Hot on the heels of Diablo III and Torchlight II comes another action RPG in the form of R.A.W. or Realms of Ancient Warfare from Wizarbox and published by Focus Home Interactive. I vastly prefer the full game title, but for the sake of brevity I’ll refer to it by its acronym, RAW. RAW tries to check all the right boxes to make it a masterful action RPG, but ends up a middling unremarkable genre entry. At least it has nothing to do with wrestling.
The story of RAW is on the simple side but works well given the length and scope of the game. Ten years ago, the four kings of the realm were entrenched in warfare. They came together for the “Summoning of the Kings,” which succeeded in establishing a fragile peace, but also resulted in the Kings returning to their lands as little more than husks. Now, the land is on the verge of war again as hordes of the Nothingness are pouring into the kingdoms. Your journey begins as you set out to unite the four kingdoms against this new threat.
Once you choose your character from the myriad options of Warrior, Rogue and Wizard, you start to snake your way through the four lands to reach the entry portals of the Nothingness. The kingdoms of men, dwarves and elves that you will traverse (without any map to guide you, I might add) have a too-familiar vibe, one that permeates the majority of this game. Each section is rather clearly designated as desert, forest, cave, jungle, etc. with little variability within each one. This unidimensionality is also mirrored in the enemies you face. Hordes of spiders, skeletons, bandits, serpents and the like assault your character at every step of the way. There is nothing interesting about the enemy encounters. Enemy types stick together and attack in groups ranging in size from five to thirty or so. Once you clear them out, you take a few steps forward and repeat. As a wizard, I spent the entire game spamming my first magic attack, throwing roughly a million fireballs throughout the game. I am aware that not much actual adventuring or variety is expected of a game of this type, but RAW pushes the boundary of what level of repetition is acceptable. The most appropriate word for the slog is “tedious.”
Sadly, there is little else of interest in playing through RAW. This game focuses heavily on the action and leaves everything else by the wayside. There are no puzzles at all. Most levels consist of trying to find the exit only to be told that you need to defeat one to three monsters to prove your worth and move to the next section. Since most of the story is divulged through text boxes, there is little incentive to pay attention while you are hammering on X to machine gun fireballs at the next monster horde. There is also a weird logical void in this game where a village may be overrun with reanimated skeletons and killer spiders, but the villagers are attacking me just for trespassing? Other times, a leader might watch me slaughter dozens of his men, but do nothing to intervene until I am done and go talk to him. At times, it just feels weird.
The tedium is exacerbated by the fact that the game is too easy on normal difficulty. Both your health and magic meters refill constantly and recovery speeds up once you go untouched for a few moments. If you don’t have time to wait, there is quick access to magic and health refill potions on your left and right triggers, respectively, so you are never more than a quarter second from full health. This shouldn’t sneak up on you too often either, since there are audio clues and flashing lights when your meters are near empty. If you can’t wait for the slow refill and happen to miss the potion spike allowing your health to fall to zero, it’s no problem. You also have soulstones that resurrect you right away without losing any of the progress you’ve made or damage you’ve dealt. With ample potions and soulstones as backup to a health bar that refills on its own, there’s little chance of facing real death.
On the upside, the game outside of the gameplay is mostly done right in RAW. It is very easy to assess the loot you have acquired to determine if you should equip it or sell it. There are well over a dozen stats for your character and highlighting an item immediately indicates whether equipping it will increase or decrease the stats it will affect, and by how much. This would be a deal breaker if it was not implemented well, but thankfully, I really couldn’t ask for a more clear or concise way to compare loot. It is also rather satisfying to level up, awarding you skill points that function as you would expect and can be assigned to open skills on the tree. The number of skills is rather small, and none of them were remotely as useful as the fireball you start with, but what is there is serviceable.
Visually, RAW underwhelms. The majority of the game looks alright, but when the environment is brought near the camera for any reason, the mediocre textures are made apparent. The enemy models are repeated far too often, and nothing exciting ever really happens in the levels; you are either fighting hordes of enemies, or a boss, or both. That’s all there is. The environment does change up a bit more than in some other dungeon crawlers, and occasionally impresses with its density, which is welcome, but not enough to stave off the monotony that sets in while playing. Like the level layout, the lighting, effects, and art design occasionally impress and surpass the level of average where the game mostly resides. The character models are step below the rest of the game though, and never really look any better than hi res PS2 models. My wizard boasted little detail and little visual change as I upgraded my way through the game. The stiff strut and overstarched robes were constant companions. The most comically bad visual trick comes in the form of effect layers. Scorpions in the desert or leaves in the forest consist of flat monocolored images that just slowly expand across the screen. It looks awful.
I also encountered more than a few issues with the performance of the game. From moment one, I had problems. Downloading the game froze my 360. Once getting the game running, the first three to four sessions disconnected me from Xbox Live every time I loaded or started a game, but this issue magically resolved itself, and I haven’t been kicked since. In game, the performance was fine until I reached the elf land where the game seemed to stutter constantly and froze on me two different times requiring hard resets. Most of the game was problem free, but there were far more problems than acceptable given the amount of time I spent with the game.
Most of this review has been negative, but the core game is fairly decent. RAW is a competent game that is serviceable in most areas, but is dragged down in others. The biggest issue is that it can never overcome the tedious repetitive gameplay. In a post-Diablo, post-Torchlight landscape, RAW merely exists. It can scratch that itch and provide a quick dose of loot grabbing, and it does so on consoles, but the simple nature of the game holds it back from ever really being exciting. With a been-there, done-that aesthetic and a middling run time, it’s hard to recommend this game at the full $15 price. If you have a co-op partner or can find it on sale, it’s probably still worth a run through.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.