Man I was riding high on the ARPG hog as of late, thought the genre could spit out only gold, I never would have guessed the wind would have been taken out of my sails so quickly. I forgot how easy this genre is to screw up and how horribly uninteresting it can be when done wrong. I spent my Saturday trudging through the entirety of such a game and it’s time for me to relay my findings. So my apologies to the folks at Wizarbox and Focus but it’s time for me to use R.A.W. to explain how even I can become apathetic towards loot.
Structure wise this is your standard ARPG (Skill trees, loot, all that jazz) and it uses a level based gameplay structure (gameplay levels that is not character levels); it’s your standard hack ‘n’ slash and sadly not much more. Each of the bog standard classes (Warrior, Rogue, and Mage) has their own tree full of skills tailored to their play style that unfortunately are rarely unique or visually interesting. More important than how they look though is how they feel and unfortunately that’s terrible as well. Even at their most powered up your abilities feel like they have no impact, sure the numbers may be bigger than that of your standard attack (which also feels piddly and ineffectual) but with no real stun or knockback to anything you do it all feels just utterly mechanical. You are quite literally just draining their numbers with your numbers until someone is out of numbers. The one thing this game has gameplay-wise is the ability to possess enemies but it’s mishandled terribly. The types of enemies you can actually possess are very inconsistent (why can I possess this giant spider but not the three identical ones I killed before it) and the stuff you possess always has only one ability and dies pretty quick giving the mechanic no sense of power or fun.
Of course the real metric for any game like this is the quality of the loot, too bad it’s also poorly executed. So the most important thing to do with loot in any game is to have a balance between boring or junky but functional loot and crazy impressive god tier gear with names that wouldn’t sound out-of-place on a Megadeth album. R.A.W. gets the first part right but then completely forgets about having awesome gear you’ll actually want to equip. Almost everything is named something like “Red Leather Spaulders” or “Sharp Axe” and even the end game stuff only gets as good as “NorthSouth” or “Heart of the Wolf”. Even quest rewards have shitty names, you’d expect the purple tier necklace given at the end of a quest from some dwarven commander to have a cool name but no it was just called “Dwarf Reward”. The loot doesn’t do anything either; sure you get higher numbers, which is just par for the course, but at no point did equipping any specific piece of loot make me feel as though I had any sort of new advantage. Of course it all looks incredibly bland as well, this game is fond of getting the most out of its art assets and the loot is no exception with the same boring ugly models just recoloured and used over and over again.
That’s the thing with this game’s art style; make it brown, make it dark, and then reuse as much as humanly possible. You’ll see the same loot models, the same enemy models, and the same environments constantly with only changes in the palette to spice things up. Of course palette is a generous term, things are pretty much always just brown with a tint, sometimes it’s a green tint and sometimes it’s a blue tint but it’s all still incredibly brown and derivative. Enemy designs in particular are beyond boring with stuff like spiders, bandits, other bandits, elves (tall bandits), and dwarves (short bandits); there are also just scads of these hunched over demon things that are brown and vague looking (bandits with back problems). I’m exaggerating a little, it’s not all bandits and spiders, but it’s pretty damn close to it and spending like 5-6 hours pressing the (A) button to kill a ton of samey looking bad guys in continually brown environments is like the video game equivalent of data entry.
There is a story here too but it’s practically non-existent and incredibly simplistic with your chosen hero essentially just being led by the nose through the whole thing. The premise is that ten years ago four kings attempted to create a peace among their kingdoms by sealing a pact between them and then something bad happened with only three of the kings barely managing to escape, the fourth was assumed dead. Your hero just kind of stumbles into the fabled meeting place of these kings a decade later and finds out that the fourth king isn’t dead but rather stuck in a magic crystal. The fourth king then places his mind into your body (with your mind still doing the driving) and commands you to go to the realms of the three other kings to open some portals and restore his body. The rest of the story plays out pretty predictably and most annoyingly makes you go back through the three realms twice in a row, you go through new levels at least but the same art style and enemies are used so “new” is a kind of relative term there.
Honestly the game is technically competent (in that it didn’t blow up my 360) but it’s just the exact opposite of what the market needs right now. To be frank, if you’re an ARPG coming out in the same year as Diablo 3 and the same week as Torchlight 2 then you need to be at the top of your game. Were this issue of timing not the case I might have looked more favorably upon R.A.W. but with the abundance of ARPGs available it’s hard not to compare. So for an utterly brown experience that I just did not have fun playing R.A.W. gets a 2 out of 5 stars. If you have the $15 to spend on it just splurge the extra $5 and grab Torchlight 2 instead as most computers should be able to run it.