Ravensword: The Fallen King Micro-Review: Hack, Slash, And Finger-swipe

Chillingo's ambitious app puts a Lord of the Rings-like adventure in the palm of your hand.

Appearing on the comparatively underpowered iPhone, Ravensword packs a near console-quality presentation. Featuring a large 3D open-world, an awesome variety of mythical beasts to slay, and some fantastic visual and audio tricks, it often rivals a PS2-era production.

Loved Epic App: Intuitively using the now-common touchscreen directional pad and controlling the camera by swiping anywhere on the screen, adventure-seeking gamers embark on a robust quest to regain the amnesia-stricken protagonist's memory, recover the titular ancient blade and, of course, smite the hell out of evil. Sure, it's standard high-fantasy fare, but the impressive presentation, addictive action, and engaging quests keep things more fresh than familiar. You'll begin by slaying rats the size of puppies, but soon your blade and bow will be introduced to goblins, imps, zombies, sword-swinging skeletons, and ogres whose menacing presence swallow up a good portion of the iPhone's modest display. Your senses will be similarly stung by the screen-stretching environments; vast, diverse areas such as forests, graveyards, dungeons, and lava worlds can be fully explored for treasure when you're not busy hacking your way through the evil-doing hordes. Smaller touches, such as shop signs swinging when you walk into them, show the level of detail at work. The audio presentation is also very good, as a surprisingly rich score is complemented by immersion-amping details like chirping birds, crashing waterfalls, and the satisfying death cries of your freshly slain enemies.

Fun-poking Fantasy:Ravensword's subject matter may be all too familiar, but its light-hearted approach and delivery keep things fresher than a just-poured stein of tavern mead. Similar Tolkien-esque tales get bogged down with self-important characters and yawn-inducing exposition, but Ravensword keeps it simple, to the point, and often funny. The over-sized rats you slay, for example, are part of a quest that sees you replenishing the stock of the village's "Rat Donald's" restaurant-you'll later speak with a clueless villager who can't quite place the taste of Donald's secret rodent recipe. Everything, from NPC interactions to text descriptions of weapons and gear, often sneak in similar tongue-in-cheek references that keep things entertaining without ever becoming so silly that they pull you from the experience.

Hated RP...Gee, Really?: Despite being advertised as an RPG, Ravensword is actually lacking many of the key ingredients usually associated with the looting-and-leveling genre. While it nails the high-fantasy presentation and hack-happy combat, it doesn't allow for any character customisation. When you level-up, attribute points are auto-assigned, there are no skill trees, weapons and gear are stat-less, and magic is all but non-existent. Aside from their prices, there's no way to identify which weapons are better than others; you're left to assume the battle hammer will spill more goblin blood than a sword simply because it siphons more gold coins from your satchel at the blacksmith's shop. The implementation of armour offers a perfect example of Ravensword's style-over-substance approach; while the protective gear is realistically reflected on your in-game character-a nice touch, indeed-it only comes in two varieties, and, like the weapons, offers no comparable stats. Similarly, combat looks and feels great, but essentially boils down to mashing on the "attack" button. Other iPhones titles, such as the recent Diablo-like Dungeon Hunter actually have more character-building depth than this so-called RPG.

Ravensword has a lot going for it, not the least of which is its fantastic audio and visual presentation. It's an easy recommendation for action/adventure fans looking for an involving romp through a richly realised fantasy world. But despite an appearance evocative of Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, expect to do more hacking and slashing than character customising and gear tweaking.

Ravensword was published by Chillingo and developed by Crescent Moon Games for the iPhone and iPod Touch on November 17th. Retails for $US6.99. A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Completed the game.

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