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Ravenbound Review: A Challenging Scandinavian Roguelite Adventure of Mythic Proportions | Side Quests

Steven Weber Updated: Posted:
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Are you a roguelite fan that has always wanted to shapeshift into a bird? Ravenbound by Systemic Reaction is an action-packed roguelite game that catapults players into a world inspired by the rich tapestry of Scandinavian folklore and mythology. This third-person, action RPG game offers fast-paced combat, a permadeath system, and a mesmerizing fantasy open-world that will make you want to send a thank you note to the gods of gaming. However, be warned – its steep difficulty curve and occasional technical hiccups might leave some players praying to their inner ravens for mercy. Are you daring enough to venture into Avalt and embrace the challenge of being Ravenbound?

Ravenbound is a hybrid beast of a game, fusing action combat and a card upgrade system with a roguelite twist. You'll find yourself tossed into a brutal Scandinavian-inspired world, where your character may meet their permanent end – but worry not, your progress will still contribute to new cards and upgrades. The game begins with an opening cinematic that sets the stage: your character is merely a vessel for the power of the Raven, a force that continues to grow in strength even if the vessel (your character) dies. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to defeat the Wardens and claim their blessing, which will enable you to confront the Betrayer – an evil force that has filled the world with hatred and darkness.

Combat is King

The combat system in Ravenbound is the game's major highlight, and also pretty much the only real game mechanic available. There are very few quests, no crafting, and no grouping, but the combat and roguelike progression system are addicting enough to keep you hooked while you learn the ropes in the world of Ávalt.  Sure, it can be a bit repetitive, but it's so fast-paced and exhilarating that you'll hardly notice as the simplicity of combat doesn’t take away much from stringing together attack chains and defensive techniques. To survive in this harsh world, you'll need to learn enemy attack patterns, harness precise timing for blocking and dodging, and master a diverse arsenal of weapons, each with its own unique feel and benefits. Will you choose the two-handed sword for its impressive reach, or the lightning-fast twin axes for their knockdown power? The choice is yours, but choose wisely – the hatred-corrupted creatures of Ávalt won't go down without a fight.

In fact, the enemy and open world system is probably one of the most unforgiving scenarios I’ve seen in an action RPG in a long time. Your first run will start you with a few cards and some mana at your disposal, but after your first death, you pretty much start from scratch, with no mana or cards to slot, and plenty of enemies out there guarding your progression tooth and nail. The enemies are very rarely solo, with most encounters pitting your vessel against multiples of opponents, like thieves, imps, or draugr. The armored Wardens are all similar,  just with an amped up difficulty as you progress. You'll be required to master timed blocks, swift near-miss dodges, and harness a frenzy ability to make the most of your damage potential, as each of these techniques will provide a powerful damage bonus , and put your enemies on the defensive. 

What's a game without an intense difficulty that requires a little strategy, right? Ravenbound's card-based progression system adds depth and ensures each playthrough is a fresh experience. You need to adapt and strategize as you collect and unlock relics, gear, and instant cards by defeating monsters, leveling up (knowns as empowering fragments), and opening treasure chests. If you don’t manage your resources carefully, find more mana or set out to obtain cards that will help you, you’re pretty much guaranteed to fail.

Most of my runs would start by searching for the first blue quest marker, which points you to a Tear of Hatred, which is essentially a large totem hidden underground, which cleanses the chests in the area, and removes the hatred so that you can obtain the chest rewards without obtaining a hatred card when you level up. Through the hatred system, Ravenbound limits how many times you can empower your character.  Leveling up too often or opening treasure chests that have not been cleansed increases your hatred bar, which will eventually lock in a permanent hatred card that cannot be removed until you defeat a warden. Each time you level up with a hatred card present, it increases the power of the warden by 5 percent per card shown.  That means if you aren’t paying close attention, you could increase the power of your next boss by 15% every time you attempt to level up. This can really put a damper on exploring and battling enemies for too long ahead of facing a boss.

