Roguelites have become a mainstay in video games, where the idea of dying over and over again to make progress slowly has been utilized by some of the better games of the last ten years. Attaching that system to an open-world action-adventure title—à la Skyrim—is intriguing for sure, but Ravenbound fails to offer a world worth exploring, combat worth learning, and systems worth getting frustrated over.
You are the Raven. A vessel created by the gods of old, known as the Ellri, to have a weapon to fight the Betrayer, an ex-member of the Ellri. In addition to appearing as a normal, Viking-like warrior, you also have the ability to transform into a raven to glide peacefully across the map. After each death, however, the raven’s abilities are transferred to a new host, allowing the player to continue the fight for which the gods have chosen them.
While the story itself is fine, it does seem odd that a powerful group of deities who decided they could not take on the Betrayer separately would instead combine forces to create a being that would die over and over again, but hey, that’s Ravenbound.
“Ravenbound is an experience that piques your interest and lays some really interesting groundwork but feels completely half-baked…”
At the start of each run, you are given a set of warriors to choose from, each with random skills and abilities, as well as weapon types they are proficient in, similar to how Rogue Legacy handles character selection. Once that decision is made, you make your way through a vast, beautiful world with enemies everywhere for you to take on. While the world is gorgeous to look at, it doesn’t take long to realize how empty the ruins and forests are — with no need or reward for exploration — while even the town’s NPCs are simple shopkeepers who fulfill the player’s basic needs.
The combat is fast-paced and requires great timing for blocks and dodges, but the hack-and-slash nature of it quickly gets monotonous, as you can basically just move around like a chicken with its head cut off to avoid damage and gain buffs while throwing counterpunches whenever possible. Coupled with the lacklustre enemy differentiation (almost all enemies are human warriors like yourself, with a few trolls, goblins, and draugr thrown in for flavour), and you’ve got a completely mixed bag that leaves the character in the densest part of the game pretty bored throughout.
“Hopefully, Ravenbound can be turned around with some more time, but until that happens, it’s just not a game I could recommend.”
Adding to the frustration is the card-based roguelite system, where downed enemies produce redeemable items and skills that can only be used if you’ve also collected some mana and have enough free relic slots to put them in. While using deck-building elements is an interesting approach, the complete randomness and lack of surefire ways to use these cards leave the player flailing around at the same enemies over and over again, hoping to get a decent build going before getting beaten by the main bosses and having to start over.
Ravenbound is an experience that piques your interest and lays some really interesting groundwork, but feels completely half-baked, with many of the systems clashing or failing to come through in a positive way for the player. Add to that the fact that the world looks so incredible and vast but is completely devoid of anything interesting to do or find beyond a few bare-bones settlements and camp after camp of basic enemy types, and it is disappointing. Hopefully, Ravenbound can be turned around with some more time, but until that happens, it’s just not a game I could recommend.