Realms of Ancient War Review

By Jonathan Barnes,
One area where PC gaming seems to always outpace consoles is in the land of the hack-and-slash dungeon crawler. The most iconic example is Blizzard’s Diablo series, which has lured gamers in for over a decade with its addictive quest for loot. The latest game to attempt to fill this gap in console gaming is WizarBox’s Realms of Ancient War Achievements.

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With the option of playing as the genre’s three iconic archetypes (Rogue, Wizard, and Warrior), R.A.W. issues the tried and true challenge of uniting a kingdom and expelling an ancient evil from the land. Unfortunately, WizarBox doesn’t really do much to add to the story and gamers should expect to see every plot revelation coming from a mile away. The side quest structure is nice, but paper-thin on anything coming close to substantive narrative, and you'll often find yourself massacring hordes of enemies to reach their leader to whom you'll need to speak (but not before he makes you kill more fodder). On the flip side, each class has a unique prologue/opening chapter that allows the player to get used to using their primary skill set.

One of the reasons that most hack-and-slash games don’t find homes on consoles is the arduous task of controlling them. On a PC, the genre relies on a “click it until it dies” game style and heavily utilizes hotkeys and shortcuts from a keyboard. With that in mind, the control format for R.A.W. is incredibly easy to pick up, but does not lack depth. Powers are mapped to the four face buttons and are fully customizable (a second, auxiliary set of powers can be accessed by swiping the right thumbstick). Potions (Mana and Life) are mapped to the two trigger keys. Loot and action items are activated by the right bumper. Finally, the menu system is also very well organized and is split between three blades: inventory, powers/skills, and quests. With the easy-to-master controls, the game immediately makes you feel powerful and you’ll have no trouble dealing death in a variety of ways. The only drawback to the entire control setup is the lack of an evade or roll mechanic, which would have been most helpful in my Rogue playthrough

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While the control setup may be fantastic, the actual gameplay does have some sticking points. Playing as a Rogue character, I noticed that my distance attacks were, at times, hard to control with my aim often getting stuck in the direction in which I was walking rather than my attempts to re-aim towards an enemy. Even though loot is easily picked up with a simple press of the right bumper, the game doesn’t have any audio cue to let you know that you’ve picked up an item and the visual clue is easily lost in an often-times chaotic screen. The AI also has its fair share of annoying hiccups as enemies will get caught on parts of the scenery and/or have general breakdowns in movement.

The graphics, while very good-looking, also are a bit of a tease as the game is played on a single plane with no verticality. You will see stairs, ramps, ladders, and the like throughout the game, but are unable to use any of them. The biggest faux-pas is the complete and total lack of a map; no world map, no mini-map, no nothing.

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On a technical note, the game also suffers from occasional (and severe) graphic stutters. While I found these instances highly rare, one occurrence almost had me thinking my console was in a hard freeze as it slogged through single frames per second. Adding to technical glitches was the fact that, upon its release yesterday, R.A.W. had the annoying habit of disconnecting you from Xbox LIVE any time you booted it up. Fortunately, the latter matter was fixed by this morning.

The bread and butter of any hack-and-slash game is the loot system. Be that as it may, this happens to be the biggest drawback to R.A.W.. Loot has little-to-no variety and items, while having the same name, can have vastly different properties. There are only about four sets of Legendary/Epic armor and, once you have them, you’ll find little reason to switch away from them until you find the next set at a merchant. The good news is, you shouldn’t have a problem affording anything you want from merchants as, after about an hour or two of play time, you’ll find yourself pretty flush with cash from all of the worthless items you’ve sold back. Further complicating matters is the lack of a mechanic for directly comparing two items. This forces you to look at how each item will effect your overall skills to see if it has any benefit or not.

Another major drawback to R.A.W. is the lack of enemy variety and information. The only enemies with names and visible health bars are the bosses and mini-bosses. Every other enemy will fit into six-to-ten visual types with little-to-no variation between them. What makes this especially frustrating is that it makes planning your assaults nearly impossible as, without any visible level or health information, you’ll have no idea what kind of enemy you’re fighting until either you’re dead or it is.

For all of its technical drawbacks, R.A.W. does deliver a rather weighty experience for an XBLA title. My first playthrough was around 10 hours and, in that time, I managed to get all but one achievement. The only challenge on a completionist front is the Eternal Hero achievement, which tasks you with beating the game with all three classes.

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In the end, WizarBox has managed to deliver an admirable console hack-and-slash with Realms of Ancient War. While the game does suffer some technical flaws and a lack of online co-op (local co-op is available), it does provide a solid experience that can be enjoyed by fans of the genre but, beyond that, is probably worth a pass.
Jonathan Barnes
Written by Jonathan Barnes
Jonathan has been a news/views contributor since 2010. When he's not writing reviews, features, and opinion pieces, he spends his days working as an informal science educator and his nights as an international man of mystery.