Review: Realms Of Ancient War
Realms of Ancient War, developed by Wizarbox and published by Focus Home Interactive, is an action RPG featuring three campaigns and local co-op. Is it a worthy entry into the genre, or best left ignored?
- Worth The Time?No, hardly.
- Things LovedThe visuals are nice.
- Things HatedNo map functionality, co-op is offline only, no character customisation, shallow mechanics, the game is extremely repetitive and easy, the XP system is off, not much variety in how you can play, no camera control, feels very linear and mechanical and there's no exploration or varied paths, it gets boring pretty quickly, the death system has no purpose, many quests are uninteresting and feel like obstacles or delays, no voice acting.
- RecommendationDon't buy this game. For around the same price you can do so much better.
- Name: Realms Of Ancient War
- Genre: Action RPG
- Players: 1-2
- Multiplayer: Offline co-op (2 players)
- Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
- Developer: Wizarbox
- Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
- Price: $14.99 (PC, PSN0, 1200 Microsoft Points (XBLA)
- Reviewed On: PC
It’s been some time since I last delved into an action RPG of this nature. Dungeon crawlers, Diablo hack and slash style games or whatever you refer to them as these days. With that in mind I find it rather cruel that the universe decided to punish me for taking tentative steps back into this realm after such a long absence, and Realms of Ancient War was exactly that punishment. In the middle of all the fun a holiday can be, this dungeon crawler was adamant to show me that I merely adopted boredom, it was born in it, molded by it. Alright, that was seriously lame. I know, calm down readers, now’s not the time for bastardising cool quotes, that comes later. Alright, I’ll stop ripping off Bane. Let’s turn our attention back to Realms of Ancient War, and why it’s a bad way to spend your time and money.
The game starts off by giving you a choice between three characters, a Warrior, Rogue and Mage, and that’s already when my eyebrow started raising. There’s no customisation to speak of, and the characters are preset. I let that one slide, because maybe there’s a story to tell, right? Well, after the intro cutscene, which explains that humans, dwarves, and elves once lived in peace before some evil purged them all into darkness, and everything is now looking hopeless, you’re pretty much put into the game and the story fades from existence. You’ll also realise that past the odd cutscenes, there’s no voice acting at all, and you’re just going to be reading on-screen text. Alright, so you’ve got no character creation to speak of, and a world that is now harder to get immersed into. What’s next? Well, you can play co-op, but there’s no online functionality, so it’s strictly offline. On top of that, co-op is limited to two players, so you can’t have a party consisting of all three characters. Maybe because then the game would be too easy? Unlikely, it already is. But this is sadly where bad design just begins.
You’ll quickly notice that there’s no world map or minimap, and environments are small and congested with no means of exploration. You’ll try to get your bearings and just go where the game wants you to so you can kill armies of weak creatures and do your objectives. The game feels very mechanical and linear from the start already, because while levels look nice visually and are differentiated, there are no alternate paths or interesting things to discover. There’s zero camera control as well, so you can’t zoom in to get a close up of the action or rotate the screen to get a better view. And this is basically how the game goes. With each step of the way, you’ll encounter more things that expose its shallowness or ill design. Like its skill system for example, as that’s most likely what you’ll check first. Well, there are no stats to configure or character perks or traits to customise. There are only skill points to put into your abilities when you level up. Before you get excited, there are no skill trees either, and each skill in the pool simply has three levels to upgrade, until you get to level ten and beyond and unlock the second and third sets of skills. Simplicity isn’t the issue, it’s just a lack of variety and limitations in play styles.
The game’s combat system is extremely basic, consisting of just a few buttons. Left click and right click for primary and secondary attacks, and numbers for other skills and potions. That’s about it. The rest is just getting rid of armies of weak enemies who can only really kill you if you get completely surrounded, and finding lots of loot. Animations are choppy, and things just stay the same. It’s painfully repetitive, slow and gameplay gets bland and boring really fast. This is largely because, as I already mentioned, the shallow mechanics and complete lack of variety and customisation just give you so little ways to differentiate your play style. You’ll simply click till things until they die, and the most you can do to avoid damage or mix up your game is either just retreat, run in circles, or aggro a whole lot of enemies before using an area of effect spell. Riveting stuff, wouldn’t you say? There’s no dodging, counter attacking, combat rolls, combos or any technical depth at all. The three characters have some nice skills that can be enjoyable to use, but my game and the way I played it felt entirely the same with all three of them.
