App Reviewed on: iPhone 4s
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RAVENMARK: Mercenaries is a free-to-play turn-based strategy game that is based on the strategy gameplay of RAVENMARK: Scourge of Estellion. For those familiar with the first game, Mercenaries is a multiplayer-focused version of the original. For those unfamiliar, Mercenaries asks players to anticipate their enemies actions and react accordingly to the game's rock/paper/scissor combat system, as actions on both sides play out simultaneously on the battlefield.
Players of the first RAVENMARK, may feel immediately at home in Mercenaries, but the developers also made sure to provide a robust tutorial system to help others along. The first few battles each player experiences are single player affairs meant to acclimate newbies with various systems including things like basic tactics (i.e. swordsmen beat spearmen, spearmen beat horses, etc.), standing orders and formation controls. After the tutorial is completed, however, the rest of the gameplay is all multiplayer-focused.
Mercenaries plays much like many turn-based strategy games. Players tap units to bring up menus that list all of the units available actions that turn. To differentiate itself from other games though, Mercenaries limits the amount of commands a player can issue in a given turn. This limited command mechanic, along with the fact that both armies move simultaneously once orders have been issued makes Mercenaries both a more strategic game as well as one that can feel less accessible, and even clunky at times. Newer players may find themselves maneuvering their armies right past each other or into particularly precarious situations that did not appear until the battle phase executed. For veterans of Scourge of Estellion, this is simply what is expected from a RAVENMARK title. It's by no means a broken system, but it definitely takes some getting used to.
Finally, perhaps the biggest issue with Mercenaries is how slow playing it can be. Because of the game's persistent, multiplayer nature, armies engaged in fights cannot be used to fight in additional fights. As a result, if players can find themselves in a situation where all available units are locked up in matches for long periods of time, thus halting play progress. Of course there are things to do in Mercenaries while not engaged in combat, like recruiting more troops and fulfilling contracts, but the core of the game is playing matches. It is unfortunate that the game's design can prevent players from experiencing this at their own desired pace, but I recently got word that player forfeiture will now occur after 24 hours of not playing rather than 72, so hopefully that solves this problem.
Overall, Mercenaries is a great turn-based strategy game with a solid combat system and some unique design choices. For a free game, it is very smartly made and successfully avoids becoming a pay-to-win game. If players are looking for a new strategy title, or simply have always wondered about RAVENMARK, Mercenaries delivers the gameplay that made Scourge of Estellion successful and is free to boot!