Lowest common denominator-type games tend to reign supreme in the Android game market, and it’s not hard to understand why. The Android market are dominated by “casual” gamers, those looking only to match pieces of candy or fling birds. But while this makes the people behind Candy Crush fantastically rich, it also degrades the public’s perception of mobile gaming as simplistic entertainment. While I can’t advocate complex mechanics which would render a game null to the masses, I think storytelling in mobile games is in a downright woeful state. Plot, characterization, personality and wit in storytelling are not foreign to your average person and I’m pretty appalled at the lack of effort in telling a story in your game, let alone one with some depth.
In steps Ravenmark: Scourge, which has dedicated the most effort I’ve ever seen in creating a cohesive and competent story in the Android strategy sphere. Ravenmark is a story driven turn-based strategy title set in a Romanesque fantasy world. While the dialogue is not always compelling, the storyline is mostly inaccessible to your average Angry Bird person and the narrative is all over the place, it needs to be noted that this game makes a concerted effort to create a story that’s more than a lame excuse to push you from encounter to encounter. The characters have some depth and personality to them, it doesn’t feel crushingly impersonal, especially compared to other strategy titles. You feel like you’re part of a well-defined world, travelling as part of the armies and putting people that you’ve come to know in danger. It’s refreshing, if a bit clumsily handled, but it’s a trend I would really like to see expanded on in the future.
In this sense, Ravenmark: Scourge has the potential to be a pretty great game but unfortunately it’s hampered by a myriad of unpleasant gameplay features, design choices and issues which prevent it from being a truly great title. First off, the price point is an absurd 10 dollars and while it’s a well made game with a long campaign, there’s no justifying that kind of expense here. The strategy components are serviceable, the unit design is detailed and varied, the story/characters are great for Android strategy and the game functions well enough.
While there are a myriad smaller issues, it should be noted that the game is by no means bad, but small technical blemishes and problems endemic to the game’s genre start pulling away at my enjoyment. The main offender is the use of randomness in battle. Enemies are prone to spawning from random places without warning and considering the limits imposed on the amount of moves you can make per turn, this can sink you. Critical hits are more common than I’d like, so mission critical units are prone to taking way more damage than you could possibly defend against. While I understand this can represent the randomness of ancient combat, each mission can take up to 20 minutes so failing a mission for the third time because of a chain of critical hits makes me not want to keep playing. Also, mission structure is pretty bland, especially when ripe opportunities are staring me in the face. In one mission, one of your friends exhausts herself casting a spell to save your army and you rush to save her. While this sounds like the basis for a fine rescue-type mission, it boils down to plain old murdering everything again.
The more grievous issues however are the ones which kill the immersion built by the story. For instance, your units can form groups but the group movement’s clunkiness is exemplified by the lack of lateral movement, which begs the question why can’t a group of elite soldiers shuffle over to the left a bit? The computer A.I is also a pain. While supposedly each player takes their turn at the same time, the computer enemies always seem to know which units you’re going to move and where you’re going to move them. The game isn’t overly difficult because of this -the difficulty is a actually a strong point – but you never feel as though you’re playing against a real, fallible enemy: they never make any wayward movements, never surprise you, and always dutifully cover any maneuver or scheme you can come up with. They also have an annoying tendency to go out of their way to gang up on your leader units which usually results in resetting the game out of frustration. Lastly, the combat sequences are not interactive. Units killing each other is reduced to watching segments of a circle being removed in front of still images of a menacing soldier. It gets the job done, but seeing the same stills over and over is boring– for 10 bucks, I expect to be visually entertained.
I have to say, I’m quite happy with what Ravenmark: Scourge brings to the table. I can’t relay enough how happy I am to finally have a cohesive narrative in a Android strategy game. The strong emphasis on storytelling elements ultimately paint a positive picture in my mind, when everything is tallied up. There are plenty of gameplay mishaps that could be tweaked and improved, these issues could have been addressed relatively easily. At a whopping 10 dollars, I really can’t recommend a purchase, but I can wholeheartedly endorse the bigger ideas Ravenmark: Scourge wants to cultivate.
A well crafted, narrative focused strategy title in a Roman flavored fantasy world, which sports an excellent story and characters but suffers from mediocre gameplay.