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Witching Hour adds multiplayer into Ravenmark Mercenaries

Last year, Witching Hour Studios (a team that's grown to about eight people now) released Ravenmark: Scourge of Estellion, a turn-based strategy title that felt way bigger than the little iPhone's screen it played on. The gameplay is complex (there are lots of units to control and every unit counters and is countered by another), but it's also very impressive, featuring big-scale battles and a story to match.

Ever since Ravenmark arrived, fans have been clamoring for multiplayer, and last week at GDC I met up with Witching Hour to see Ravenmark: Mercenaries, a new entry in the series that adds the ability to play against other humans, along with lots of other very impressive features.

The multiplayer is obviously the headliner here. The Witching Hour guys say the first game was really "stepping blocks" leading up to a multiplayer game, so obviously it was front and center when they started work on this one. It plays out just like the standard Ravenmark match, with players getting to field two different armies, and taking turns two at a time, passing them back and forth. As the guys showed me during the GDC meeting, moves are made almost simultaneously asychronously, and you can rewatch turns as much as you like to see how the battle is going down.

In addition to the actual battles, each player gets to make their own battle standard flag, which is then carried by an actual unit in the multiplayer skirmishes. That's a fun touch -- not only does it provide a bit of customization, but it adds strategy as well, as the battle standard carrier conveys a number of extra powers and benefits (while he's alive, at least).

In addition to the multiplayer options, there's also another long singleplayer campaign to play through, and units can now be leveled up. Players can also gain commander levels, which add new abilities to the mix, and give player commanders a little bit of personality ("Cold-blooded" or "hot-headed" are two of the commander attributes players can earn). And if the full campaign and all of the multiplayer isn't enough strategic battling for you, there will also be "contracts" to play out, which are daily skirmishes available against a certain enemy.

Finally, Witching Hour is planning to deliver this content in a few different ways. Much of the buzz around mobile titles these days says that free-to-play games are the way to go, but that's not what Witching Hour found with Ravenmark. After releasing the first game both as a full package for a premium price of $9.99, and a free-to-play version with episodic content, the team found that more users wanted to simply go for the whole-package premium version. In fact, the team says they even saw a lot of users downloading the free version, and then buying the full version rather than picking up all of the same content episodically.

So the same deal will probably be available with Mercenaries. In addition to a standard premium game, the team is also thinking about offering a "collector's edition" version, with extra content for an even higher price. And they're convinced that their biggest fans will be willing to pay for it, just because their most dedicated fans love the game so much.

We'll have to see how that plays out. Ravenmark is a very impressive series, and Mercenaries looks like a more than worthy addition to Witching Hour's work so far. It is expected to be ready for purchase sometime this summer.

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