RAVENMARK: Mercenaries Review - Well Polished Asynchronous Multiplayer TBS
RAVENMARK: Mercenaries by Witching Hour Studio
Price: Free to Play with optional $4.99 Premium Unlock
Played On: iPad & iPhone (Universal App)
Overall Rating: 9.5 out of 10
Discussion Thread: http://forums.toucharcade.com/showthread.php?t=193917
Note: v1.05 patch. Updated review to reflect new competitive arena and updated single player features. Multiplayer and border skirmish cooldown/timers and brigade lockouts have been removed from the game to make the game more premium instead of fremium.
RAVENMARK: Mercenaries is the free to play turn based strategy multiplayer sequel to the award winning single player campaign RAVENMARK: Scourge of Estellion. Like the first game, Mercenaries is a universal app playable on both iPhone or iPad and your progress is saved on the server so you can pick up and play on either platform. A cross-platform version for the Android is in beta testing.
The game is set in the world of Eclisse during a three way war and you play as an aspiring mercenary commander. The lore builds on from the first game and the information accessed via the codex is quite overwhelming. But unlike the first game in the series, Mercenaries does not have a main storyline but instead focuses on asynchronous PvP battles. Mercenaries does include a single player mode available called “border skirmishes” where you can test your brigade combinations against the AI. The developer, Witching Hour Studios, has released in v1.05 a short "Major Contract" single player campaign which adds a bit to the story and unlocks a free brigade to use upon completion. They have also released a new arena mode, where you can battle against other players in 15 min turn ELO based ranked matches. Just like with the first game, WHS listens to their player's feedback and implements requested features on a regular basis.
I was concerned about the free to play business model and the in-game advertisements but with a one time $4.99 premium iap unlock you can remove all ads. I only saw one advertisement before I purchased the upgrade and haven’t seen another since. The balance in the game is quite good, the starting generic brigades are lower in power and balanced to each other in strength. The premium brigades with commanders can be hired with currency earned in game and they are all roughly equivalent in strength to each other as well. Players can buy iap for more currency to hire these higher tier brigades quicker but since they are not overpowered it has little impact on balance. The emphasis is on player skill and not on pay to win since any brigade is capable of winning.
There is a bit of a learning curve in Mercenaries, this is a very deep turn based strategy game. You hire “brigades” (ex: Mallico’s Madmen or Blacksteel Battalion) which consist of a premade formation of about 6 to 8 units and each player can deploy two of these brigades each match. Finding synergy and combos between brigades is a large part of the strategy and each brigade earns XP to level up as you use them. Both players take their turn at the same time and once both sides have submitted their commands, the round is played out simultaneously. It is imperative to anticipate your enemies’ strategy or else you might find you have walked into your opponent’s trap. “Standing orders” have a strong impact on gameplay, since each side only receives 6 command points per round. Each command point allows you to change the orders of a single unit or a set of two or three units in "formations" so you have to plan in advance your strategy to make your plan come together when the time is right.
I introduced my Dad to Mercenaries and he had not played the previous game so was having a little difficulty mastering the strategy. I suggested he download the free episodic version of Scourge of Estellion since the first of the six campaigns is free and has a much better tutorial. A nice tie in feature between the two games is that each campaign you complete in SoE unlocks a unique (and very strong) brigade for use in Mercenaries. RAVENMARK: Scourge of Estellion also has a premium version of the app that comes with all six campaigns for $9.99 and is well worth the price tag in my opinion. My dad finished the first free campaign on the episodic app and then turned around and bought the full premium app to play every campaign.
Free brigade awarded in Mercenaries for beating one of the campaigns in SoE:
This is a deep strategy game and scratches my multiplayer strategy game itch. I have been playing every day since its release over a month ago and haven’t even tried out half of the forty available brigades yet and they are adding more with the Arena patch coming in early September. There are so many combos and strategies, whether you want to specialize in fast cavalry, ranged archer attacks, or suicidal exploding troops, there is a strategy for everyone’s taste. The Arena and leaderboards make the multiplayer doubly competitive while the"random opponent" mode caters to the casual multiplayer crowd.
The single player portion of the game is only average though since multiplayer has been this game's focus from the start. The developers do have both short (v1.05 they just updated new units to the border skirmishes and added a few storyline campaign missions) and long term plans to flesh out the single player experience in Mercenaries through future updates though. For now, if you want a sole single player experience, you should check out the first game Scourge of Estellion instead.
Single player mode: 7 out of 10 (I scored this a 6 originally before patch v1.05)
Multiplayer mode: 10 out of 10
Graphics & Presentation
The game has a lot of polish and features a clean interface. The production value that went into this game is impressive from the developer Witching Hour Studio. It is hard to believe they are an indie developer with as much TLC they have given the game. The codex (information library / manual) is accessible from anyplace in the game and is hyperlinked within itself so you can find any information easily. Oftentimes I find myself looking up the attack range of an enemy archer and there is so much information available to see that 10 minutes later I might remember I happen to be in the middle of a battle. The art style is attractive but the basic attack and ability animations during the battles are somewhat simple though, although quite functional. Several different game speed settings allow you to speed up or down the battle speed. Usually in a TBS, graphics are of secondary concern and RAVENMARK: Mercenaries is much better than your average TBS anyway.
Graphics: 8 out of 10
Presentation/Polish: 10 out of 10
Sound Effects & Music
I will be honest and say half the time I have the sound turned off when I play the game. When I have it on though, the music is quite good. It’s certainly better than most generic fantasy game music that is ubiquitous on the App Store. The sound effects during combat are just average though, and neither hinder nor stand out.
Music: 8 out of 10
Sound effects: 5 out of 10
Fun & Lasting Appeal
RAVENMARK: Mercenaries will not be everyone’s cup of tea, just like TBS in general are a niche market. But for those who love deep TBS games and want to focus on the multiplayer aspects, this is your game. Unlocking the next brigade is constantly exciting since it opens up whole new strategies and gameplay to master. I find that since both you and your opponent's moves happen simultaneously it is exhilarating watching the battle unfold since your clever strategy can either win the day or your opponent might outfox you and counter it before you can move your troops out of danger. The developers have sponsored tournaments on the official forums with unique banner sigils and silver awarded to the winners which adds a lot of healthy competitiveness to the community and is a lot of fun to participate in.
Fun: 9 out of 10
Lasting Appeal: 10 out of 10
The free to play model is accessible to everyone. The developers did a great job with their pricing model since they allow you to make a onetime $4.99 premium upgrade to remove ads if you wish. I didn’t even blink at this since I downloaded the game with the intentions of getting the premium upgrade from the start. A game of this value should be worth more than $5 anyway. You can also with iap buy the in-game currency of silver which lets you unlock brigades quicker, but since the premium brigades are equivalent in power to each other and can be unlocked normally from playing the game, it does not unbalance things for players playing for free. If you don’t mind ads, playing for free is a viable option and if you want to support the game and remove ads, you can. Perfect!
Price: 10 out of 10
Overall Rating: 9.5 out of 10
Last edited by Gilgilad; 09-18-2013 at 11:08 AM.. Reason: v1.05 patch update