Platforms: PC | PSN | XBLA (reviewed)
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
There was an opportunity here.
A few exceptions notwithstanding, traditional loot-grinding dungeon crawlers are still a relatively rare breed on home consoles. PS3/Xbox 360 owners have watched in quiet envy as PCs and handhelds continually attracted the bulk of the addictive genre, from Diablo III to Heroes Of Ruin and Torchlight II, meaning that there's a gap in the market for anyone willing to provide a similar experience. Into the wasteland stepped Wizarbox, promising to deliver compelling persistent character creation and cooperative hijinks for a bargain downloadable price. We became rather excited about RAW: Realms Of Ancient War, our interest piqued by some intriguing trailers.
Though RAW has its moments, it's clear that Wizarbox haven't exactly seized this opportunity with both hands.
RAW is as generic as they come, which doesn't necessarily have to be a dealbreaker. Choosing one of three different heroes (the melee-centric Warrior, pure caster Wizard or versatile Rogue) you'll venture into a lengthy selection of thematically-varied zones to save a fantasy realm of dwarves and trolls from an ancient evil by opening some portals... or something. The heavy-handed story is as uninspired as it is unimportant, since you and I both know that we're here for one thing and one thing alone. Some grinding.
Grinding that works fairly well, I'm glad to report. Attacks and skills can be mapped to the face buttons (an extra four slots are also provided, thankfully), allowing you to hack, slash or blast your way through massive hordes of onrushing enemies. It's incredibly simple and traditional fare, featuring some overtly familiar spells and abilities yet still appealing to our compulsive desire to kill big groups of things for fun and profit. Naturally you'll gain both experience and loot from defeated monsters, which translates into equippable gear and skill points for your avatar that you can access through an intuitive character sheet. Though the isometric level designs are fairly linear and enemy designs are continually copy/pasted within zones, the core gameplay translates well to a console controller and proves to be infinitely more enjoyable when played in local co-op.
You can also temporarily possess larger enemies for a short duration, which occasionally adds a fun new twist to an encounter but is rarely used to its full potential.
Wizarbox certainly delivered on the graphics front. RAW is a bit of a looker, sporting some impressively detailed environments and eyecatching particle effects. All in all, it's a solid and functional little dungeon crawler with a pretty front end.
Unfortunately, 'solid' and 'functional' is all RAW aspires to be. Melee attacks lack weight and heft, leading to an unsatisfying feeling of your weapons just passing through your foes and dishing out arbitrary numbers. The enormous mobs of constantly-repeated enemies only attack by charging straight at you or hanging back at a set distance and spamming ranged abilities, thus leading to an incredibly repetitious gameplay experience in an already repetitive genre. Aggro radii are so blatant that some enemies will stand still, oblivious, as their adjacent fellows take damage or begin their tactless rush towards certain death.
Crucially, RAW makes no attempt to add anything particularly new or exciting to the genre and refuses to present a compelling and believable game world (why are random merchants hanging out next to deadly enemies?), constantly reminding you of every dungeon crawler you've ever played. Games, I might add, that do RAW's job with much more flair and panache.
The camera also hinders the proceedings, but not in the way you might expect. RAW's fixed viewpoint hovers at a great distance from the battlefield, giving you a broad and convenient overview of the situation rather than getting stuck on level geometry. The problem stems from the fact that you can't optionally zoom in, meaning that your character is always just an indistinct speck on the scenery surrounded by enormous hordes of similarly small and identical specks. I literally don't know how detailed the character models are since they all look the same from such a lofty vantage point, and the individually-modelled weapons and armour become meaningless when you can't zoom in and admire your avatar. It's difficult to take pride in an indistinct speck, not helped by the fact that the tiny inventory portrait can't be zoomed in either.
Despite its shortcomings, RAW would still have been worth at least a tentative recommendation for genre fans had it not been for one massive cardinal sin. A horrible, genuinely inconsiderate design decision that was seemingly implemented in full knowledge of how utterly appalling it is.
RAW only saves when you complete a level in its entirety, most of which are fairly expansive. If you quit mid-mission, even if you've reached a checkpoint, you will instantly lose all progress since you started the level. Not just level progress, but progression too: experience, character levels and items. Unless you're willing to pause the game when you need to take a break or leave the house, you'll have to plough through each lengthy stage or potentially say goodbye to an hour or more of hard graft.
What makes this shocking state of affairs so thoroughly insulting is that it would have been so easy for RAW save your character data every time you quit or pass a checkpoint. Like, I don't know, some sort of automatic save. An autosave. Yeah. That has a nice ring to it. It's amazing that no competing loot-grinders have ever thought of implementing this simple procedure... okay, enough distinctly unfunny facetiousness. This situation is awful. Wizarbox needs to patch it or you shouldn't part with your money.
- Solid and functional dungeon crawling, lengthy campaign
- Some fun skills that complement each other in co-op
- Lack of mid-level autosaves will kill your progression if you quit
- Idiotic enemy AI, repetitious, simplistic
- Generic and uninspiring to the extreme - in terms of story, art direction and gameplay
The Short Version: RAW: Realms Of Ancient War succeeds in bringing a dungeon-crawling action RPG to downloadable console marketplaces. A generic and repetitious one to be sure, but an experience that does enough right to appeal to desperate genre fans willing to play in local co-op.
Sadly, an unconscionably inconsiderate attitude towards autosaving makes RAW very difficult to recommend to all but the most patient and forgiving of gamers.