Although they’ve evolved into complex games with deep skill trees, timing-based moves, and endless depth, action RPGs really only require a few basics to be fun. Even young players require a coherent narrative, a strong main character, and some degree of customization. Add visual appeal, some clear goals, engaging missions, and combat. Get those things right, and your game will probably do just fine. Of course, if it was that easy, every action RPG would be a bestseller. Does Ravenlok, the final entry in Cococucumber’s Voxel trilogy, go beyond the basics?
Through a different looking glass
The developers have acknowledged that Ravenlok is inspired by fantasy classics like Alice in Wonderland and the work of JRR Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. The setting and the story beats definitely confirm it. You play as a young girl, unwillingly relocated by her parents from life in the city to a new life on a farm. She finds a dusty mirror hidden away in a cluttered barn. A few swipes of the polishing cloth and voila!, she’s pulled into a fantasy realm called Dunia and greeted by her new name, Ravenlok.
The stranger in a strange land premise is an iconic narrative device. You can probably guess what comes next. Ravenlok is tasked with defeating evil Queen Dreda and bringing happiness back to Dunia. Ravenlok — the game — has a clear antagonist and main quest, making it perfect for younger gamers.
However, Ravenlok’s story progression is not linear. Side missions, puzzles, fetch quests, and combat stand in the way of success. Although relatively short, Ravenlok travels through ten visually striking and interconnected regions of Dunia. Much of it is quite obviously an homage to Lewis Carroll’s looking-glass world.
Drenched in color, danger, and combat
From start to finish, Ravenlok is visually striking, combining Minecraft-looking voxel objects and characters with more naturalistic, though stylized, elements. There is vibrant, saturated color and detail everywhere. The difference between Ravenlok’s everyday world and Dunia’s fantasy landscape is clearly and effectively handled. While there are very short transitions between areas, there are vantage points that let Ravenlok see other zones. It makes the world seem very large, even though each area is relatively compact.
World design and the game’s quests don’t always mesh perfectly. A lot of Ravenlok’s assignments consist of hunting down multiple objects to progress the story. Unfortunately, there is no map or mission markers. It’s up to the player to remember the location of key NPCs and how to find them again, or even to recall how the areas connect. This results in some wasted time and frustration. There’s often no way of knowing in which area to search. A simple hint system would help a lot. Happily, there is a fast travel system, which helps a little.
As RPGs go, Ravenlok pares mechanics down to the essentials. There are only two types of currency to find, and relatively few collectibles, like hats and animal figurines to sell. Ravenlok has a basic skill system and other mechanics like consumables, and weapons can be upgraded by NPCs.
One button combat
Ravenlok’s movement and combat controls are extremely simple, obviously a nod to younger players. The character can walk or run, and combat consists of a single button press and one attack type. Older players used to more nuance or skill-based combat will definitely feel a bit bored by the lack of options, but there’s a fair bit of interesting enemy design, even if those enemies aren’t challenging.
While Ravenlok (the character) makes some expressive sounds, there is no voiced dialogue. Everything is text-based. Since the game’s characters are so visually engaging, this seems like a missed opportunity for even more immersion in an already attractive fantasy world. I can only guess that a young player might be frustrated or impatient by having to read the text. Either that or skip it and miss a lot of narrative.
Ravenlok’s striking world is underscored by attractive music that has recognizable themes for each area. It does grow a bit repetitive, in part because there is almost no break from it. Overall, the game’s environmental sound design is pretty minimal.
Overall, Ravenlok ran well on the Xbox Series X. There were some bugs in which completed quest elements refused to clear. Accessibility, graphics, and audio options are very limited.
My first RPG
For young players without any action RPG experience, Ravenlok could certainly serve as an introduction to the genre. The controls are simple and the environments are beautiful. The main character and narrative are straightforward and relatable. Experienced gamers might be put off by the intentional lack of depth in combat and movement, but even for them, this short game might be worth playing just for the art and imaginative characters and world.
***Xbox Series X code provided by the publisher for review***
- Beautiful art
- Simple controls
- Engaging characters
- No map
- Some unclear quests
- A few quest bugs
- Simplistic for older players