Hack ‘n Slash games aren't renowned for their in-depth stories, and RAW isn't about to change that. The continent is a land divided into four cardinal realms where humans, elves and dwarves used to live in peace. Then came chaos, plunging the continent into a long and bloody war. Eventually the Northern King summoned the kings of the south, east and west together to work out a truce. Soon afterwards the three kings returned to their lands haggard and incapable of speech, while the Northern King was never seen again. Somehow this fostered a tentative peace, but as the ten-year anniversary of the 'Summoning of the Kings' approaches, a new unknown threat looms over the continent. It's up to you to figure out what's going on and rid the continent of chaos forever.
When you first start the game you get the choice to play as a warrior, rogue or wizard. The rogue is a deft hand with a bow or knives, and can also use stealth to her advantage. The wizard has powerful magic but is fragile in melee combat. The warrior is a beast in melee range, but doesn't have much in the way of ranged skills. There aren't any customizable options – you don't even get to name character – so once you've made your choice the action gets under way.
There are twenty-one skills available for each character, though many of them are common for all three character types, such as the healing spell and passive skills such as mana preservation and persuasion, which reduces the cost of items at shops. You'll have to be choosy about which skills to invest in, because you won't get the chance to max them all by the end of the game. Luckily you can find or buy a book of amnesia that lets you reset your skills, so you can chop and change if you're so inclined.
Another interesting decision is the total lack of an in-game map. It's a surprising omission, and one that you'll notice keenly. There is a compass you can bring up by pushing L3, and this will point you in the direction of the current quest objective. However the compass points in a straight line to the target, so if you follow it blindly you're going to run into dead ends.
The rest of the control scheme is well-handled, with your first four skills mapped to the face buttons. You can map another four skills to the face buttons, and flick between the two skill sets with the right-analog stick. L2 and R2 will instantly use mana and life potions respectively, which is a blessing seeing as you'll be using them often. R1 picks up loot and interacts with objects and people.
There is multiplayer in RAW, but it is local only, not online. A second player can join in at any stage and they'll immediately jump to the same level as the other character. There's no doubt RAW is more enjoyable with a friend and it allows you to employ low-level tactics such as sending the warrior in to deal with enemies at close quarters, while leaving your wizard or rogue to pepper them with ranged attacks. There is no split-screen play, so you'll both have to stay on the same screen at all times.
Most of the issues I have with RAW have already been addressed. The fact that you can't block, dodge, strafe of roll really limits the gameplay to button-bashing, with a healthy dose of running away. There's nothing especially wrong with button-bashing, but there's no doubt that it gets repetitive faster than games with a bit more depth in combat.
Visually RAW is just ok, with the action taking place from a big enough distance away that you can't make out much detail on your own character, or the enemies you're fighting. On the plus side many of the levels are large, and there's no sign of technical issues such as screen-tear or slowdown. The developers could have done a better job making it clear where the boundaries are though, as often there will be a ramp or stairwell that it looks like you should be able to walk up, only for your character to hit an invisible wall. This is another situation where a map would help.
The sound is, unfortunately, sparse. There is very little music throughout the game and its absence hurts the ambience. The sound effects are quite limited as well – you'll hear your character grunt with exertion every time he or she uses a weapon, but you won't hear any impact sounds when you're hitting enemies. This means there's an awful lot of grunting and the occasional twang of a bow, or clashing of blades. It's not inspired stuff by any means, and it screams ‘limited budget'.
Overall Realms of Ancient War is an ok Hack ‘n Slash game, but nothing more. Combat is limited to button bashing, and the lack of depth hurts the replay value. The visuals and sound are bland and sparse in equal measure, but it has to be said they do the job for the most part. Hack ‘n Slash fans will find some enjoyment here but it's likely to wear off quickly. For everyone else it might be best to look elsewhere for your action RPG fix.
Review By: Mike Allison