This review is going to list such a huge number of negative elements you should be aware of going into Ravensword: Shadowlands that it’ll sound like the game has no redeeming aspects whatsoever. That’s not entirely true, though—this is a game where you can hunt bears and other enemies with a crossbow while riding a pterodactyl. Yes, everything in Shadowlands is more awkward and dumbed-down (some might say cheap) than more mainstream open-world games like Skyrim and Oblivion, and the game’s mobile roots are apparent even in the PC version, but killing things while flying a pterodactyl brought me more joy than you can imagine. Unfortunately, that’s really the only unqualified good thing I can say about the game.
It has an open-world story
The game starts with you being the sole survivor of a giant war that killed literally everyone else. According to the generic RPG handbook, that obviously means that you’re destined to save the world from something at some point. Luckily, said battle saw the unleashing of a demon, so you have a big bad villain to prepare to fight. This is basically the story in a nutshell, and you spend the entire game traveling north, east, south, and west from the starting city—which seems to be the only city in existence—to find the four runes necessary to find the Ravensword, the only weapon capable of slaying your convenient, world-ending demon villain. There are no twists or turns along the way. No, this is a game where you set your mind to the task and then accomplish it. The story exists, then, as little more than a shallow excuse to shepherd you around the world.
And open-world characters
If the story seems generic and phoned-in, just wait until you get to know the characters. There’s not a single likable one in the lot, the world being comprised of individuals completely lacking in personality. There’s the remorseful archmage, the evil character who originally unleashed your demon villain (it’s worth mentioning that both him and the demon show up a grand total of once in the entire game), and… that’s it, really. Everyone else exists to either pad out the still-sparsely-populated world or give you sidequests that amount to little more than short fetch/escort quests. The NPCs who walk around and are labeled “citizen” aren’t even able to be interacted with, and despite the game including such filler, I still walked into a prison area only to find no guards anywhere to be found. Shadowlands is as bare-bones as open-world games come, so don’t expect memorable characters or story elements.
Bare-bones also describes Ravensword: Shadowlands’ RPG mechanics. All the standard RPG staples are present, from an inventory to stats to level ups that allow you to increase your stats, and yet the whole thing is remarkably shallow. It works a bit like a mix between Oblivion’s system and more ordinary experience-based RPGs in that you gain experience when you kill an enemy, but in addition to giving you a point to raise your base attributes (agility, strength, endurance, vigor) and a point to level up a perk (which can increase your damage with a certain weapon, raise your speed, or allow you to do more stealth damage, among other things), it also raises the threshold you’re able to level up your skills to. For example, starting out the game you have a low bow score, but frequently using the bow will raise your score, reducing reticle movement while shooting. Unlike in Oblivion, however, you’re not able to level up these skills endlessly; your level limits the number you can raise your skills to, forcing you to level up if you want to further increase those skills.
It’s an interesting system, but it’s also easily abused. Simply switching in and out of stealth mode like in the above video will level up your stealth score to your level’s limit. Worse than that, many skills are completely meaningless. Magic, for example, is so underpowered that it’s useless, and a talent for picking locks won’t do much good in this game since there are few locked houses and chests.
One thing I did like was how archery was more complicated than in The Elder Scrolls. The trajectory of an arrow shot from a bow is completely different than the trajectory of a crossbow bolt, for example, and using both requires more player effort than simply placing the reticle over an enemy and shooting. Arrow drop becomes more and more of a factor with distance, and since the hands-down best way to play through the game is as a stealthy archer, it’s something you’ll often have to account for. Leveling up my bow and crossbow skills seemed to allow my shots to go farther without drop, as well, meaning the whole thing felt more consistently rewarding than in most open-world games where weapons function the same way throughout the entire game. You’re also given unlimited arrows/bolts, so they won’t be cluttering up your inventory or limiting the amount that you’re able to shoot. However, that also means that you’re effectively invincible from the very beginning of the game since nothing will be able to get to you before you’ve loosed twenty arrows and killed everything remotely dangerous in the area.
There’s no level scaling
While I’m trying to be positive about the game, I should point out that there’s no level scaling. Level scaling is lazy game design, period, so consider this a plus in Shadowlands’ favor. It may be frustrating to exit the city out of the wrong gate and instantly be killed in a single strike from a much-stronger bear, but this is infinitely better than enemies magically becoming stronger as you do.
Swordplay is mandatory
For a game that lets you use axes and bows, it’s incredibly frustrating when later portions of the game require you to engage in swordplay. As it turns out, you not only have to duel a character with knives toward the end of the game as part of the main quest, but you also have to use the eponymous Ravensword to defeat the final boss. Considering I spent the entirety of the game relying on a crossbow and hadn’t leveled up my skill with swords at all, this proved incredibly frustrating.
Fortunately for me, I ran into a strange bug during the duel that saved me some hassle. The moment it started, I ran over to a nearby chest and re-equipped my crossbow, then pelted my opponent with bolts until he gave up. At no point did he accuse me of cheating, and even stranger, my “blade” skill was suddenly identical to my “crossbow” skill. I remain convinced that using the crossbow during the knife fight somehow transferred the value of my crossbow skill to my skill with bladed weapons, and this made fighting the final boss a breeze. However, you may not experience the same lucky bug I did, and that would necessitate fighting through a ridiculous number of enemies to level up your blade skill for that single encounter.
One of the more entertaining things to do in The Elder Scrolls games is to randomly attack NPCs. Sure, many of them are invincible because of their importance to the plot later on and will thus be rendered unconscious rather than dying, but you can still attack them if you want. There’s something liberating about games that give you that option. Shadowlands doesn’t allow you to do anything like this, though. Arrows and swords go through NPCs without any reaction, and they never go unconscious or take damage. You’re not able to do anything to them despite them being superfluous characters, and this feels incredibly limiting.
