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I am a huge fan of any form of role-playing game and after getting the chance to review this title I had a thought. Diablo has held the crown as the ‘best’ action role-playing game since its first release in late 1996, with its third game becoming the fastest selling PC game of all time, only to be emulated in such titles as the Torchlight series. Well we now have a decent offering on the Xbox 360. Let’s explore whether the console port can hold its own against the big boys.
The tale starts with the choice of three standard character options – the warrior, wizard, or rogue. They each cater for every style of gameplay. I played around with all three choices however and in the end I chose the wizard for my main character. With a few clicks from the controller I started my game. Each character has their own skill set to learn and upgrade as you gain levels. Skills are partitioned into tiers with tier 2 unlocking at level 10 and tier 3 unlocking at level 20. The main problem I found is that you need to assign the active skills to a button and since there are only four buttons that allow you to assign skills, you have to set-up two different skill sets dependent on your class, for example, fire for the wizard and slash for the warrior. The right analog stick can swap between different moves or skills while slashing through the enemies' advances. It does feel a little inconvenient to change between these in combat and can become quite a pain when in the thick of the action.
One reason hack-and-slash games don’t stray onto consoles is the task of porting the keyboard commands and controls. On a PC, the genre relies on a left-and-right-click-button-bash-frenzy mechanic and gameplay heavily utilizes hotkeys and shortcuts from a keyboard. With that in mind, the control format for R.A.W. is really easy to pick up and I did find the gameplay controls (minus the analogue skill swapping) a really comfortable system where movement, spell-casting and targeting enemies are all seamless and feel really fluid. Sword swings and spells cast are performed by using the standard 4 buttons on the controller. To interact with the environment or an NPC, the RB button is used. Simply put, they have done a great job porting the controller configuration over to console.
I found the visuals actually really stunning in places. Definitely on par with the likes of Diablo and Torchlight where the landscapes really make are like you are part of a genuine fantasy world. It has a very Lord of the Rings like vibe. The theme here is quite dark and the lighting has a great mood to it where shadows dance around and fires gleam around the characters as you hack your way about. Though the graphics stand out as a major strength to the game the general surroundings have many things that look like you should be able to interact with, like ladders, doors and stairs. None of these are able to be interacted with and this sets apart games like Diablo where the click of a door or the breaking of a wall could unfold a whole new area to explore and unlock different mobs or rare loot. The added touch of small details like this really shows a game's depth and the depth here is quite basic. Also the gameplay does have some very annoying frame-per-second drops and small freezes where the character is left for a second holding a pose while casting mid spell. These instances were rare though did happen enough that it was noticeable.
The meat of any fantasy action-RPG is the loot system and this happened to be one of the biggest setbacks in Realms of Ancient War. Loot has literally no variety with items, an item with the same identical name also has vastly different properties. There are only about four sets of Legendary or Epic armor and, once obtained, there is little reason to switch away from them until you find the next set at a merchant, though affording something shouldn’t be a problem as after a few hours you will have plenty of gold to spend after selling all of your unwanted vendor trash-loot and picking up an abundance of gold as the character progresses through the game. Another gripe is the lack of ability to compare two different items at once, which means you must scan both items stats individually to find if one is indeed more powerful. Having both items next to each other would be such an easy step to implement and would save a lot of inconvenience in flicking between both stat pages.
Another major drawback to R.A.W. is the lack of enemy variety and information. It kind of reminds me of the popular 90's Streets of Rage series in the fact you see the same enemies again and again, and the only enemies with names and visible health bars are the important bosses or mini-bosses. Every other enemy has a very small amount of variation between them. What makes this frustrating is that it makes planning your assaults nearly impossible as, without any visible level or health information, you never know if you're walking into a mob that will destroy you in two hits because it needs to be kited around the map. The lack of information often leads to direct attacks that result in being killed. This is rather annoying and, again, shows that these small detailed edges show that the game is inferior to its genre brethren.
Overall I found that R.A.W quite a fun experience. Aside from the rare UI flaws, and frankly an awful co-op mode, the game does offer some great visuals and some solid gameplay that will keep you entertained for a good 10-12 hours. I don't think it will ever live up to the reputation of other similar titles like Diablo, but for a console port it does just enough to make you feel at home in the Fantasy RPG action genre. With a few genre specific implementations such as a suitable online co-op, more enemy variety and intractable objects in-game (which could be added with a software update or patch) then this title could really hold its own against others in the genre. Hopefully the developers take note of the feedback and implement these changes, then we could have a great title on our hands. The game doesn’t justify its $15 or 1200 MS points value and would be better priced at $7 - $10 but again if they included the aforementioned changes, it would be completely worth its current price. Don't expect R.A.W. to replace your Diablos or your Torchlights, but R.A.W does just enough to keep hopes high that the console can offer a game in the genre that is as good and successful as the other infamous titles.