This year I have pledged to play every single game that I have picked for Gameffine’s yearly Fantasy Critic League. Ravenbound is more of a left field pick for me, as I normally don’t play roguelike. However, its roots in nordic myths, its hack and slash combat and its general promise of switching up the genre by using an open world, seemed promising. Was the rogue-like able to deliver on its promise or did this Raven crash and burn, let’s find out?
Ravenbound is a fast-paced action game that combines the challenge of a rogue-like with the choices of open world. Ravenbound is developed and published by Systemic Reaction. The game was released for PC on 30th March of 2023.
When it comes to Steam Deck compatibility, Ravenbound is, “Playable”.
And that’s pretty accurate. When we got our hands on the review copy, it was notoriously difficult to run it on the Steam Deck. I have never had to troubleshoot how to run a game on Steam Deck before, and for a primarily console gamer it was pretty frustrating. After about 2 hrs of googling, switching between Docked and desktop mode and rage quitting a couple of times, I got the game to settle on a consistent 30 FPS at a much lower resolution than I would have liked. And yet, the game would randomly crash on me anywhere between 5 minutes to 3 hrs of playtime.
I didn’t want to be too hard on Ravenbound for not being able to deliver a smooth performance on the Steam Deck (since I was essentially playing a review build), and its still early days for Steam Deck adoption. But then I read about the issues the game was running into on standard PCs, and realized that I wasn’t alone.
Once you do get the game running, there is a Apex connect login that you have to go through. I am not above creating profiles on different questionable websites to try a new filter but for a single player experience and coming from a not so know publisher, it seemed unnecessary.
The island of Avalt is stepped in Nordic and Scandinavian folklore. Its not your typical Aesir/Vanir myth, instead its more Brothers Grimm Scandinavia.
The game starts off with a quick tutorial, which teaches you the basic attacks, dodges and the mechanics of the game. During that tutorial, you are explained the status quo of the game world.
You are vying to be a vessel for the old gods, who is supposed to break the curse that has been placed on the them and their lands by the Betrayer. Becoming a vessel means you need to be one with the Raven, and then cleansing as many of “Tears Of Hatred” as you can before you feel confident enough to take on The Betrayer himself.
The island itself is divided into different biomes. Each biome is full of enemies and a certain number of Pillars Of Hatred. Enemies drop fragments, which can be used to strengthen your character. And sometimes cards, which can have everything from Mana, Healing options, and even equipments.
Each dropped fragment can be cleansed of Hatred by liberating the above mentioned pillars. Hence using the fragments before cleansing them is a risk-reward decision, as using them before cleansing them makes all future enemies stronger, do it too often and later enemies may become too difficult.But not using them may leave you under-powered for your next battle.
While cards are the main way to heal, increase mana, and build inventory, Ravenbound is not a deck-building game. Instead cards are basically a wrapper around every temporary trait that each of your run in Ravenbound will have. As these cards don’t carry over, every new run in Ravenbound essentially starts with an empty deck. You do unlock various races as you move on in the game, which inherently offer boosts to different aspects of a build. Each run also let’s you play one side-quest per turn, and depending on your build you might want to pick the one that rewards you accordingly. Each run also lets you pick a different weapon to start with, each one again coming with its own set of perks.
If you think all of this is too complicated for no reason. I would agree. The game consistently gets in its own way, and sometimes doesn’t do a good job of explaining what it needs you to do. The hand-holding ends as you finish the tutorial, and if I didn’t have a review guide to help me out, I would have spent a good 30 minutes upgrading myself with hate infused fragments and complaining about the difficulty curve.
Once you have defeated enough enemies in that Biome, you take on the Warden for that region. Its a proper boss battle, which tests your builds, your skills, and your understanding of the game’s dodge and counter-attacks, as the Wardens are relentless in their attacks and the window to do damage is slim.
Defeat enough Wardens, and you are ready to take on The Betrayer. It took me 17 hours to beat the final boss for the first time, but once I had done so, there was little incentive to try it again. There is just not enough in the open world to keep me coming back. If there were some side quests that opened up only after the end-game, or if each of the Wardens offered a unique story drop, I would have felt like coming back to the game. But apart from the beautiful vistas, and the initial euphoria of flying around as a raven, there isn’t a lot in Ravenbound to keep you coming back.
At least there is enemy variety. Most enemies also have “Elite” versions of them, and all of them come at you with a vengeance. But if you have beaten one of them, you have beaten them all (well not really but you get what I mean).
I wanted Ravenbound to be an infinitely payable rogue-like which offered interesting stories in an open world. At its best Ravenbound achieves 2 of those, at worst it struggles in each one. It can come across as obscure and mildly furstrating. And for all the emphasis they have put on exploring Scandinavian myths its not explored enough to keep me invested.
I can see fans of the rogue-like genre picking up the game, and appreciating some of the new layers Ravenbound has added to the genre. Most people however will be frustrated by the bugs, and the fumbling implementation of those layers.
FINAL RATING: 55/100