Ravensword: Why Birds and Blades Don’t Mix

Chillingo’s Ravensword ($6.99, iTunes link) is being touted as a Morrowind-type experience for the iPhone. That’s a lot to live up to. A full-fledged action RPG on my diminutive Apple portable seems like a dream come true, if it can actually hold a candle to its console counterparts. That’s a big if.

The iPhone faces control issues and what seems like a natural reticence towards developing lengthy, in-depth game experiences on the iPhone. I say natural because most users still game only casually on the device, since that’s what a phone lends itself to. So does Ravensword manage to pull off an in-depth action RPG gaming experience? Read on to find out.

Graphics and Audio

At least superficially, Ravensword looks like the console and PC games from which it so clearly takes its inspiration. By default, you operate your character from a third-person perspective, and you can switch to first-person. That’s a standard borrowed from the Morrowind series, among others.

It’s a little jarring to see some of the visual effects the game has in store. For example, everyone’s eyes are plastered open all the time, and look painted on and terrifying. Every time your character wakes up after having fallen in battle, I have to suppress a little scream.

Ravensword’s soundtrack and effects sound a little pre-packaged and stock, but they don’t really hurt the experience, and you can always flick the silent switch is the soundtrack becomes too repetitive, as it did for me.

Gameplay

If you’ve ever played any kind of RPG before, the game mechanics of Ravensword will be familiar to you. Basically, you run around killing monsters and get experience for doing so. In most cases, the RPG mechanics are a little more structured and complex than that. In most cases. In Ravensword they are not.

As soon as you venture out beyond the city walls, bad guys appear, and you hit them with whatever you happen to be wielding, then they die and you get experience, or you die and wake up in town. If you kill enough critters, you gain a level, and your stats are increased by a pre-determined amount. No level customization, no skill selection, nothing. To make matters worse, you don’t choose a class/race/gender etc., so you’re stuck as a human warrior whether you like it or not.

Nor is combat challenging. The most you can do is switch between your bow and your sword when killing animals and forest creatures. Otherwise, you just hit the attack button like it’s going out of style. Also, you die a lot early on, since the game design is unbalanced.

Plot

It’s a bad sign when the first thing I have to say about a game’s plot design is to question whether or not it actually has one. To be fair, there is a story lurking somewhere in the background, about a kingdom in denial and a king who’s been missing for three years. Presumably, you’re meant to find out exactly what’s up with all of that nonsense at some point, but after spending quite a bit of time killing rats and warthogs, I just wasn’t convinced that finding out would be worth it.

Verdict

I was perhaps too excited to pick up Ravensword, since it seemed to have a lot of promise as an action RPG for the iPhone, but even if you aren’t expecting much, I’d definitely take a pass on this offering from Chillingo. Dungeon Hunter is a much better experience, and if you’re looking for a Morrowind clone, I’d suggest just waiting a few months since I’m sure Gameloft will get to copying it, too, in due course.

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