Early Hours: Ravenswatch is a fever-dream fairytale I can't get enough of
Welcome to Early Hours, our look at the first few hours of a newly released title. For our second instalment, we're checking out Ravenswatch, from Passtech Games.
Fairy tales have always been a bit dark, haven't they? Whether it's a literal child being digested by a wolf, swarms of rats hypnotised by music, or an ice-wielding member of a royal family that can freeze people and shatter them, there's always a darkness hiding in the stories of Anderson et al.
Ravenswatch is a new roguelike from Passtech Games that wisely buries itself in the conceit that these "kid-friendly" tales have pretty messed up underbellies - and it works brilliantly.
Ravenswatch puts players in the boots, greaves, and, uh, sometimes furry feet of a cast of characters that range from the Pied Piper to Beowulf, to Red Riding Hood.
Your task is to explore areas, collect resources to buy items and improve your abilities to prepare for a final showdown against a Nightmare - large bosses with massive health bars, multiple phases, and lots of tentacles.
Each of our heroes has its own twist on the basic combat mechanics, which makes teaming up in co-op (with up to four players) a rewarding experience. It's also pretty crucial - Ravenswatch is very difficult solo, particularly once you get to the aforementioned Eldritch horrors at the end of a run.
Scarlet (the game's version of Little Red Riding Hood), turns into a werewolf at night, changing the game from an exercise in evasion into a power fantasy that sees you ripping through enemies. The Pied Piper plays closer to a twin-stick shooter, kiting enemies one way and the other, slowly whittling their health down.
The Snow Queen is a true delight, flinging ice spells across the battlefield like a Diablo-style spellcaster, while Aladdin can summon the Genie of the Lamp. Levelling is satisfying, and by the end of each run, you'll be tearing through enemies with relative ease - at least until you get to that final boss.
Combat is fun, and fast, but it never feels like it falls into the dungeon crawler trap of just throwing more and more enemies at you as fodder. Enemy attack patterns vary wildly, and more than once, I expected one attack and was surprised when I was caught by another.
That means dodging is important, but certain attacks can stun or knockdown enemies for quick follow-ups, too.
That Nightmare boss fight is certainly a challenge, though, even once levelled - it's also, sadly, the only boss in the game right now. Still, destroying its tentacles, dodging attacks that feel ripped from a bullet hell shooter, and then attempting to kill it is tense, gripping stuff - a mix of movement, offence, and defence.
Each run takes around 25 minutes, and in true roguelike fashion, even when you fall, you'll earn upgrades to help you next time. That, coupled with the potential to unlock even more in-game upgrades as I levelled, had me itching to jump straight back in.
Ravenswatch is already an impressive starting point, but I'm excited to see it grow - both in terms of ambition and popularity. After just a few sessions, I'm already theory-crafting the best builds - those nightmares won't know what hit them.
Code provided by the publisher.