"Diablo minus ambition, creativity and quality world-building."
It would probably be a wee bit inaccurate for me to simply call Realms of Ancient War a bad game. It offers a somewhat competent, if in no way exciting, experience reminiscent of Diablo's formula and I didn't find myself encountering game-breaking glitches or anything egregious like that. I will say that it struggles with concepts such as originality and, well, basically doing anything above and beyond the bare minimum to the degree that it might be the least essential game of its genre.
At the beginning, you'll pick your character from the typical "fighter, rogue and mage" options. While each one has his or her own introductory level, they all end with you fleeing from a massive onslaught of monsters into a portal taking them to a mystical temple where they quickly release the Northern King from his prison. Or to be more precise, his body stays there, but his mind now resides within you, offering you guidance.
According to him, the four realms of the world had been in conflict for some time, so their kings decided to convene in order to hammer out a suitable peace accord. The end result was that three kings returned to their kingdoms barely better than comatose, while the Northern King had vanished. Now that his spirit is in your body, you find out that some evil being crashed the party and it took everything the kings had to overcome him. Now, you have to travel the world to open portals, allowing you to return to that temple with the power to join the Northern King's mind to his body and set things right.
Traveling the world entails going from one kingdom to the next, battling through reasonably linear levels, collecting loot, learning new skills via gaining levels and occasionally doing quests for assorted sad sacks. Whichever character you pick will have a basic attack and a couple skills that cost magic and have cool-down timers. By gaining levels, you'll be able to both strengthen those skills, as well as acquire new ones. As a fighter, I got tons of mileage out of two particular abilities. Against large groups of enemies, I had one where I leapt into the air and smashed into the ground for an effective area-of-effect attack. If a particularly tough foe (or group of them) got in my face, I could make a bunch of blades erupt from the ground in front of me. I also learned a healing spell and collected passive abilities allowing me to gain more experience from kills and receive a defensive boost when my health got depleted by a certain amount.
Levels are utterly loaded with enemies. You'll often find yourself getting mobbed by over a dozen at once, making those area-of-effect moves very useful. Occasionally, you'll come across one with an aura around it that you can possess for a brief period of time. This can be a very useful ability. At the end of one level, you'll have a boss fight against two massive statues that have quite damaging attacks and are durable enough to last for some time. But if you use possession on one, you'll be able to swing its weapon for massive damage on the other -- allowing you to overcome that obstacle more quickly and efficiently than expected.
Unfortunately, possession is under-utilized. When the opportunity arises, it's useful, but you can travel through entire levels without it becoming an option and, quite frankly, there's a good chance that you'll find your hero's abilities to be more useful than the attacks of the controlled monster. Sure, you could possess that enhanced version of a generic soldier…or you could bring it near death, while killing several of its followers, with one use of that blade eruption skill.
It's a good thing the levels are fairly short, with most taking me under 30 minutes to clear. First, you can't save inside a level. When you start one, you're playing it to the end or all your progress will be lost. More importantly, they all sort of blend together into one long trudge droning on and on. You'll fight the same enemies over and over again. LIttle spiders and creatures known as The Horde assault you constantly, while humanoid foes are all interchangeable. And pretty mindless. One of my favorite tactics for when enemies were getting to me was simply to run away. They'd follow in a single-file line and when I'd regained some health or my magic gauge was full again, it'd be time to go back on the attack. And there was nothing they could do to prevent me from doing that over and over again from the first level to the last.
Whenever a level at least gives the illusion of being fairly open, you'll notice that Realms of Ancient War doesn't offer a map of any kind, forcing you to navigate by guesswork and memory in order to fully explore it. While this was only particularly annoying in one level where a forest guardian forced me to retrace my steps to kill three monsters located in out-of-the-way places in order to progress, it was a bit disconcerting to play a game of this sort and not have the option to look at a map to see where I'd been and if I'd missed a well-concealed side path. For some reason, you'll be given Soul Stones at the beginning of each level that count as lives. Lose all of them and you'll have to start the level from the beginning. At least if you're playing solo -- in a co-op game, the other player only needs to stay alive for a few seconds and you'll be resurrected just like that. Obviously, a lot of thought went into that mechanic!
This is a mediocre game brought down a bit further by a general lack of things such as originality or deep thought. One of the land's realms holds humans, while the others contain dwarves and elves. Each of the three share an enmity with the others. Non-human enemies seem ripped from the Gary Gygax Starter Kit, with Beholders and Liches both taking their swings at you, as do Tolkien's Ents. If you want a laugh, take a peek at the "lavish" descriptions given to the vender trash items. You'll get scrolls, keys, books and so on -- with all given flavor text along the lines of "An old scroll" or "A rusty key". In other words, the same sort of effort that seemingly was put into everything above and beyond the basic framework of this game. Although I did appreciate how the dialogue written for the final boss made it sound like that being had as much "Mean Girl" as world-conquering dictator in him.
The fact I'm spending time talking about sparse descriptions for meaningless items and a villain's unintentionally humorous dialogue is as good a sign as any that Realms of Ancient War struggled to maintain my interest. It does a decent enough job of putting together the basic elements of a Diablo clone to make it a tolerable diversion, but there's nothing here to actually excite a gamer. The possession element had potential, but wasn't implemented enough to be a game-changer; while everything else in this game has been done before and done better.
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (July 21, 2021)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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