Crescent Moon's Ravensword: Shadowlands is the closest you'll get to playing an open-world Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim experience on iOS, with beautiful environments, elaborately-crafted castles, impressive draw distances, numerous quests to complete and monsters to pummel. Longtime role-playing fans probably won't find anything they haven't seen before, but that would be a silly reason to outright dismiss it.
The setup is, admittedly, standard RPG fare. As the lone survivor of an epic battle at Heronmar, you awake in the peaceful city of Aven, where you customize your hero using a decent editor, get acquainted with the locals and learn that your avatar serves a bigger purpose in both life and the fate of the fictitious world in which he resides. At least that's what comes from a meeting with the Archmage, who sends you on a grand quest to locate the Ravenstones in the hope of tracking down the Ravensword, then purging the land of vicious creatures running amok. Not exactly a groundbreaking plot, but who cares? Save the world. Check. Kill monsters. Check. What more does one need on the go?
From there, you're set loose within this virtual playground, and right away, you'll marvel at the jaw dropping visuals. Yes, animations are a bit crude, the camera has a tendency to go bonkers in third-person (you can even switch to first person), enemies at times appear from nowhere and objects lying on crates tend to remain suspended in mid-air after splintering said boxes, but by and large, Ravensword's captivating graphics overshadow some of these complaints. Stunning vistas, snow-capped mountains, enchanting sunlight and terrifying beasts (the list includes trolls, dinosaurs, goblins and more) round out a grand assortment of eye-candy, made even sweeter due to a lack of jagged edges; everything is clean for the most part.
Gameplay, meanwhile, is exactly what we expected from this type of game. There are no shortage of merchants willing to separate you from gold in order to sell axes, swords, shields, armor, pendants, runes and potions; you can, thankfully, make a profit off things you pick up in the wild. What's more, you're able to spend Attribute Points to increase Strength, Agility, Endurance and Vigor, while Talent Points go towards Combat, Magic and Stealth, along with General skills, like Acrobatics, Riding (for mounts) and Quickness. This gives you a modest level of customization over the type of hero you wish to become.
Combat is the usual hack-and-slash affair, made possible via Energy that determines how many strikes you string together in rapid succession. It's largely entertaining, but also highlights one of the game's problems, that being the lack of an in-depth tutorial. The developers throw you into the world against stronger enemies with little guidance on how to make the character a more efficient killing machine, which more often than not leads to some nasty deaths against adversaries you originally thought were weaker.
On top of that, although you're able to track quests, the game doesn't necessarily place markers on the world map, or show you where to go. Instead, you'll need to memorize locations, not exactly the most user-friendly setup for a mobile game. This carries over to assigning potions along the bottom of the screen. The game fails to display a potion's color, red (health) or blue (energy), so more often than not, you'll tap one under the impression it's health, only to increase energy by accident. The result? Death.
We're also not huge fans of the brief waiting time between killing an enemy and the body made available for looting. It's only two to three seconds, but instantaneous is more ideal. This also ties into having to wait for a white cursor to appear over the carcass, instead of just tapping it. Sometimes, we literally have to jump onto the deceased to loot it.
Finally, the lack of control customization is somewhat of a downer. For whatever reason, the developers mapped camera manipulation to the top right corner of the screen, with a little sliver between the attack and jump buttons (these definitely get in the way). And what's up with the character putting away his sword? Always happens just as we're about to fight something. There's simply no reason to sheath one's weapon unless directed specifically by the player.
On that note, Ravensword: Shadowlands has plenty of issues, all or most of which will probably get fixed in future updates. For now, though, it's a fairly basic but still entertaining adventure that provides a wonderful glimpse at the future of smartphone and tablet games. Worth the $6.99 asking price, so long as you're willing to accept its limitations.
Review code provided by Crescent Moon Games
What's Hot: Fully realized open world adventure, speedy load times for the most part, detailed editor to customize one's character, enjoyable hack-and-slash combat.
What's Not: Camera issues, floating object glitch, inability to set waypoints makes navigation a chore, no in-depth tutorial, standard RPG plot.