04
Apr
unnamed

Expansive role playing games are usually the realm of PCs and consoles. Experience systems, loot, quests, massive 3D worlds, and magic are too much for a puny phone or tablet to handle, right? Well, maybe not. Crescent Moon Games was somewhat successful bringing that experience to mobile devices with last year's Aralon: Sword and Shadow. Now the developer has gone back to the land of Tyreas in Ravensword: Shadowland. Is this your next RPG adventure?

Story And Gameplay

You play the part of a mysterious adventurer that miraculously survives an apocalyptic battle. It is not until you begin searching for an explanation that you discover you are part of an ancient and noble bloodline, and the beast that destroyed your comrades still lives. Only with the Ravensword can you defeat the demon, so off on a quest you go.

It all sounds very dramatic and exciting, and it is... at times. The story has all the makings of something great, but the way it is told left me cold for the most part. It's a straightforward adventure tale as you search out the three Ravenstones that point the way to the sword. I don't think the story is bad, but it definitely misses opportunities to increase tension and get the player immersed.

2013-03-24 23.13.04 2013-03-27 23.28.55 2013-03-27 23.38.21

2013-04-02 23.04.22

In addition to the main quest, you'll come across folks all over Tyreas that have problems for you to solve. Ravensword is like a real RPG in that respect. All your quests pile up in your menu for you to peruse at your leisure. However, there don't appear to be any quest markers on the map. I'm a little flabbergasted by this omission. The game isn't massive, but it's certainly big enough that I was occasionally confused about where I needed to go. The quest log offers some clues, but it's not always clear.

You can get gear to outfit your hero from fallen enemies, shops, and treasure chests. There is a strong assortment of swords, axes, bows, and clubs in the weapons category. Suits of armor and shields are also floating around. I like that you can choose how to play the game. Do you want to be light and agile so as to rely on bows? Or maybe heavily armored melee combat is your bag? The experience system ties into this by letting you shape your character to better suit your play style. You even get a robust face editor when the game begins.

2013-03-24 22.51.03 2013-03-24 22.55.24

As for controls, things are okay. Ravensword works pretty much like you'd expect. There is a virtual thumbstick on the left for walking and strafing. The right of the screen detects swiping for aiming. There are also buttons for attack/guard, jump, and magic. A 4-item dock at the bottom of the screen houses your magic runes. Only one can be active at a time, and is triggered by the magic button. Magic energy regenerates over time, but you can increase your mana through upgrades if you want to play a magic-focused character.

The controls get the job done, but even with the sensitivity turned up I feel like turning around is too slow. The attack/block button behaves oddly as well. Some single-presses are detected as long-presses (which blocks instead of attacks). In fact, some of the slower weapons are downright tedious to use because of this.

Graphics And Sound

Ravensword is an ambitious undertaking. This is a large world to quest around in, and there are a ton of legitimate RPG elements from full-scale games. Most of it looks good, but not great. This is not Skyrim shrunken down for your phone or tablet. I saw a few instances of lag in particularly busy areas with the Nexus 7. Other than that, all the unit animations are smooth, if a bit mechanical.

Texture resolution is excellent for some objects, and not so much for others. For example, walls and stonework look very crisp, whereas many types of ground material are blurry and pixelated. I am, however, impressed with the low degree of aliasing. It would have been easy to save processing cycles by leaving some jaggies, but most of the edges in Ravensword are fairly smooth.

2013-04-03 18.34.38 2013-04-03 18.28.52

2013-04-02 23.07.40 2013-04-02 22.58.18 2013-04-02 23.11.56

At the end of the day, this does still look like a mobile game. You need only observe the landscape drawing in the distance to be reminded of that. It's a valiant effort, and this title is prettier than I expected, but it could be better. Strangely, there is no day/night cycle as there was in Aralon. I feel like that would have added some polish.

As for sound, I have to give the developers high marks for ambiance. You'll encounter the sounds of nature, random music, people talking, and other meat environmental details while playing. The voice acting is passable, but no one is winning any Oscars here.

