Hands-On Preview: Ravenmark

Remember, remember, the eleventh of November. If you’re a fan of Turn-Based Strategy games, RPGs, or just enjoy an expertly conveyed fantasy, you’d do well to heed that advice — that’s when Witching Hour Studios is slated to bring Ravenmark: Scourge of Estellion to iOS! The developer graciously gave us a chance to dig into this epic audiovisual feast, and two words adequately sum up our experience thus far: “we like!”

The moment you let your gaze sweep over the rolling hills of Ravenmark, it’s patently clear that this world is one of the most lovingly painted and deeply developed of any iOS title we’ve yet seen. I could talk about the encyclopedic entries detailing its nations, notable personalities, and the kinds of lives rank-and-file soldiers lead in particular battlefield units, but let me just put it to you this way: Ravenmark’s world maps look like they could have sprung right out of your copy of The Lord of the Rings. Only, on a Retina display, they’re crisp, zoomed in and nicely splashed with color.

Lest such a vast world threaten to overwhelm the player, this first episode eases us in with an immediately touching story of brotherhood set in the Empire of the Raven. There’s only one way to become a noble here, and that’s through valiant military service — a bit of a problem for the scrawny Calius Septim, who probably wouldn’t survive his hellion of a superior were it not for his brother Rebus constantly looking out for him. Calius does have one thing going in his favor: he’s a studied tactical genius, if only he can bend the ears of higher-ranked officers. When he finally gets his big break, you can bet it’s up to the player to turn his advice into victory!

Fire Emblem and Final Fantasy Tactics may list among Witching Hour Studios’ influences, but Ravenmark’s battle system feels refreshingly new and custom built for iOS. Turns consist of two phases: Command and Battle. During Command Phase the player issues movement and miscellaneous instructions to all of his or her squads at once, and gives the go-ahead for the commands to play out in Battle Phase. The marker system used to tell separate units apart is impressively touch-friendly, ensuring that the player doesn’t have a rough time picking out individual units.

In addition to the usual stats, movement ranges, and landscape effects we’ve come to expect from the TBS genre, Ravenmark’s claim to fame will undoubtedly be its Formation system. The player can command individual units to meld into larger columns, activating special abilities depending on unit type. Linked Swordsmen can form a wall of shields, for example — makes a nice roadblock to trap enemies that archers can pick off from afar, as Calius finds out early in his campaign! While the player works mostly with Roman Legion-inspired forces early on, highly advanced units appear to wield a bit of sorcery, and the concept art being passed around right now reveals that things eventually go full-blown Middle Earth.

While it’s easy to gush over Ravenmark as it approaches release, TBS fans should bear one thing in mind to keep their expectations from hitting the stratosphere. In one respect, Ravenmark is to TBSs what Fabled Lands was to RPGs: the real action is represented by art stills that fly in and out, rather than flashy sprites or character models. Still, like the rest of the game’s presentation, it’s vividly rendered stuff and pretty exciting on its own! Equally gorgeous is the soundtrack, created by veteran game composer Josh Whelchel. Rather than try reducing music to words, let’s give you the link to some sample tracks!

Check back with iFanzine for a day one review of this exciting title when it releases, and you just know we’re gonna grab an interview with the devs! Check out the Witching Hour Studios site and Twitter account, as well as the Ravenmark Facebook page, for more news, art, and preview footage until then!