Like Gauntlet but…
Having spent a good portion of my childhood allowance on Gauntlet Legends arcade machines, I can proudly say that I am a fan of dungeon crawlers. They can get repetitive, but when I have a few friends over and kick back a few beers (something I sadly did not have access to as a child), a few mindless hours of orc bashing is exactly what I need. I was excited when I heard about R.A.W. - Realms of Ancient War; sure, its co-op was limited to two players, but an updated Gauntlet sounded like a great time waiting to happen.
But R.A.W. is not an updated Gauntlet. It isn’t even an old version of Gauntlet. Sadly, it’s an uninspired mishmash of poorly implemented dungeon crawler tropes with little to set it apart from other games in the genre.
R.A.W. has all the basic components of the standard dungeon crawler in place. You choose from one of three classes: warrior, rogue and, of course, wizard. Enemies swarm around you, and you mash the face buttons to put them down. Enhanced mini-bosses pepper the levels, which end in grand boss fights. Along the way you level up and pick up armor and weapons with various stat boosts and elemental effects.
The game also has a few welcome additions, such as shared experience, regenerating health, an easy loot-swapping system for coop, and the occasional large mid-level enemy that you can possess for a few moments of wanton destruction. It is not without good ideas. Unfortunately, the implementation of the rest of the gameplay mechanics is lacking.
Perhaps the largest issue is the lack of a mini-map in the corner of the screen, or a similar option in the pause menu. In a linear game like Gauntlet this isn’t much of an issue, but R.A.W. has sprawling maps that you can get lost in. It seems like a waste of space, as these are the least interactable environments I’ve seen. Not even the wooden barrels are destructible!
The Difference between Celerity and Haste
Everything else gives off the same feeling of ‘meh.’ Animations are stiff, giving combat an unwieldy look. Equipping items and leveling up increases your stats on paper, but doesn’t show much of a difference in battle. Fire attacks may be red and poison green, but the color is really the only way to tell the difference. Even enemy possession loses its appeal. With no block button, expect to die frequently. Gameplay devolves into button mashing without satisfaction, unaided by generic fantasy music and drab, washed out backgrounds.
The game feels unfinished, as though there is the potential for something really good here, but no one bothered to revise it. Take your statistics, for instance. Your character has the standard HP, mana and stamina bars, but then there’s also celerity and haste. Three months of SAT study in my youth paid off, so I know haste means rapidity of action, or with great speed. How about celerity? A quick look in the dictionary reveals that it means swiftness or speed… synonyms, see haste. Why does my character have separate stats for the same attribute? If there is a noticeable difference between them, it isn’t explained well anywhere.
Tough it out
RPG fanatics willing to tough it out can probably find something to enjoy in R.A.W., but it won’t be anything they haven’t experienced anywhere else. Your money would be better spent on one of the countless other RPGs available to download on PC, XBLA and PSN.
Nothing is particularly broken, a few features like regenerating health and easy loot-swapping help smooth the experience.
No mini-map, no noticeable effects from items or leveling up - the game offers nothing new and is boring as a result.