Ravenmark: Scourge of Estellion

Since I started writing about games when I joined Bitmob not too long ago, I’ve been slowly learning to master the art of pitching stories. But beyond trying to get editors to accept my obviously brilliant ideas, I would have to mold my articles to draw the readers’ attention. Would my headline grab them? Would my hook keep their eyes on the page? Would my text deliver?

I imagine that the indie developers who responded to our “Pitch us in one Tweet” contest were going through a similar process. We asked these fledgling studios to interest us in their games with a single, 140-character Tweet, and we’ve been publishing our thoughts on the 10 best submissions all week long.

Today, I bring you #6.


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The game: Ravenmark: Scourge of Estellion

Availability: iOS

The pitch: ‏@witchinghourSG: “This town deserves a better class of criminally tough games! RAVENMARK: the golden days of turn-based strategy reborn.”

Why I picked this: As if the words “turn-based strategy” weren’t enough, developer Witching Hour Studios smartly prefaced that with “criminally tough games.” I’m always up for a challenge, and turn-based systems have the tendency provide enough space in their rules sets to encourage creative thinking that results in satisfying play.

Ravenmark: Scourge of Estellion

What is it? Think Advance Wars with a little bit of Final Fantasy Tactics: You’re in charge of commanding units of soldiers around grid-based battlefields, though, you’ll also lead story characters who can employ special abilities to turn the tides. Your campaigns are all tied together with narrative scenes that play out between the turn-based tactical goodness.

Is it good? Yes and no. Let me get the bad out of the way, first: Ravenmark’s fiction does a terrible disservice to an otherwise stellar strategy game. For quite some time now, I’ve loathed to sit through hackneyed and banal tales that only have the effect of robbing the experience of any replay value. Yes, I’m looking at you, Fallout Tactics and Silent Storm.

While not nearly as insane as a Super Robot Wars game, Ravenmark’s story lacks all of the charm of an Advance Wars (and even there, developer Intelligent Systems is pushing it), and it certainly doesn’t carry the emotional weight of a Valkyria Chronicles.

The narrative feels as if it has no sense of direction, with scenes sometimes introducing in the span of a few sentences what seems like a dozen characters going on about bland, medieval-fantasy nonsense. Thankfully, Witching Hour included an option to skip these sequences entirely, and by the middle of the first campaign, that’s exactly what I was doing.

Ravenmark: Scourge of Estellion

Developers unfortunately think that we want these contrived stories to motivate us to tackle each presented scenario. Instead, they should have faith in the rich, smart, and deep tactical game they’ve built, qualities that Ravenmark embodies thoroughly. The most important innovation in the design is “initiative,” which solves the problem of the first player’s inherent advantage without making the tactical decisions feel too hands-off.

How does this work? Each unit on the battlefield starts with an initiative number that reflects the sequence in which issued commands will execute. You can order up to six units to take any available action in a turn, and then you’ll hit “play” and watch your forces clash steel and trade arrows with the enemy. This is a “we go” system (as opposed to the traditional “I go/you go” of something like X-Com: UFO Defense) that doesn’t feel like planning the careful, step-by-step hostage extraction of a Laser Squad Nemesis. The initiative system retains the immediacy of X-Com without the first-player advantage.

Secondary to initiative but just as important is the implementation of “formations,” which make facing and flanking integral components of Ravenmark. You can “link” together up to three “elements” (Ravenmark’s term for individual units) to create battle lines on the field. Doing so provides the player with specific advantages in the form of access to additional abilities, but it also limits the new formation’s maneuverability and opens them up to flanking.  It’s a risk/reward tradeoff that you can tailor to the specific situation at hand.

You can see more about the game, including additional combat screens, the radial menu from which you’ll issue orders, and a view of the codex in the gallery below.

Look for it: Available now in Apple’s App store for iOS devices.

For more info: http://www.ravenmark-saga.com/

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Check back Monday for our #5 finalist in our “Pitch us in one Tweet” contest. You can follow this tag link to catch all of the top 10.

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