Ravenmark: Scourge of Estellion Review (PC)
Ravenmark: Scourge of Estellion
Everything looked like it was going okay. My archers had wiped out the first wave of enemies while my shield bearers had held the lines. Cavalry sprinted round the flanks of the attackers, wiping out the rest of their health…and leaving themselves completely out of position when reinforcements appeared in the next turn. Once the cavalry fell, the shields fell. The swordsmen barely got a hit in. The archers retreated but it was too late, everyone was dead. I’ll admit, I’m not a very good Commander.
Ravenmark is a turn based tactical combat game in which the player takes control of a variety of Commanders across a realm which is intensely involved in a myriad of battles and wars. The world of Estellion is a large one filled with a variety of factions and lands. The game initially puts you in the shoes of Calius Septim, a young soldier recently raised to nobility who is constantly looked down on by other more experienced officers and nobles, as he leads patrols into some of the Empire’s border territories and becomes trapped in the outskirts while a full blown invasion sweeps the nation. The story largely sticks with him for the first chapter but jumps across multiple characters across the whole thing, giving interesting views on both sides of the war and the commanders leading each side. The story is largely told through text heavy sections with some artwork of the characters involved at either side of the screen and is mostly really interesting. Some of the dialogue itself is incredibly cringey, it isn’t common but as an example, a couple of characters make meme-ish comments like “Do not want” which don’t fit the world at all. Conversely, there is a character called Arrun who is superbly written and for the most part the overall story is entertaining enough to entice players through its lengthy campaign. The artwork in these cutscenes is a bit of a hit or miss too. The art style is generally very well realised and each character has a lovely, very detailed design. However, the scaling of their art during the conversations is all over the place and sometimes characters will look massively different in scale from their companions.
In the actual battles themselves however, the art is spot on. Each battle is a turn based affair, as I mentioned earlier, where the player is assigned a specific set of units to use to complete their task, including a few named character hero units with abilities that can help turn the tide of battle. The structure of battles is a cool half-step between the tactical style of JRPGs like Final Fantasy Tactics and We Go strategy games where you assign up to six commands to units on the field and end your turn, then your units and the enemies move at once and will attack whatever enemies are in range at the end of the movement. The difference between Ravenmark: Scourge of Estellion and other games of this type, is that units still have a move order based on what kind of unit they are (cavalry move fastest, swordsman move faster than shield bearers etc etc) and so when the battle phase begins they will carry out your commands in order of speed. Making use of this is essential as you can easily view which units will move when in a phase and can use it to set up different traps and flanking maneuvers to outwit your foes. Flanking enemies in particular is an essential part of the battles, enemies will take significantly more damage when attacked from the side and often it can be the difference between a crippling blow and a mere hindrance. However, more often than not I felt I was paying attention to my units turn orders primarily to stop them from accidentally blocking each other off. Units can’t pass through other units and so making sure you can move one unit out of the way of another is an annoying piece of micromanagementat times. This is made further frustrating by the pathing of units when their way is blocked. More often than I would like I found one of my units moving off to take a bizarrely long route to where I told them to go because one of their allies had blocked their path. It’s a minor gripe that eventually caused me to become super careful about unit turn orders, but it bugged me.
Missions mostly have simple objectives like “Get X to Y” or “Defeat all the baddies” or “Don’t die” which gets the job done. The conversations before and after battles provide context, explaining why you are where you are, and what you are doing. One thing about the battles that the game is quick to teach you is that the enemies will take advantage of any opening in your formations, and will murder everyone given the chance. It’s very challenging and fun, forcing you to use every mechanic to your advantage. One of the cooler mechanics that Ravenmark uses is the ability to form similar units standing in the spaces between each other into groups of up to three. Doing so gives those units a boost in attack and defence and makes them act as a single unit, another advantage to this on top of the stat boosts is that in missions where you have a lot of units your six commands per turn only spread so far and being able to combine some of your loose units into a single stronger unit effectively lets you move up to three soldiers in a single move, although those units have a much more limited movement speed and need to use a whole turn to wheel their formation around to face other enemies. It’s a really cool system which is incredibly well balanced and is quite simply fun to use. In general I really had a lot of fun with the battles. They never felt unfairly difficult and each mission had enough open space and mix of units to allow me to play around with different ways of taking on enemies. There are also a handy set of more advanced commands that can be given to units which will repeat indefinitely over future turns without using up a command. The most useful of these I found was the “Pursue” command, which simply sent units after the target unit each turn without being micromanaged.
Did I mention the game is really pretty? It has a lovely art style and the unit art is varied and pretty, making each unit type look distinctive and easy to pick out in the battlefield. The one issue I had was the lack of options. Ravenmark originally launched as an iOS game and while the port is, for the most part, really well handled, the sprites look incredibly aliased and gross when zoomed out. Even the unit icons (which look ripped straight from Civilization) are horrible aliased with no way to make them look nicer in-game, which is a real shame.
There were also a couple of weird technical issues I encountered. A minor one being that the game opens via a launcher which is weirdly slow, unresponsive and doesn’t close when the game itself launches, meaning I occasionally would click a couple of times thinking it hadn’t booted the game only to find it had opened the game multiple times instead. It’s a minor issue, but an annoying one. More seriously, the game lost my campaign progress at one point. Given the game is a pretty decent length this was quite a big issue which I hope will be patched in the future. Thankfully, the game autosaves in the missions themselves and so I was able to regain my progress via those, it just made me unable to select missions from the mission select screen.
Despite a few technical hiccups, Ravenmark is one of those rare games that has made the iOS to PC transition feeling like it was always meant to be on PC. It’s a fun, challenging and deep tactical game with an interesting story and some lovely art design that all comes together in a lovely package. Some niggling issues aside, I feel like this is easy to recommend.
8 Uses of “Crow” as a curse word out of 10