Conclusion

Ravensword attempts to take a big idea and make it work on a small device. It is not unsuccessful in this endeavor, but I don't know that I'd call it a success either. The gameplay is acceptable, and there are plenty of upgrades and loot. However, the controls are a bit clunky and the story is only vaguely interesting. Ravensword is good overall in the visual department, though.

2013-04-02 00.37.02 2013-04-02 00.25.52

As for the price, it's a $6.99 game. That's at the high end of app pricing, but I do think it could be worth it for avid RPG players. If you want that kind of experience, you'll put up with a few foibles. There are in-app purchases in Ravensword to increase your gold reserves. It is definitely not pushed on you, and the difficulty level is adjustable. Just be aware you could be tempted to sink even more money into Ravensword: Shadowlands if you buy it.

Ryan Whitwam
Ryan is a tech/science writer, skeptic, lover of all things electronic, and Android fan. In his spare time he reads golden-age sci-fi and sleeps, but rarely at the same time. His wife tolerates him as few would.

He's the author of a sci-fi novel called The Crooked City, which is available on Amazon and Google Play. http://goo.gl/WQIXBM

  • https://plus.google.com/109766515409503371323/about -benjy

    Why didn't Eric get to review his own game?

  • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

    I'm going to totally hijack the comments on this post for saying it, but this kind of game is exactly why I don't think products like Ouya or GameStick will succeed.

    Look at this game - for a mobile title, the amount of polish is impressive. This is very near or at the level at which one would call a smartphone / tablet game "AAA." The visuals are of a high quality (generally), the game is pretty original (as original as a 3rd person sort-of-medieval open world RPG can get), and the amount of content seems perfectly reasonable given the price and scope of the game. This really is about as good as it gets for a "serious" open world RPG on Android.

    I would never, ever want to play this on my television. I wouldn't even want to play it on my computer monitor. The demands of the game's open world rendering mean major sacrifices on terrain and foliage textures, and the limited power of mobile GPU's also heavily limit the amount of active character models you can render at any one time. Everyone loves to talk about 'console-quality' graphics being just on the horizon for mobile, but that's just not true. You can be tricked into seeing something that is approaching original Xbox / Gamecube / PS2 levels, but you are being tricked: it's only because you're inside a dark room with a few bad guys, no shadows (or very simple ones), no dynamic lighting, lame physics, and dead-simple wall textures that it looks at all "good."

    This game (Ravensword) doesn't hide the capability of mobile GPUs. Sure, some things look pretty OK, but a lot of the environmental stuff (eg, the walls, trees, ground) could pass for Nintendo 64 textures.

    The alternative is the Infinity Blade approach - 1 enemy, small, controlled environment. Yes, everything looks pretty, but it's only because the GPU is focusing on rendering a few complex elements, as opposed to 50. And who wants to play something like Infinity Blade on their TV? Not me - it's much more convenient to sit back with a tablet. Fact aside that games like this were designed from the ground up for touch, and its inherent imprecision. Playing most mobile games with a gamepad kind of sucks - you expect a lot more control, precision, and customization than you actually get.

    The sad (but also good!) truth is that many games can be simplified such as to be enjoyable and playable on a smartphone or tablet. A tablet is more portable than an Ouya or a Gamestick will ever be, and it's a lot more versatile, ubiquitous, and easy to use. These companies are trying to 'reinvent' the game console on the notion that consumers can be convinced that many of the reasons they play mobile games (convenience, ease of access, portability) should be sacrificed in order to use a controller and a television.

    I don't need a controller and a 60" screen to play the DS port of Final Fantasy III - and I don't want those things. I prefer it on my tablet. It's more laid back. It's more convenient. Yes, 15 years ago, you might have wanted to play a game like that on a TV - but if someone gave you the option to play it on a 7" screen using a touchscreen for controls on a device with always-on internet and no cartridges or CDs, guess what: that would sound god damn amazing.

