Wizarbox's Realms of Ancient War has plenty of problems, but at the front of the queue is this one: it's one of the most painfully generic video games of 2012. An inspiration-free dungeon crawling action-RPG, it steals incessantly from the best games in the genre, and still manages to come up empty handed. It's got everything you'd expect it to have: an upgradeable attribute system, hack and slash combat, looting, bosses… and yet it's all so terribly mundane and dull. It also feels as if it may have been financially kneecapped at some point: there are three playable characters but the co-op mode only supports two, and there's no online at all, aside from a rudimentary high score table. You get the sense that the developers had really big ideas for it, but there are only so many things that you can forgive it for.
It's the usual portentous babble about warring elves, wizards and hard-bitten, bare-chested warriors. It doesn't even attempt to be coherent, but its no-nonsense attitude towards backstory is very welcome indeed. As the opening voiceover spiel gets into full swing, it's hard not to worry that you're about to be treated to a deeply uninteresting explanation about why all of this nonsense is going on. Nope. This is a battle that has been fought for so long that, "the reasons for it have been forgotten by all". Praise the lord.
The main problem here is that the combat is really flat for an action game. You've got three attacks (each one mapped to a face button) but that's it. You can't do any evasive manoeuvres at all; there's no combat roll, no dodge. If you're a Warrior you simply run into battle and hammer your buttons relentlessly or (if you're using either the Rogue or Wizard class) you'll attempt to do the same thing, whilst keeping your distance at the same time. This is another aspect of the game that doesn't work because every single enemy in the game rushes you. Wizard classes only work if you've got a Warrior in the same game to take care of the melee combat for you, and that's only going to happen if you've got someone in the same room willing to undergo some punishment on your behalf.
What's even more infuriating is the fact that the upgrade system only lets you level-up existing attacks. There are no extra combat techniques and no special moves; just variations of the things that you're given at the very beginning.
There is one nice touch. You'll quickly notice that you're constantly given loads of potions - both to replenish your mana and your health. This is because the game expects you to constantly use them during battle, and this gives some of the bigger face-offs an engaging, nervy atmosphere. You'll have to keep an eye on your energy gauges at all times, but the combat is so drab that this is never a problem.
This isn't an ugly game as such, but it's extremely simplistic and way too familiar. Dark caverns, twinkly loot boxes, cut-and-paste cutscenes… all appear with depressing regularity. That said, there is actually real variety in the environments, and you're just as likely to do battle in a grimy, dimly-lit cave as you are in a blindingly bright desert landscape. The camera is locked in an isometric perspective and this causes a few issues, primarily because you can walk past background scenery which then blocks out the path in front of you. There are also what look like empty cardboard boxes strewn everywhere, which is standard practice in games like this. In those other games those boxes contain loot; here they're just ugly pieces of scenery that can't be broken.
If you can't get enough of games like this - and you've already worked your way through the vastly superior XBLA title Crimson Alliance, and perhaps even Heroes of Ruin on the Nintendo 3DS as well - you may get some enjoyment out of Realms of Ancient War. It's bland and forgettable, although the odd idea - like the fast-paced potion-drinking - does work surprisingly well. Those few beacons of light aren't enough to save it though, and even if you're completely undemanding, this definitely isn't worth 1200 Microsoft points.