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Preview: Ravenswatch

6 Apr 2023

It feels like we really have already passed the point wherein we should be getting dozens of deeply felt YouTube videos about what makes a good roguelite game, or else we already have been getting them and I just happen to have somehow missed them over the past several years. The thought was on my mind was I played Ravenswatch, which in some respects is so closely drawn to the archetype that you might think it was a remake of some older title with modern art and performance.

That’s not half a dig on the game, either; while your mileage will vary in how much you like this, it cannot be argued that Ravenswatch is not drawing from a deep and familiar well in many fashions and that it does so ultimately to its benefit. The big question, then, is what that deep well brings to the table and whether or not it makes for a satisfying experience on its own. Which is what we’re about to dive into here.


I’d love to give you an overview of Ravenswatch’s story, but honestly? If you’ve watched the game’s reveal trailer, you know about as much as I do. In a faintly fantasy land, there are horrible nightmare things that are awakening. You take the role of one of six characters out of stories and legend, a lineup of Beowulf, Aladdin, Scarlet (better known as “Little Red Riding Hood”), Franz the Pied Piper, Niss the Snow Queen, and Melusine (a siren) to smash up a whole lot of monsters to power up, then hopefully smash the boss to death. Rinse and repeat.

The easiest practical description of the game, however, would be “did you love Hades and wish it had multiplayer? Kind of like that.”

Each character has a lineup of abilities with a basic attack, a special ability, a power, and a defensive trick. They also have unique mechanics, such as Scarlet swapping between her rogue human form and her bestial werewolf form as the world cycles from day to night. You also gain a variety of randomized extra abilities on level up, randomized boost items from chests and challenges, and so forth. Killing monsters boosts your level, exploring nets you items and powerups, and you generally want to gain as much power as you can before the Nightmare wakes up.

Once it does? Well, time for a big showpiece battle in which you hopefully emerge victorious. Rinse and repeat, crimson and clover, over and over. (I lie, of course. There’s no clover. Lots of crimson, though. Also burgundy, scarlet, vermilion, maroon… lots of red tones, in other words.)

The game can be played alone or multiplayer. Obviously, multiplayer provides a sold force multiplication effect, but the trick is that several things in the game world are shared rather than unique. For example, at the start of each run you have four raven feathers that allow you to revive. When you’re alone, all of those can be used on you, but in a group they’re a shared resource. You also can’t double up on heroes, so if you and all your friends really like to play Melusine someone’s going to be left out.

What’s worst and probably most frustrating is that the game’s early explanation of mechanics is… well, it’s not great. Not terrible, but your first time out with a character is probably going to steamroll right into an ignominious death. There’s not really time, for example, to figure out how Scarlet plays without just waiting until the moon rises and she becomes a werewolf. Moreover, at least early on it feels like you don’t have a lot of great selections for powers and you’re usually getting something not very good, which hurts a bit.

Of course, as time goes by you’ll learn the quirks and start getting a feel for how the game works. The controls are sharp and responsive, so it all hangs together nicely. And by your third or fourth outing you’ll start learning how to prioritize, how to take on certain challenges. The level cap feels a bit low, but then, the goal is supposed to be quick prep work followed by the showdown, not just endlessly grinding until you can stop the boss. And the boss fights are fun, with a lot of creativity on display.

As the Crow Struts

Graphically, the game’s a bit more colorful than some screenshots might suggest… but not much. It thankfully is designed well enough on a visual level that you don’t find yourself perplexed about where your character is or what’s going on around you, but I do feel like this is a bit of a tedious grimdark super dark atmosphere from a visual standpoint. A little more brightness would have done a lot.

Fortunately, while the enemies all look appropriately diseased and nasty, the game does have an acerbic sense of humor, particularly in the character voice lines. It’s not comedic, but it’s delivered with a cheeky nod and a sense that the writers at least understood all of this was taking itself just a little bit too seriously. I appreciate that, and on a whole the presentation errs just on the right side of being dark without overwhelming.

As mentioned, the controls are crisp and the UI is pretty clean and unobtrusive. This is a good thing, as is immediate legibility on your abilities and your overall boosts. I found myself unsure of how characters worked at first, but once I learned everything felt very natural. This is a good thing and pretty vital given how the game is structured.

Music and sound design is… present, but kind of bland. It’s a bit droning and it won’t really stick in your mind, and aside from the infrequent but welcome voice lines you’re likely to tune it all out. This is probably by design; if you’re playing with friends you want to be able to focus on vocal communication. It’s still a bit of a letdown, though, especially if you haven’t got any friends. (So, me. I’m talking about me.)

Corvid Surveillance

The thing about Ravenswatch is that it’s a game going into early access that does, in fact, have a pretty clear picture of what it wants to be and how it’s supposed to work. If it needs anything at this point, the main thing is just more – more map styles, more enemies, more characters to play, more powers. The basic interaction and gameplay loop is where it seems to want to be, and it is in fact solid.

Is it solid enough to be worth playing? I think that depends a lot on what you want out of a game. If you want an action RPG-style roguelite game and/or something that will play well with friends, it’s already a solid title. If you mostly want an original story, compelling cast members, and an ever-growing plot… then this is not going to deliver what you want, and I don’t think it’s going to become what you want it to do.

Still, it’d be silly to be down on the game for that reason alone. If you’ve got friends to play it with? Ravenswatch can sing already, and with a bit more development it might be a truly memorable song for you and your crew.

Preview copy provided courtesy of NACON for purposes of evaluation. All screenshots courtesy of NACON.