    This game just adds to my point: you can make good mobile games meant for mobile devices. This one needs a bit of work, apparently, but it doesn't change the fact that the TV and controller really aren't what people want. People want good games, and developers are adapting to the medium they want them on.

    • http://twitter.com/misterE33 Mr E

      yikes, man, that was almost as long as the review! I agree though -- some things just work better on a phone/tablet, and if you're on a PC, why not play Skyrim. I've often wanted a portable version of desktop/console games, but also knowing that a direct port of something like Skyrim just isn't feasible, so I'm excited about this one.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ShitizGarg Shitiz Garg

      I agree with you completely. The only reason I'm remotely interested in Ouya is because it has the potential to make a great XBMC box or a Linux box or both.

    • Matthew Smith

      I have preordered an Ouya and can't wait to get it. It will be the 2nd console system I own next to my NES top loader. I fully expect that it will be the most powerful gaming console in my possession. Furthermore the primary user of this system will be my 3 year old son. I would much rather spend $100 on a console and pennies on the dollar for the games compared to other consoles. And as a casual gamer at best, I honestly don’t care much about textures or open environments. I think that there are enough people like me to justify a market for this device… well one of them anyway. Maybe not both.

    • marcusmaximus04

      Of course you're ignoring one (extremely) important difference between this and any game made for, say, the Ouya. This has to be made to work on a plethora of devices, of varying processing capabilities, meaning that the developer has to target the lowest common denominator. For the Ouya devs target a single device, allowing them to push it to its absolute limit and taking advantage of hardware-specific features(like, say, DXT texture compression).

      I think you're also overestimating the capabilities of the Gamecube/PS2/Xbox. For a comparison, here's Morrowind for the xbox:

      http://images.bit-tech.net/content_images/2005/11/elder_scrolls_4_int/morrowind_xbox.jpg

      and here's Ravensword:

      http://cdn.androidpolice.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/nexusae0_2013-04-02-00.37.02.png

      It's not even remotely close. The XBox's Morrowind has inferior effects, textures, and models across the board. In addition, the XBox ran Morrowind at 480p. The device running Ravensword is clearly a Galaxy Nexus/Nexus 4/Nexus 7/Nexus 10, meaning it's running at at least 720p.

      • GraveUypo

        it's true that mobile devices already surpassed that gen of consoles, but using morrowind to showcase it is stretching it. morrowind was pretty ugly even for the xbox.

        a better comparison would be forza 1 vs real racing 3.

        http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-LmwrmcUhChc/UFujlCByCOI/AAAAAAAAW00/xmY8rkb5YFo/s1600/213.jpg

        http://www.androidshock.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Real-Racing-3-13.jpg

        i have played them both side by side to compare and overall real racing 3 looks better (higher res being a huge factor), even though the environment on forza 1 is still more detailed.

        ps: forza 1 is the better game by a gap as wide as the ocean.

        • QuanahHarjo

          Using racing games as an example is pretty similarly a cheat. For some reason, racing games have always ended up being some of the best looking games on any console...I think that it's mostly because of the relative control that devs have over the viewpoint. It allows them to use a bag of tricks to make distant objects look pretty enough, then pile polygons into the car models, then hide ugliness with motion blur. Even the racing games on the PS1 looked tons better than any other games on the system.

      • primalxconvoy

        Actually, if the controls are better, I'd rather like to play this on ouya.

    • primalxconvoy

      "... but it doesn't change the fact that the TV and controller really aren't what people want. People want good games..."

      I disagree. People want good games and want to play those games in the home and/or on mobile devices. Certain games play well via touch screens, while others do not and require physical controls, such as a joypad or equivalent.

      • mark burley

        I love point and click adventures chess scrabble and the like on mobile but with touch controls arcade games suck even on my n5 I think there's a place for the android console no question plus the media hub capabilities these systems bring to the table are great.

    • melody

      +1 David, pretty spot on.

      AAA polished quality game on mobile & tablet is quite rare. But if developer really put its mind, it can be done.

      --

      On the other hand, mobile games should not need external gamepad controller for full enjoyment.
      It's the game that should adapt to hardware, not the other way around.

      If a game for touchscreen requires gamepad controller, that means game wasn't designed with touchscreen in mind (except for emulators).
      Which means, game is poorly designed.

      Take a look at recent Dragon Ball Tap Battle. It's similar with old 2D dbz fighting games but with touch-based input. No onscreen gamepad at all.
      On neat feature is double tap on empty spot will perform Instant Teleportation to that spot. It's not something you can do with gamepad, for sure.

      That simple example shows how game should adapt & utilize hardware to full potential.
      AAA game usually will utilize hardware it runs on to the fullest. And polish, polish, and polish again.

    • Rob

      You couldn't be more wrong with your comments on graphical quality of the forthcomming generation of phones, I feel you are overestimating the capability of games consoles, the original Xbox is no where near as capable as most high end phones today, it only has a 750 mhz single core cpu, 64mb of ram and DicectX 7. The next generation of chipsets will surpass the current generation of consoles, we're talking 8 year old tech here so it should come as no supprise.
      Now having high quality titles developed for them is a different matter.

      • King_Anonymous

        Define this "next generation of chipsets" because mobile simply surpassing PS3 is not going to happen currently. Maybe by the end of 2015. By the way, PS4 is the new "current gen".

        • Gianpiero Fiorentino

          dude have heard about the new tegra k1 chipset for mobile devices
          it surpasses the ps3 and the xbox 360

          • King_Anonymous

            Yea maybe but there are alot of factors that go into it. Like them big graphics card. Mobile devices don't have a GPU. That's a big setback.

    • mark burley

      I've played ravensword on an xperia z and gave up due to touch controls now playing it on ouya its night and day it looks great and runs great no contest. You can have better chips in phones like the beast in my n5 but they get throttled to death by thermal issues. I went the slimport MOGA pro route but it just didn't work dropout and slowdown due to throttling made GTA los Andreas unplayable and by the way my ouya paired with my MOGA pro power in hid mode but latency is a major issue there unlike with the ouya pad. I can't understand why ouya has drawn so much hate but I am a late adopter so many issues may have been resolved the pad and ui seem fine to me it won't stop me buying a ps4 this year but cmon folks the ouya costs a quarter of that units price!

    • Felix

      Games on android obviously can get to the ps2 level of graphics. We already have GTA III, Vice City, and San Andreas on Android. These are PS2 games and pretty crowded ones at that.

  • http://twitter.com/misterE33 Mr E

    Thanks for the review. I've been really interested in this game, but it's hard to buy on a whim given the cost. I'm an Elder Scrolls fan, and would love a portable version. FWIW, a lot of Skyrim fans bemoan the reliance on quest markers, so I guess you can't please everyone.

    • RyanWhitwam

      Those people have too much time on their hands.

  • Rudolf XVIII

    Ok, but I like Amber Route, Duel of Fate and Order and Chaos :P

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Richard-Markert/100001113752823 Richard Markert

    If this supports the MOGA, I'll probably buy it tomorrow.

  • DetroitTech

    There is a REASON GTA5 made a billion dollars and Ravensword made ?... Because people want good games that are immersive. You will never get immersed on a 7 inch screen. Never. So the the people who think consoles are going away can go away themselves and obviously aren't real gamers. Yes Ravensword is a cool concept to have on your phone but if I'm serious about getting immersed in a video games I'm going to do it for real.

    • Alex

      That's absolutely false. Using your example of GTA. San Andreas on a tablet is just as immersive as it is on TV. It is depth and effort put into the creation of a game that makes it immersive, not screen size. The problem is that no-one is willing to put that much effort into mobile games because developers know that people won't pay more than $10-$15 max. So far the only good games that I've played on mobile were ports of PC/Console games or through emulators.