, but on the other side of the equation, most of these guys have a tendency to move slower than a tectonic shift, and few have any neat abilities to speak of – when it comes down to brass tacks, it’s purely about the amusement factor.
R.A.W. is certainly a nice looking game. The environments and levels are well done and a pleasure to look at, despite the aforementioned issue that there isn’t a whole hell of a lot of interaction with them. As noted earlier, ladders and ramps don’t actually work – the only way you’re taken to a higher (or lower) level in the onscreen environment is by means of glowing arrows which when present (and when you reconnoiter at those points) moves you onto another screen representing that new level or area. Mind you, you have to be careful when doing this: at one point my co-op partner and I tried to go into a tomb in the opening cemetery scenario, but only one of us actually appeared in the musty catacombs. The second player was nowhere to be found, though the game seemed to recognize him as present, making it impossible for the first player (who was visible onscreen) to either continue on alone or return to the previous stage – the game is waiting for the (now invisible) second player to catch up. This literally leaves you with no option but to reset the game and start the level over.
And here’s the kicker about all this. You’d think, after reading about all these glitches, half-@$$ed game design and lack of proper beta testing, that I’d warn everyone away from this horrible game. Surprise. Because a horrible game wouldn’t have kept both of us (yes, I’m including my much abused second player, who had to go through all these circumnavigations just to continue on over the course of the 3 nights it took to beat the game) coming back for more. Unbelievably, despite such glaringly huge flaws, the game was still enjoyable enough to justify taking all this abuse. Must be the masochist in me, but I still liked what in all objectivity is an extremely flawed game.
Even with some truly profound and glaring flaws, Realms of Ancient War was a fun game. There just aren’t enough decent hack n’ slash games out there for console systems, and at least you didn’t get excessive grue, wildly swinging cameras, and first person view that mar far too many of the ostensible entries in the field of late. Those who miss the likes of Baldur’s Gate, Dungeons & Dragons Heroes and even The Bard’s Tale should get their jollies here. Just make sure you play alone, or be prepared to use my workaround. In sum, it should have been a great game – as it is, it’s a good one, with qualified recommendation. It’s a shame that there are so many problems with R.A.W. preventing it from being the game it could, and in fact should, have been.
It’s more rewarding when people work together towards a common goal. So much more can be accomplished when we lend a helping hand to a friend in need! But Wizarbox, I have to say, I really don’t like receiving all the credit here, since I wasn’t the only one doing all the work. You really need to pay attention to these sort of things, so that everyone can have a good time and be encouraged to cooperate more often! Still and all, a good time was had by everyone who took part. So I’m taking that as a positive.
Who cares about anyone else, the only thing important is that I get all the credit and loot. What do I care if Roxy and Stormer retain stats and items? Probably got stolen by Jetta anyway! Hmm…maybe I should take a page from Wizarbox’s book and rename the band “The Pizzazzes” instead of The Misfits. It’s all about me anyway!
Best Song to describe the game: Takin’ it All from Battle of the Bands.
Overall Score: 7.0