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Sept. 30, 2012
Realms of Ancient War - PS3 Review
Release Launch Price Publisher Developer Offline Players Online Players
Media HDD Space Resolution Move Controls Tilt Controls OFLC Rating

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Using a lightning attack.
It's been a quiet few months on the new games front, but luckily in the past week a pair of downloadable games have stepped into the release schedule void for us. Dave already reviewed the excellent Anomaly: Warzone Earth, and next up we have Realms of Ancient War (or RAW); a hack n Slash action RPG. As a big action RPG fan I was only too happy to step up and review RAW. The question is, is it any good?

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.

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Battling across the bridge.
There are no standard attacks in the game per se; rather every action a character takes requires a skill that uses up mana. Wielding a knife requires the Dagger Mastery skill, and the same goes for the bow or sword. At first you'll start off with three low-level skills that suit your character. The rogue for example, has bow and dagger mastery as well as a stealth skill that turns her invisible temporarily. Every time you level up you get a skill point to allocate to the skill of your choice. Some skills can be unlocked straight away, others require you to be level ten or twenty, or to have invested in prior skills in the chain.

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.

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Levels, and battles in R.A.W. are pretty big.
There are a number of interesting design choices in RAW, most notably the fact that your character cannot block, dodge or strafe during play. All you can do is attack and run away/around the incoming enemy hordes. This can take some getting used to, particularly if you're the fragile wizard, as the enemies truly do swarm you in RAW, often arriving in bunches of twenty-ish at a time.

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.

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Realms of Ancient War is out on PS3 now.
At certain times during the game you're also able to use L1 to possess an enemy for a short time. Though the instances are rare, it's usually very helpful as some of the bigger enemies in the game can be possessed. After possessing an enemy you can use them to smash any other nearby enemies, or just stand still and let those same enemies whittle down your health. This can be a handy way to dispatch particularly strong enemies throughout the game.

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.

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Wait, are these guys from Lord of the Rings?
A couple of other issues are the fact that the campaign plays out identically for all three characters after a short level unique to each character at the very start. It would have been nice if the levels were played in a different sequence depending on which character you started as, but that's not the case. Dying can be annoying, particularly on the hardest difficulty. There are mid-level checkpoints, and you'll be resurrected there when you die but only if you have a soulstone. Run out of those and it's back to the start of the level with you, and you lose all loot and experience earned as well.

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.

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About to get swarmed by enemies.
There isn't great variety in enemies either, and you'll come across more spiders than you'd like. Even as the wizard none of the skills look very impressive when used, but like the rest of the visuals, they do the job. It may not blow you away, but there's nothing repugnant here either.

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

GRAPHICSYou view the action from quite a distance, so you can't make out a lot of detail. Levels are large though, and the action runs smoothly at all times.
SOUNDNext to no music, and only a few sound effects that you'll hear over and over.
GAMEPLAYThe Hack n Slash gameplay could use a little more depth. As it is you're button-bashing all the way. It's more fun with a friend.
VALUEThere are three different characters to try (though the wizard and rogue are very similar) and each playthrough lasts about nine hours. Will you play more than once?
OVERALLRealms of Ancient War is a bare bones Hack n Slash game that could use more depth, and improved visuals and sound. It's not a write-off by any means, but there's nothing here to make it stand out from the crowd.

Talk about Anomaly: Warzone Earth in this forum topic now.