Realms of Ancient War (RAW) is a hack n’ slash/action RPG from French developer Wizarbox. It borrows elements of Diablo, Torchlight, and basically every other dungeon crawler ever made. We don’t expect these types of games to break new ground, it’s pretty much entirely iterative now, and that’s ok. But we do expect that if you are going make a dungeon crawler, you meet the standard set before us. It is unfortunate that I must tell you that RAW doesn’t meet the standard. I will however tell you where and how RAW fails to comply with the aforementioned standards.
The story is very simple. All you need to know is that the continent is ravaged by war, and you need to do a lot of fighting.
At the beginning of RAW you’re given the choice between three playable characters. First you have the classic Warrior, a barbarian like man that uses axes and swords for melee attacks. Next you have the Wizard who uses magic and long range destruction spells to inflict damage onto his enemies. Finally there is the rogue with her bow and short daggers, a mix of melee and long ranged attacks.
Players have three bars on the HUD, a Health bar, an Experience bar, and a Manna bar the displays how much magic power you have left. Getting hit by enemies or traps will obviously take away from your Health bar. Using spells or laying traps takes away from your manna bar. The experience bar is simply for showing you how far it is until your next level up. Health and Manna bars fill themselves slowly, but you are going to need potions unless you want to spend half of the game hiding in a corner.
Each of the four face buttons are mapped to an attack or spell. Some attacks like power moves, traps and spells have a recharge time that must elapse before you are allowed to use it again. Primary attacks are executed with the X and A buttons. Killing enemies gives you experience towards your level up and the many enemies drop items such as gold, armor or weapons. With each level up your given a skill point with which to spend on boosting a character attribute. Some of these are power moves or special moves or even just raising the damage you do with melee attacks. Armor and weapons can be upgraded with what you find from drops or in chests or purchased from merchants. Gold can be used to buy weapons, armor or Health and Manna potions.
Occasionally you can “possess” another character, temporarily giving you their skills in battle. I liked this feature and felt it was done well. In a way it allows you more playable characters, though these moments don’t last long.
RAW had difficulty-balancing issues. My Rogue with maxed out bow skills couldn’t kill a regular spider with one arrow. I felt weak against swarms of first level enemies even after I’ve been playing for over an hour and had leveled up several times. Other enemies include skeletons, bats, humans, ghosts, and bigger spiders.
The enemy AI is dreadful. Often, your character will be in plain sight of an enemy but because your circle of influence hasn’t reached them yet, they will not attack. This resulted many times in me firing multiple arrows at an enemy, only to have the arrows disappear in midair in front of their faces. It cheapened my experience. More than once, an enemy seemed to get stuck on invisible terrain, unable to attack me.
Everything in the game uses simple textures, lighting, and models. For this reason I find it inexcusable that the frame rate drops to such a low numbers, sometimes single digits. On one early level I even saw the floor drawn in large polygonal chunks around the border of the screen, as if somehow this tiny room wasn’t able to be buffered in memory and had to be redrawn continuously.
Character animations are a mixed bag. Most of the enemies seem to animate fairly well, however your main character does not. There are no transition animations so when you go from running to stopped, it happens instantly. This makes the game seem as if it were a product of the early nineties and not a late 2012 release.
I mentioned that the enemies seemed to animate fairly well. That is, when they are moving. I blame this partly on the AI system, but sometimes in mid-combat enemies would stop moving, leading me to believe they had been killed only to have them attack me as I tried to walk away.
I actually liked the music. Its thematic and has interesting melodies as well as ambience. I cannot say the same about the sound effects. The repetitive grunts of your main character will wear on your early on. Couple that with the grunts of your enemies as they die, and you may be better off muting the sound and bumping your music of choice.
RAW has two player same screen cooperative multiplayer. While this is normally a welcome feature, in this case it feels like the developers wanted to increase the challenge, but doing so makes it even more of a grind. Enemies flock to you and your partner but seem to take even more damage than in single player, which is rough enough. In short, multiplayer doesn’t save the experience, it makes for a cluttered mess visually and adds to the frustration of trying to bat away mobs of baddies.
I realize that Wizarbox is comprised of real human beings with souls and feelings. I am not trying to hurt feelings but I need to be honest to our readers. I want to say to Wizarbox, “This was not your best foot forward. You can do better. I want you to do better. I like some of the concepts you went for, but you can execute it better. I very much look forward to your next effort. You can do it!!!”. But foremost, I need to tell our readers, “Pass on this one.”