Taking a step back to the skills system, descriptions offer the most vague and redundant explanations you can imagine. Most skills tell you that the first level is at a lesser rate, the second level is moderate and the third is at a greater rate. There’s no basic statistical detail given, which is what most players would expect. To explain, the Mage gets a passive mana ability that reduces the amount consumed per spell, and an active healing skill, but the first doesn’t tell you the percentage reduction in mana consumed and the latter doesn’t tell you how much health is recovered. In this context, you won’t know whether either is worth getting or if potions will get you by just fine, and as such you can just focus on your attacking spells. The overall result is that you’ll only know if skills are effective at all if you actually get them first and try them. What all of this really means is that character building doesn’t exist, and skills require no thought. Furthermore, acquiring experience itself is one of the most bizarre things I’ve seen. If I didn’t know better I’d swear that it’s almost predetermined when you’ll level up, because new areas seem to give you a ton of XP in the beginning but quickly turn to giving you very little at all. You’ll either get a lot, enough to level up, or almost nothing, and it makes next to no sense in practice.
Speaking of making little sense, we get to the game’s death and checkpoint systems. You get standard checkpoints in each stage that you activate by running over them, which is fine, but then there is a strange “lives” system in the form of how many soulstones you have, of which you can carry a maximum of nine. These you’ll find from fallen enemies and around the place, but basically if you die, you lose a soulstone, and it’s game over if you lose all, which forces you to restart the stage. This makes absolutely no sense, because in addition to the game just being so easy you don’t even need as much lives as a cat, the co-op mode renders this system null and void in any case since you can revive your fallen buddy if you survive for five seconds. So it’s only really if you’re playing alone that soulstones feature, and this makes it seem like the game is penalising you for playing it solo. But even though it’s silly, I guess the game being so easy means that it doesn’t really matter much. I mean, the only times I actually died was either during the odd occasion when I was too lazy to press the button for a health potion, or when I accidentally got surrounded by twenty enemies and poked to death in a few seconds.
Another of the game’s core failings is in its mission structure. Nearly all quests you do are just, well, boring. Most of them really feel like chores, as they’re either just dull fetch or kill quests. Collect two keys to open this door, or go to this area ten meters away to kill some miniboss and his minions. What’s funny about this is that I remember in the second level already that in order to open this gate I needed the help of this big Dwarf guy who gave me a kill quest mission. But I mean, I was slaughtering the little midgets everywhere, even right in front of his eyes, so who knows why he’d want to help out. This is just a small example of how little engagement there is with the story or the world, and there’s essentially nothing to draw you into it or interest you. Perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise that the game doesn’t feature voice acting, because a lot of the dialogue is laughable, and not in the good way at all.
Here I’m going to talk about a gameplay feature so pointless and arbitrary in context that I entirely forgot to mention it until now. That’s because the only time I ever used it was during its tutorial. In the early part of the game you get a possession ability that lets you take over certain enemies and play as them for a short duration of time. The tutorial for it makes it seem like a valuable game mechanic, but I mean, there’s nothing to do with it at all. You’re usually far stronger than the enemies you possess, and it’s not like the opportunity to even do it comes around often. It’s really just there to, I don’t know, make it seem like there’s variety or depth? Because it seemed like a totally rad idea until it was realised that it does nothing useful and by then it was already in the game so it was just kind of left in? Who knows.
The one not-so-bad thing that I can say about Realms of Ancient War is that it kept me playing it a fair bit. But that’s not really a compliment, because all it is really is a little addictive for a while. However, there came a point a while in where I asked myself why exactly I was still playing. Or what I was actually addicted to. And, to say exactly what you’re most likely thinking right now, I realised I didn’t know. I was drowning time by playing this, but I wasn’t doing anything I particularly enjoyed or felt was worth the effort. Making something that is just addictive and barely anything else isn’t worthy of any prizes, and that’s especially the case when the effect of it and the drive to go on dies a little too quickly.
At least visually the game looks quite nice, and environments are well detailed and differentiated pleasingly by design. The scenery is enjoyable to look at, and the magic spells and abilities do look quite cool. It can also be satisfying to take a look at a battlefield after you’ve cleared it, because enemy corpses remain. One thing that can be disappointing though is that equipment doesn’t drastically change how your character looks apart from colour and slight armour tweaks, so you don’t really alter your appearance much over the course of the game. Lastly, the audio is a bit mixed because some tracks, such as the main menu theme, can be good to listen to but others in-game can be quite dull. On the plus side, the sound-effects in-game, especially for magic spells, are mostly decent.
Realms Of Ancient War is essentially a time sink and just about nothing else. You can kill some time here, but none of it feels worth it. It’s boring, repetitive, lifeless and barely any fun to play. It comes down to the fact that for around the same price you can do so much better, so don’t buy this game.