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Happy endings are all too rare in the world of Eclisse. Six years have passed since the Empire of the Raven shook off invasion and civil war, yet the nations remain mired in chaos thanks to bumbling – or downright bloodthirsty – leadership. A band of cutthroat sellswords could decide the fate of Witching Hour Studios’ richly detailed fantasy world, and that’s great news for fans of their cult classic TBS, Ravenmark: Scourge of Estellion!

LinesMeetWitching Hour Studios revealed long ago that Mercenaries would be a multiplayer follow-up, but Ravenmark veterans are in for a pleasant surprise all the same. The Ravenmark formula has a completely different feel to it when you’re playing against human opponents rather than a CPU. Gone are the days of learning from failure and gradually re-tooling your strategy; here you’ve got just one shot at your online opponent, and it’s the unpredictability of human decisions that keeps the warmongering fresh and fun. Battles are still pretty big with around two dozen units on the field, so the asynchronous nature of player turns makes an engagement likely to play out in quick spurts over a period of days. This is bound to come as a relief to anyone who found it difficult to invest time in the original game’s hours-long campaigns. To keep player turns from becoming too short, on the other hand, Witching Hour has built a system that lets you input two command phases before settling in for the wait.

The second really cool thing about the Mercenaries system is that a randomized opponent search makes it easy to keep several battles going simultaneously. You can also challenge specific players if you know their Witching Hour Studios account usernames. With heavy beta testing ensuring the game will have a healthy community at launch, players should seldom be at a loss for things to do. Witching Hour will also be pushing out single-player “contract” battles periodically in case you ever find yourself missing the old afternoon-occupying play sessions or simply feel the need to brush up on new gameplay features that deepen the Ravenmark formula beyond its scope in Scourge of Estellion.

BeastsofWarAnd it’s the brand-new gameplay tweaks that are liable to leave the greatest impression on series fans. Whereas Scourge of Estellion feeds you a pre-determined set of units every battle, Mercenaries gives you some control over the composition of your forces: units now come in regiment-sized packs that can be swapped in and out of your lineup provided they’re not already engaged in another battle. Secondary characters from Scourge of Estellion head special regiments that can be recruited with reward cash, giving you something really juicy to work for. Experience in battle – win or lose – lets you choose an upgrade path that applies stat bonuses to your deployed units. Rumor has it that veterans of Scourge of Estellion can also look forward to bonuses if they dive into Mercenaries with their existing Witching Hour Studios accounts.

You’d think multiplayer would naturally shift the focus away from storytelling, but the folks at Witching Hour have come up with clever ways of deepening Ravenmark lore both within Mercenaries and across different media. Series fans should check out the journal entries of wandering bard Makkre, which help set the stage for Mercenaries. To see a full lowdown of new gameplay features, check out the dedicated Mercenaries website.

So long story short, Mercenaries is shaping up to be pretty cool in our minds. But why take our word for it? If you live in Singapore, Australia, or New Zealand, go download the soft launch and see for yourself! The full wide release is expected in mid July. Mercenaries will be a free download with ad support, although certain in-app purchases will nix in-game advertisements.