That’s hardly the only limitation of the game. For one, all control over the save situation is taken out of your hands and replaced with a big “save” button that doesn’t allow to you do things like overwrite an earlier save. Secondly, in the PC version, the option to change your resolution is on a screen that you only see when you start up the game, forcing you to exit the game entirely and restart it if you want to change your resolution. There are few graphical options, as well, with the three options being “low, medium, and high.” Seriously. There are also no day/night cycles, and despite there being beds all over, you’re never able to interact with them. That’s not surprising, though, because you’re not able to interact with much in the game. While in Bethesda games you’re able to steal and interact with just about everything that isn’t nailed down, this game is full of interesting-looking spell bottles and books that can’t be interacted with. They, just like the citizens who walk around in town, are nothing more than decorations to make the empty world appear full.
Eating and regeneration
One of the more interesting elements Shadowlands introduces is the “eating” mechanic. Basically, your character eats the food in your inventory as you’re out and about, and running out of food limits your regeneration rates, making it a bad idea to get into a fight. The whole mechanic is undermined by the huge amount of food you’ll obtain from enemies early in the game, however, and I never ran out of food once I realized that meat was useful for more than just selling despite making no concerted effort to restock.
There’s no need for new weapons
I played through almost the entire game with a crossbow that I bought early on. In what other game would you be able to use the same weapon for 95% of the game? You’re occasionally picking up new weapons, and yet for every fight save for the final one where only the Ravensword does damage, everything is inferior to the Light Crossbow. This crossbow does 80-240 damage, more than just about any weapon in the entire game, and is available from the very beginning of the game if you save up your money for it. Once you’ve acquired it, you’ll be able to stealth-kill just about anything in a single hit, and even finish off late-game enemies in just a few shots while you’re still at level 3-4. I honestly don’t know if this is a good or bad thing—on one hand, having to constantly switch weapons in RPGs is always a bit of an annoyance, but on the other, going through the entire game slaughtering enemies without any trouble on the default difficulty makes the whole thing seem unbalanced.
Respawn, my lovelies!
The enemy respawning in this game is kind of ridiculous. If you kill two enemies, one of them is bound to respawn by the time you’ve looted both of them. I discovered something interesting, though—enemies don’t seem to respawn if you don’t loot them. That means that if you’re bored of the non-story and non-characters and looking to finish the game as quickly as possible, leaving loot behind is a good way of avoiding having to engage the same enemies over and over and over. It certainly reduces the amount of meaningless repetition you’d have to engage in.
Bugs and issues
One of Ravensword: Shadowlands’ biggest problems revolves around bugs. There are a lot of them. There are quests that don’t trigger correctly, random black screens that necessitate control/alt/deleting and force-closing the game (this is exclusive to the PC version, obviously), hit detection issues where arrows get stuck in invisible barriers rather than hitting what you’re aiming at, magically floating crates in people’s houses, and even rocks that you can fall through, ending up outside of the game world. Less problematic but still indicative of the game’s lack of polish would be your escorts during escort missions and how their pathfinding is so ridiculous that they often end up running in place in midair. They eventually teleport to you if you run ahead, meaning this won’t actually keep you from finishing escort missions, but it’s nevertheless an irritation. There’s also the problem of certain caves/miscellaneous entrances not being immediately apparent, looking more like a wall until you bring up your minimap and see them labeled as a “cave” on the map.
Then there are the quests that don’t seem to actually finish. Early in the game, I was lured into a trap by someone. Coming out alive, I told her that I was going to report her to a guard. However, when I found a guard, my only options were to ask about completely unrelated things. I never found a way to turn her in.
There are also animation problems. I refused to loot some zombies late in the game so that I wouldn’t have to face them again on the way back, and when I returned, their bodies were standing in the “default” 3D model pose. Talk about sloppy.
Do you like fast travel? This game has fast travel. The world is surprisingly small to the point where it’s not as necessary a feature as you’d probably expect from an open-world game, but I suppose it was handy enough for teleporting back to the archmage whenever I found a rune and had to find my way back to the starting town.
The controls are atrocious on mobile
This can’t be emphasized enough. Playing games like this on a mobile device is like playing Tetris on an old-timey Game Boy through several layers of thick gloves. There’s no precision, nor is there any feedback, and this makes everything feel incredibly floaty and inaccurate. I suppose that explains why I barely made it out of the starting area on my Kindle Fire HD, but finished the game on PC. Neither platform is perfect, though—the PC version suffers because of its mobile roots that constantly hold it back, while the mobile version suffers for its attempt to recreate an Oblivion-esque experience on a platform that’s simply not suited to it.
U-G-L-Y, R:S got no alibi
It’s a mobile game ported to the PC. If you can keep that in mind while playing, you may be surprised once or twice by how visually interesting the game is capable of being. Still, for every moment of “hey, that’s actually not bad-looking,” you’re met with two instances of “wow, that’s nightmare-inducingly ugly.” Certain characters’ faces are especially terrible, most notably Leah, whose strange appearance is made especially creepy by her tendency to stare to your left rather than directly at you. Little things like that make the game incredibly strange. There are also two very obvious lines on the PC (as demonstrated in the video above) where you can see lower-quality textures being loaded instead of the high-quality ones. The game loads the low-quality textures when you’re still nearby, making this, usually a subtle effect that you never notice in games, weirdly obvious.
I don’t know if all of the open-world fantasy game developers got together one day and decided that they would only use orchestral music in their games from then on, but it often seems like it. Ravensword: Shadowlands’ orchestral soundtrack is boring, unoriginal, and completely forgettable. It also has a weird tendency to loop improperly at times, cutting off the strings’ decay. This is just another element that’s less polished than it probably should be.
Here’s what you should do: