That Ravenmark eases the player in with an ultra-thorough tutorial is a curse as well as a blessing. The first of two campaigns available at release functionally serves as the biggest live tutorial we’ve yet seen on iOS! I finished each battle thinking I’d finally understood all the game’s complexities, only to find there was another layer of the tactical onion to absorb in the next mission. I was confused on a few points for a while – how to make archers target specific units with surety, what little symbols indicating bonuses and inflicted statuses meant exactly – and finally found my answers when the game wrapped up its discussion of the Standing Orders system and Codex. Ravenmark’s story alone is worth a second playthrough, so it would be great to have an option to disable the first campaign’s tutorials rather than sit through them again.
I have two minor gripes, one that I hope to see addressed in updates and one we’ll just have to live with. For purposes of linking units into formations, it would be great if destination tiles remained visibly marked throughout the Command Phase. The developer’s expectation is probably that players will keep one unit stationary while directing others of the same type toward it, sacrificing travel for the sake of organization, but I’d love to cover some ground and get units in position to form a column at the same time! Not to mention, if destination markers remained on the field for a while, it would be easier to keep units from blocking one another once the Battle Phase begins. Secondly, a few hero units might be assigned different kinds of troops in different battles, so once or twice I found myself trying to pigeonhole spearmen into an archer’s role before realizing the error; in the end, you’ll just have to remember to double check a hero unit’s classification when the radial menu pops up.
Ravenmark’s depth and clean delivery are already incredibly impressive at the $2.99 price tier, but its formula does have some room to grow before it could jump off the iPhone and clash successfully with the very best console TBS games. Units are assigned to the player on a battle per battle basis, the number and assortment pre-destined. I would have loved seeing my Earthbound Swordsmen grow into Earthshield Veterans if they survived, or better yet, having a choice of whether to put them on an archer track instead. Ah well, you can’t win ’em all, and adding some kind of squad class system is one way the developer could go for upping the ante in future Ravenmark installments.
With such a lush presentation lavished on hand-drawn battlefields and character portraits, I was a bit dismayed at first to find the skirmishes between player and enemy units represented by art stills. However, said art is of top-notch quality, and I still felt a consistent rush of excitement thanks to standout audio engineering — hearing spears pelting locked shields goes a long way toward revving up the player’s imagination during these sequences. I daresay Ravenmark’s soundtrack is motion picture quality! If you’re a time traveler and you tell me Josh Whelchel won’t be as celebrated as Yasunori Mitsuda or Hitoshi Sakimoto a decade from now, color me surprised.
Ravenmark contains 15 battles to test the player’s strategic mettle at release, with an additional 11 already outlined in the game’s campaign menu. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but there’s plenty of meat here and should last six to ten hours depending on the number of retries. Ravenmark’s most massive battles can stretch up to an hour apiece, so this is definitely one you’ll be curling up with on the couch rather than taking to the subway. An important note: Version 1.00 of Ravenmark will crash on the iPod Touch 4, but we’ve played through the swiftly coming Version 1.01 with no such problem and expect it to hit the App Store imminently. On the downside, the first update may have to disable Ravenmark’s Retina support on the iPod Touch 4 to prevent said crashes there; Ravenmark should still take advantage of the iPhone 4’s Retina display. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that Retina support will be restored for the iPod Touch 4 by the time Witching Hour pushes a universal update to the game, promised by year’s end.
iFanzine Verdict: The best Turn-Based Strategy game on iOS, bar none! If you like your plots chock full of charismatic figures and back-stabbing politics, your interfaces clean, and your battles satisfyingly complex, look no further than Ravenmark.