When I reviewed Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale last year, I was pretty sure hack-and-slash action RPGs couldn’t get any worse. Fortunately, at least for now, I haven’t been proven wrong. Realms of Ancient War, or RAW as it prefers to be styled, is an action RPG. It’s a bit more like Gauntlet than Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance, and perhaps the best thing I can say about it is that it isn’t completely broken. Compared to the catastrophic failure that was D&D: Daggerdale, this game is pretty competently put-together. There are relatively few glitches, the core gameplay is totally functional, and that’s about it.
The basic thrust of the game is the same as in every other hack-and-slash. You pick a class, you get some completely perfunctory plot exposition, and then a big arrow tells you which way to go. You follow that arrow, you pick up loot, and you kill waves of enemies.
All of the essentials are here, but none of them are inspired in any way. The game offers a cooperative mode, and, much like the rest of the game, you can say that it works. The nature of co-op makes the game a bit more enjoyable, but with all of the recent co-op enabled games available, I can’t really see why you’d choose this one over others. The loot itself isn’t particularly exciting, since all you’ll ever do is see which numbers are green (and boy, are there a lot of stats that don’t seem to do anything) and sell everything else– it’s important to note that the game isn’t a lootfest in the vein of Dark Alliance or Torchlight. Your equipment never affects your play style.
Where the game picks up a few bonus points is in the skill system. Each class gets a pretty robust selection, and I have to admit that by the end of the game I was reasonably entertained by the number and breadth of skills my wizard had acccess to. You have a bread-and-butter attack (in the wizard’s case, a fireball), of course, but by the end I was also able to summon an army of soldiers, drop meteor storms, blast foes with chain lightning, spray poison, and more. The other classes have a nice selection as well, but it’s unlikely you’ll be craving a second play-through as another class.
The plot is your typical “there is a bad guy who requires your sword in his guts” arc, but any sort of merit that could’ve been derived from it (and the reasonably well-produced painted cutscenes) is totally leeched away by the inane dialogue. One early exchange involves a character giving you a single line of dialogue and then shouting “ENOUGH TALK! WE MUST MOVE ON!” and then continuing to talk for two or three more lines. You’ll show up unbidden in dwarven and elven lands and slaughter hundreds of them without provocation. But don’t worry, your character will still remind you that “these are friendly settlements” and the merchants (who stand in the middle of rooms full of these hostile enemies) will be more than happy to wordlessly sell you some potions and buy the armor you ripped from their brothers’ mangled corpses. Nothing at all makes sense in any context, but given the “stab stab stab” impetus of the gameplay, it’s hardly relevant.
Graphically, the game actually isn’t half bad. There are occasionally bouts of slowdown, but they’re few and far beyond. There’s a good variety to the environments, and a fair amount of detail to them. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for your enemies, which are largely two-tone copy-pastes of one another that swarm you en masse. Helpfully, the developers have elected to make most of your foes nearly the same color as the backgrounds they inhabit, which oftentimes means you get to be poked to death by skeletons that are, for all intents and purposes, completely invisible. The camera isn’t moveable, so there are a number of points in the game where you will literally be unable to see anything other than your character’s silhouette striking blindly and similarly-outlined foes behind a wall.
The game makes use of quite a few stock sound effects, but for the most part the audio stays out of the way. In terms of music, the game is, at the very least, better than most similar titles in that it actually attempts to have some. None of the tunes are really memorable, but they’re certainly far from bad.
Realms of Ancient Wars is a game. It’s not particularly buggy and it’s far more playable than last year’s Daggerdale debauchery– in fact, you may even enjoy it for a piece of brainless weekend entertainment. But that’s it, completely. It’s a game. There’s nothing memorable about it and you’ll likely finish it and forget about it just as quickly as I have. You might pick it up if you can’t find something else to play, but that seems unlikely given the flood of similar, better releases. Except Daggerdale. Never Daggerdale.