Heroes of Ruin
Genre: Action RPG
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: 07/17/12
You’d think that the Diablo style of hack-and-slash would do fairly well in the console market, but such is often not the case. You’ll see the odd success story, like Champions of Norath, pop up now and again, but most games in the genre generally fly under the radar on the consoles, for one reason or another. This doesn’t stop developers from trying, and in theory, Heroes of Ruin isn’t a bad attempt to try and get the genre over in the console world. A somewhat simplified hack-and-slash game for the 3DS isn’t a bad idea, as the console is still looking for more new content, and simplifying the mechanics to appeal to less experienced gamers could open up the market to new players. