This is a freemium game review, in which we give our impressions immediately after booting a game up, again after three days, and finally after seven days. That's what the strange sub-headings are all about. Click on the links to jump straight to day three or day seven.
The life of a historical fantasy mercenary is fickle and demanding. One moment you could be storming a castle, and the next you could be shaking hands with your former target and setting off in pursuit of the now tragically outbid man who sent you to kill him.
The Ravenmark series has performed its own financially motivated volte-face. The previous instalment, Ravenmark: Scourge of Estellion, was a relatively pricey download, while Mercenaries is free. Has cha-ching cha-changed Ravenmark's essence, or is this strategy series comfortably at home in the land of the free? Join me for the next week, as I find out.
Hold onto something solid, because things are going to get complicated right from the off.
Ravenmark: Mercenaries is so hardcore so far that I'm a little surprised the map you play upon isn't made up of hex-based tiles.
You command an army, and so does your opponent, both leaders giving orders during the Command Phase. Here you specifically tell your army to march to a certain place, or hold its ground, or relentlessly attack a point on the map.
You'll need to mix these two types of command up, as you're only given a limited number of Command Points to direct the action. But where you can be specific with your troops, you can be very specific indeed.
Each unit will, when prompted, arrange itself into a new formation, giving it a stat buff. But units already have their own strengths and weaknesses to consider too, adding further complexity.
Even the direction your unit is facing will affect its chances of success in battle, so you'll need to consider this factor and pivot your troops accordingly.
Got all that?
At this point you indicate you're finished, and the Battle Phase begins. You watch the movements of both sides, with units from each army moving according to their priority.
I'm not far into the game, but already I can see that I've got a lot to learn if I want to take this scrap online and compete successfully.Day 3: Commiting
There's been so much to see and do in Ravenmark: Mercenaries so far. The amount and variety of content is impressive.
I haven't touched the multiplayer yet, because I'm not ready to make a wally of myself online. But I've been kept more than entertained by the Contracts mode.
Contracts is the equivalent of single-player, in which you go out into the world to seek fortune and notoriety. Two types of mission are on offer. The first is a simple time-based affair where you send off a Brigade for a designated amount of time, after which it'll hopefully return with money and experience.
The second is more active, letting you engage with an enemy in battle. I think it'll make good practice for human opponents - especially as the opposing AI is fairly cunning.
When not at war you can manage the structure of your army and purchase new Units. There's an in-depth Codex, too, featuring information on what Units are within Brigades; what attributes those Units have; the character and world lore; and the various elements that make up Mercenaries whole.
It's a pity that most of the story elements are played out in-engine and via text, as this presentation doesn't do justice to the scale and sophistication of the rest of the game.
What's extremely clear after half a week of play is that this is definitely a game that rewards a good deal of commitment.Day 7: WAAAAAGH!
I've dipped my toe into the multiplayer now, and it's pretty much the same as the single-player, as you might expect. The only significant difference is that since you're waiting for human players to take their turns and issue commands it's a slower game.
It's fascinating to see how other players approach each situation with the troops that they have, and it definitely feels a lot like the old Games Workshop games I used to play as a young man. You bring your specially "painted" army with you, your opponent places her own troops on the field, and you both try to out-strategise one another.
There are different battlefields to play upon, but they're not wildly different. There might be a few barricades or other objects scattered about, but for the most part the areas play similarly to one another.
The big stumbling block I always found - and this is a personal failing - is the initiative system. Which units act first is incredibly important - if you have some quick units behind a big wall of slower-moving spearmen, they'll need to waste their first turn waiting for said spearmen to move ahead before they can move forward themselves.
On many occasions I would forget this rule, and ended up clustering my units together by mistake.
But the type of person who's going to adore this game is the type of person who read that last sentence and fell about laughing at my immense tactical idiocy.
Ravenmark: Mercenaries is for hardcore strategy fans who want a very strong Warhammer-esque tactics game for their mobiles, and who don't want to pay for it.How are you getting on with the game? You can tell us and the rest of the PG community about your experiences by leaving a comment in the box below.