Raventhorne began the Xbox LIVE Indie Games Summer Uprising with a whimper. It was a game that looked wonderful in screenshots but as soon as you spent thirty seconds playing it, it was apparent that it was a terrible game. It wasn’t clear quite how terrible until you’d reached the credits, but there were the beginnings of a terrible game.
Milkstone have taken the criticism on board and released an updated version of the game, and so I thought I’d play through the game again and give it a second chance.
I wish that I hadn’t.
It’s hard to know where to begin, but that first thirty seconds is as good a place as any. Previously your first experience of the combat was an enemy with about ninety billion hit points that you had to chip away 1HP at a time with your sword. Oh, and you could only chain three hits together before collapsing to the floor gasping for air. You’re already dead, by the way, the game doesn’t explain why you’re breathing at all. I guess we’re supposed to overlook that.
This combat was the biggest complaint with the game. To fix it, Milkstone have made three changes. They’ve adjusted how much stamina you lose per attack and lowered enemy HP. They’ve also added difficulty levels to the game, which aren’t so much difficulty levels as “frustration levels.” If you want to be really frustrated, choose hard. If you want to be frustrated a bit less, choose normal. Normal feels exactly the same as the game felt before and you’ll still run out of breath quicker than an asthmatic in a house fire. Luckily, there’s also “the path of least frustration,” which they’ve called “easy.” In easy you have a lot of stamina and throughout the game, you probably won’t run out at any point. This is the most enjoyable of the difficulties, but that’s like being the most intelligent moron in a room full of morons.
The fact is that even without having to worry about stamina, the combat is still duller than Jordan’s seventh autobiography. You have two attacks. You can press X to do a light attack, or you can press Y to do a heavy attack, a heavy attack which is so slow and has so little range that throughout the entire game I didn’t actually manage to hit an enemy with it a single time. The update also adds life bars to enemies, so you can see just how ineffectual your light attack is in real-time. How fun! You can see it fifty times for every enemy! Yay! You also have a block move which is basically invincibility (enemies can’t even hit you from behind) and some magic attacks, but oftentimes these aren’t much more useful than your light attack is.
As if the game knows how poor its combat is, it forces it upon you over and over again by locking you into the screen and halting progress until all enemies are killed. In these situations the camera centres on the middle of the screen and so if you attack an enemy to the side, you’ll be off-screen entirely. It’s no exaggeration to say that were these forced battles not present, the player would just run past all combat entirely, such is its awfulness.
If the combat’s rubbish, the world is just as bad. It looks wonderful but there’s just nothing to it. You walk from one side of the screen to the other and that’s pretty much it. There’s nothing to look for, nothing to find, and the extent of the exploration comes towards the end of the game when you have to find a switch to move a barrier before you can carry on. Each screen is small, and finding these switches is simple. The main difficulty comes from the player’s unwillingness to actually explore, because the more of the area you walk through the more chance you have of being pulled into a combat situation. If ever I found myself curious as to what might lie at the end of a path I quickly turned around knowing that whatever it was, it wasn’t worth the effort. All the game has in the way of pick-ups is health/mana/experience orbs anyway, there just isn’t any point going out of your way for them.
Can the plot save it?
Oh, God no. The plot is the games biggest issue the game has, and when the combat is such an issue it should be fairly obvious how rubbish its tale is.
You’re a dead Norse warrior who is dead because you died or something. You don’t really know because you have amnesia, of course. Why wouldn’t you have? This amnesia also seems to have removed any knowledge of what the Norse might have sounded like, and you end up sounding about as Norse as the checkout girl in Sainsbury’s does. I’m no expert on Norse mythology, but I just can’t imagine the phrase “wife and kids” was part of their vocabulary, and at no point in the script was I transported to times past by the language. It’s a Norse myth set in the year 2011, but with a setting from 1211. It just doesn’t make any sense at all.
The plot doesn’t make much sense either, at least what we see of it. It begins when you realise you have that pesky amnesia, then three suspicious looking spirits appear and tell you who you and you just take them at their word because you’re some kind of idiot, and then they tell you to go somewhere so you go. Then, and this is as much of a spoiler as I can give you, LITERALLY NOTHING HAPPENS. You travel through a few screens which takes about 45 minutes, and then completely out of nowhere the credits roll.
I’m not even joking.
There’s no final boss (or any boss of any kind), there’s no climax, there’s no development of the plot, there’s no substance, there’s nothing. You end the game precisely as you began it, just a bit further towards the right.
Worst of all, this is the game’s description on the Marketplace:
Milkstone Studios proudly presents an epic 2D adventure of glory and vengeance! Help Raventhorne, the fallen norse hero fullfill his fate and take revenge for his death! Clear your way through the 6 worlds of Yggdrasil, and reach Asgard before Ragnarok is unleashed.
The fact is that that’s simply not true. There is nothing like that kind of content in the game, you don’t get anywhere near Asgard, there are not six worlds, and the word “Ragnarok” isn’t even mentioned in the dialogue in the game.
There is no update big enough that it can turn Raventhorne into a good game. There’s simply no hope for it, and the blatant lies in the game’s description to tempt people into a purchase is shameful at best, and at its worst, downright shit.
Which, coincidentally, is exactly how I’d describe Raventhorne.
Raventhorne is available now for 240 Microsoft Points. I’d come and slap you in the face for that. It’d be more fun.