Published on April 5th, 2013 | by Travis Fahs8
Ravensword: Shadowlands Review
When Aralon’s long-overdue Android port arrived less than two months ago ago, I said it was by far the most robust RPG on the platform, despite its dated graphics and rough edges. Now, like stepping through a time machine, we’re offered Ravensword: Shadowlands, Crescent Moon’s latest open-world RPG, and it feels like a giant leap.
Although the comparisons to Aralon are going to be immediately obvious, Shadowlands follows an earlier Ravensword title that hasn’t yet graced Google’s OS. Set some generations later, it tells the story of a soldier who managed to survive an event that wiped out both sides of an entire battlefield. You have to search for answers as to why you survived, but also what kind of force managed to wipe out everyone around you. The story is told through dialog, without much in the way of cut scenes, but it does feature a good deal more voice acting than Crescent Moon’s past games.
Like most players, I haven’t played the original Ravensword, but it’s clear that this series leans more toward the Elder Scrolls formula compared to the more MMO-like combat of Aralon. The action-based combat emphasizes diverse approaches to character development over juggling spells and buffs. You can use stealth, swordsmanship, or ranged attacks, and a balanced character will likely rely on all three at different times. Combat is fast and fun, with a dodge roll and jump ability, but can also be a bit simple, particularly if you rely heavily on melee combat.
Shadowlands makes use of the Unity engine, the same middleware responsible for stunners like Shadowgun and Dead Trigger, and the difference shows immediately. The scale of the locations manages to be especially impressive. While distinct areas are still connected by choke points and loading pauses, some of the areas are genuinely huge, with a view distance that feels like it stretches for a mile. The game’s central city feels like a large, living place too, with lots of people to speak with and quests to find.
As impressive as these large areas are, there basic progression through the game, is still fairly linear. You can travel wherever you like, but since there is no level scaling, powerful enemies will make exploring areas out of order a less than ideal experience. The world is basically set up like a cross, with a large city as a central hub connecting these linear tracts. Despite this, there are many side-quests to find, and lots to explore within the game’s huge areas, even if the overall quest is linear. The main quest won’t take too long, but if you take the time, there’s lots of fun to be had.
The lack of level scaling also means progression isn’t always so smooth. At times, enemies in new areas feel impossibly hard, forcing players to level up, and at other times, it feels ridiculously easy, as you mow down enemies in a single blow. The spoils of battle are also a bit unbalanced, as certain enemies drop valuable items 100% of the time and other much more powerful enemies often leave nothing but experience. This means you’re likely to grind the same spots over and over when you need gold, but luckily, this usually goes very quickly, as good gear isn’t very pricey. Finding those sweet spots to get experience and money really helps to take those sharp corners off the game’s difficulty curve.
Like Aralon, Ravensword: Shadowlands feels smaller in scope and shorter in length than a typical modern RPG, but beyond its scale, it does a really spectacular job of bringing that experience to the phone. It feels and plays like a modern-day PC RPG, albeit with a few rough edges. These minor flaws might be worth harping on in a more crowded market, but Shadowlands stands so far above its competition, it’s really hard to complain.
Summary: Ravensword: Shadowlands is the closest you can get to Elder Scrolls on your phone. Although the pacing can be a bit uneven, and it falls short of feeling truly “open,” it comes far closer than anyone else has on the platform.