PC, Xbox Series X
May 4, 2023
Ravenlok is an action-adventure game where you voyage through a mysterious Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland-esque world to defeat an evil queen. While the game certainly succeeds on the atmosphere front through its soundtrack and visuals, the gameplay does not match that same standard, featuring simplistic combat and a deluge of fetch quests, interspersed with some occasionally clever puzzles.
You play as a young woman named Ravenlok (or something else if you choose to rename her and make the game’s title no longer make sense) whose family has moved to an isolated farmhouse. After helping her parents with chores, Ravenlok discovers a mysterious old mirror in the barn, which transports her to a strange new world, filled with talking animals, witches, and monsters. As part of the game’s frequent nods to the works and style of Lewis Carroll, Ravenlok takes this development in her stride and rarely comments on the oddness of the events around her outside of a general desire to fulfil an ancient prophecy and defeat the evil queen who is oppressing the populace so that she can return home.
Ravenlok isn’t the most expressive or interesting of protagonists, however, the weirdness of the NPCs that she comes across makes the experience memorable. From hedgehog shopkeepers to mantis mad scientists to the requisite Mad Hatter, there are plenty of quirky and funny individuals to encounter during your journey. The whole world is enveloped in this odd sense of otherworldliness, emphasised by the differences in character designs between the rounded, naturalistically-proportioned Ravenlok and the 3D pixel art aesthetic which characterise the denizens that Ravenlok encounters.
“Combat is simplistic, and perhaps a bit too much on the easy side.”
That said, Ravenlok can only go so far on its world and atmosphere, and unfortunately it doesn’t go so well in the gameplay department. Combat is simplistic, and perhaps a bit too much on the easy side. Ravenlok is armed with a sword and shield, and can acquire elemental bombs and up to four special attacks.
I rarely had to rely too much on the bombs and special attacks, as Ravenlok’s sword attacks are lightning-fast and don’t really have any point in the attack animation that leaves the player vulnerable. As such, it is very simple to just button-mash your enemies to death before they can lay a finger on you. I did enjoy the variety in the boss designs, from aggressive card soldiers to a vain hermit crab and his inexplicable ninja army, but none of them felt especially challenging or engaging.
The quests in between the combat felt equally lacking in complexity, at least for the most part. So many of them were a variation on “find X number of items” dotted around the area, whether it be pieces of cinder or tea cups. The game can also often be frustratingly vague in its instructions, like how to find a missing spare elevator lever. In this instance, one doesn’t need to go to the engine room that you had previously visited; instead, it is found somewhere completely different in a very unintuitive area you wouldn’t think to check.
That said, there are some clever puzzles mixed in with the fetch quest drudgery. In between collecting 5 tea cups or whatever, you also encounter challenges involving finding clues around the environment, memorising hints, and interpreting information you find, which I actually enjoyed quite a bit, particularly as it melded rather well with Alice in Wonderland’s emphasis on wordplay and riddles.
It also helps that the world Ravenlok explores is gorgeous to behold. There is plenty of beautiful scenery to be found, from the mysterious and vibrant Mushroom Forest to the way the afternoon light shines on the shattered mirrors that litter the High Garden. The jaunty orchestral soundtrack also landed the whimsical tone the game was going for and perfectly characterised the quirky, yet surreal, atmosphere.
- Memorable and quirky NPCs
- Compellingly weird and offbeat atmosphere
- Decently-designed puzzles mixed in with the fetch quests
- Combat is simplistic and a bit too easy
- Too many fetch quests
- NPCs can be a bit vague regarding where to go next
Ravenlok is not a bad game, but judged on its gameplay, it feels somewhat insubstantial. Those going into the game looking for an engaging and challenging action experience will likely be turned off by its simple and toothless combat and overreliance on fetch quests. That said, for younger gamers or those seeking a more straightforward adventure through a surreal world filled with memorable and strange characters, it’s a decent time, and is worth checking out on those merits.