At times it feels like there were systems in place to make the game a little less difficult, like the Tears of Mana cleansing totems. At this time it seems there is only one of these totems per Warden (boss) that you face, which means you’re guaranteed to always generate hatred cards if you want to actually level up enough. There also seems to be one quest that gives gold to players per Boss level, too. Between the minimal questing and lack of Tears of Hatred, these systems feel like they should have been expanded, to add more chances for growth between boss battles, without taking on too much hatred, but Systemic Reaction stopped too short here, making the game extremely difficult.

One point to their favor is that the world of Ávalt is expansive, and has plenty of biomes to explore. Exploration in Ravenbound is pretty fun, with some statues to find, hidden chests, and story tidbits out there for those explorer types. Vessels can transform into a raven to soar through the skies and travel quickly to different parts of Ávalt where special monster types spawn, or to move between quest locations with ease. This mechanic provides a refreshing change of pace from the relentless combat and allows you to truly appreciate the breathtaking world the developers have conjured.

Challenge in Every Choice

The game's character classes and races are varied and fascinating, offering players a cornucopia of options to suit their playstyles, though there are zero ranged classes, forcing you to always take on your challenges through melee combat. Eventually, if you’re proficient enough to complete some of the achievements, you’ll be able to buy new classes, races, gear, and relics with an in-game achievement-based currency. This eventually ties into how you start each new run, and the way characters are “seeded” into the world. There's no traditional "character creation," but as you unlock new races and weapon types, they'll be randomly added to your character selection screen, with three options you'll need to choose from. It's like a cosmic game of roulette, but with a little bit of in-game currency, you can attempt to reroll the dice, and find a character type that suits you. Choosing a starting character is on the tip of the iceburg as every choice you make from then on will shape whether you're successful.

Ravenbound can be a blast for action and roguelite gamers, but it's not without a few thorns in its side. The steep difficulty curve and reliance on a card-based progression system can sometimes result in maddeningly challenging runs. At times, you might find yourself unable to defeat a boss despite your mastery of the game's combat, all thanks to the random nature of the cards you've collected during that run. This can be a bit disheartening for players who aren't used to the unforgiving difficulty of something akin to a Souls-like game. Ravenbound also requires an internet connection, which seems strange because it’s largely a single-player affair. The internet connection is utilized similar to how Elden Ring’s bloodstains work, where you can see where other players have died. You can choose to cleanse the hatred from these tombstones and pick up a free card, but seeing how limited you are in the hatred you can absorb, you may want to reconsider unless you’re really hard up for a new card.

In addition to the challenging learning curve, Ravenbound has its fair share of technical hiccups. Although the developers are actively slaying these bugs like the fearless warriors they are, some issues may still mar the overall experience. For instance, I encountered an odd bug that kept the boss's health display hidden until I was hit. At first, I thought the game was teaching me some bizarre "no pain, no gain" lesson, but alas, it was just a bug. Luckily, this issue should be fixed soon, but it certainly made for some interesting boss battles.

Other pesky bugs included game crashes, disappearing NPCs, and occasional difficulties interacting with objects or setting new keybinds. While these glitches aren't game-breaking, they can sometimes put a damper on your Ravenbound experience. Thankfully, the captivating setting and exhilarating gameplay more than make up for these technical trolls. With its unique blend of intense combat, engaging progression mechanics, and a richly detailed world, Ravenbound feels like it's carving out its own niche in the roguelike genre. For players who crave a challenge and appreciate a well-crafted world steeped in unique non-norse god related  Scandinavian mythology, Ravenbound is an adventure you simply can't afford to miss.

Ravenbound is available on Steam on March 30th for 29.99. So, if you think you've got what it takes to face the relentless challenges and delve into the depths of Ávalt to beat the Betrayer - sharpen your sword or axe, don your bravest face, and prepare to embark on the unique Scandinavian journey. Just don't forget to bring your patience, and your twitch combat skills, you'll need them when the going gets tough, and the tough get... Ravenbound.

7.5Good
Pros
  • Fast paced melee focused combat
  • Fun roguelite progression
  • Large open world
Cons
  • May be too difficult for some players
  • Limited side quests and level up opportunities
  • Technical hiccups, bugs and crashes


StevenWeber

Steven Weber

Steven has been a writer at MMORPG.COM since 2017. A lover of many different genres, he finds he spends most of his game time in action RPGs, and talking about himself in 3rd person on his biography page.