Does Ravenmark even need an introduction around here anymore? Just on the off chance that it does, here’s the lowdown: Witching Hour Studios launched this massively good, story heavy Turn-Based Strategy title way back in November 2011. A few months after release they followed up with a free content update that nearly doubled the game’s size, and now they’re about to charge back into the App Store with a brand new campaign – “Deepwood Dragoons” – as a $1.99 IAP. Given the scrutiny surrounding IAPs in this industry, Ravenmark fans and newcomers are justifiably thinking, This had better be good. That’s worth a close look at the new content, and we’ll tell you our verdict up front: it’s really, really good.
“Deepwood Dragoons” may look short at six missions, but I came away glad this is the campaign to set the tone for Ravenmark’s planned IAP expansions. Being the series fan that I am, I squealed with delight when the devs announced the role of protagonist would fall to Thaddeus L’Eclin this time around. He’s one of the most immediately engaging characters in Ravenmark’s debut campaign, and his journey home after those events does not disappoint. The motley band of zealots who starred in “Suneaters” made for quite a bit of comic relief, but “Deepwood” returns to the meat and potatoes of truly great dramatic storytelling that sets Ravenmark apart from the crowd.
But I should back up and give a refresher course in case you’re new to the series — and if you’re a fan who doesn’t have all the nations and cultures on flashcards yet, you’ll probably appreciate this too. Thaddeus is with the Sotrans, a small progressive nation of rationalists allied to the Empire of the Raven. Compared to the medieval warlords who reign in Ravenmark’s world, the Sotrans represent a kind of steampunk industrialism, which proves useful as Thaddeus’ nation, too, falls under invasion from the Suneaters. Yet for all of Esotre’s technological superiority, the precise and collected Thaddeus finds his people – and himself – just as subject to emotion and political intrigue as he’s swept into an uneasy alliance with the cavalier Lorraine D’Artim. “Deepwood” also gives us a little more insight into the culture of the tribal Lyri and – lest we get too serious – the importance of sugary desserts to mad scientists.
The culture shift from the previous campaigns to “Deepwood” has wide ranging effects on gameplay. This is entirely a positive shift. Compared to the balanced combined-arms forces Ravenmark players are used to, “Deepwood” asks you to rethink the rules of warfare now that you’re top-heavy with long range fusiliers. Like “Suneaters” before it, “Deepwood” gives you no quarter if you’re a Ravenmark newbie. You’re sunk if you don’t know the unit linking rules learned in the initial debut campaign, and you’ll have to apply some creative thinking beyond that: keep your foolhardy instincts in check and your limited cavalry in reserve just behind your rifle formations and you’ll live to tell about it. The special skills of your story commanders – sniping to stun enemies and so forth – strike me as more important here than they’ve ever been previously. My favorite “Deepwoods” mission throws the rule book out entirely in a three-way battle where the key is to pivot and engineer a situation where both your enemies attack each other instead of Thaddeus’ and Lorraine’s troops.
Naturally this wouldn’t be a Ravenmark expansion without some awesome new units to look forward to! The Armored Hallow Frog of “Suneaters” was the big show-stealer of that campaign, but it’s hard to pick a favorite in “Deepwood.” You’re introduced first to the grenade-wielding dwarves of Nil Athair and the utterly surprising Boar Chargers. If you think you’ve seen a “tank” unit in Ravenmark, well, you simply haven’t seen one until you play “Deepwood.” And then there are unwieldy artillery batteries and mechanical units dreamed up by Esotre’s legendary “Madmachiner,” who gives the player some very nice contraptions to use in the campaign’s closing missions.
In addition to unlocking “Deepwood Dragoons” for In-App Purchase, the coming Ravenmark update will let players tackle its campaigns out of order – again, if you dare – and create a Witching Hour Studios account that makes it easier to sync data across multiple iDevices. We also hear through the grapevine that this might have something to do with multiplayer functionality down the road! The Witching Hour Studios team continue to tweak the previous campaigns as player feedback flows in.
Above all, the greatest surprise we found in the “Deepwood” update is a slot for a new campaign that returns to the Empire of the Raven story arc! And what’s this we’re hearing about an upcoming webcomic? Things are getting exciting at Witching Hour Studios, so you’d better keep an eye on their blog, Twitter Account and Facebook page. Also, don’t forget to check out our in-depth studio interview from back in November.