Hired swords receive short shrift in most fantasy based titles. With coin trumping glory in their line of work, their obscurity is somewhat understandable. Ravenmark Mercenaries, the follow-up to Ravemark: Scourge of Estellion, places these warriors front and center. Such an adventure requires a player to have a ton of currency to bankroll these troops, but does capitalism and honor make strange bedfellows in this real-time strategy experience?

The most intimidating yet highly welcome challenge for Ravenmark Mercenaries is its learning curve. If you're familiar with RTS titles, knowing when and where to move your fighters on a battlefield is integral to winning the conflict, and those aspects hold the same importance with this game. The world of Ravenmark, however, takes a great deal of time to absorb, as you must learn the various skills and flaws of the various armies you hire. The Codex is the veritable bible for Ravenmark, and reading this manual will help you understand the motivations behind each nation (the Estellion, the Estore, and the Varishah).

If you're one of those crazy kooks who read most of the books littered around Skyrim, or if perusing is a passion, then this Codex should keep your interests peaked even before starting any kind of skirmish.

Although it's still enjoyable to build your army and battle in solo mode, Ravenmark Mercenaries hangs its hat on its asynchronous multiplayer feature. Since I don't want anyone on Facebook to know the hours I spend gaming, I randomly challenge strangers from all over the world, and promptly get my butt kicked.

Multiplayer exchanges enables players to fully grasp the true dedication and determination of their adversary. Since I'm one of those morons who, to paraphrase Sean Connery from The Untouchables, "brings a knife to a gunfight," my latest match is headed south. The odds of my Braccian Phalanx beating this ugly blue monster toad are not too good.

To accrue more money and buy stronger troops, you must engage in a number of side quests, most of which don't even deal with real time fighting. Knowing which of your men fits the respective job could help in the successful completion of the quest, leading to an increase in experience points and currency. Although some may deem this aspect of Ravenmark Mercenaries monotonous, it's commendable that the developers are intent on developing their world. Obviously, action is always the most important feature in any RTS title, but without a compelling storyline, they end up being a dime a dozen. This game won't suffer the same fate.

The slight flaw in the game is its free-to-play model. Although you're not paying absolutely nothing for the download, the title does come with a ton of ads. Don't let this irritation dissuade you from trying it out, as the ads aren't displayed on your screen during the fight. Once you submit your troop commands, an ad will quickly appear on your screen and you can simply tap out and resume the game. It costs $4.99 to download the collector's edition and permanently disable the ads.

As much as I detest the freemium operating procedure, it's a compromise that each individual must determine for himself. With the open world inspired experience of Ravenmark Mercenaries, I'm completely fine with the $4.99 price tag, and I will choose this alternative somewhere down the road. As long as developers give us enough bang for the buck, I will stomach the revenue pinch, even if I'm nothing but a fatling.

Thus far my Ravenmark Mercenaries experience has been a pleasurable one, but with its potential hours upon days game play set up, I've yet to really skim the surface. Witching Hour Studios are hell bent on growing the title as the weeks progress with presumably more content, which is absolutely staggering. I never knew a bunch of money grubbing adventurers could capture my imagination, and thankfully their price tag won't put me out of business.


App Store Link: Ravenmark Mercenaries for iPhone & iPad | Witching Hour Studios | Price: Free | Version: 1.02 | 346 MB | Rating: 9+

7.5 out of 10 arcade sushi rating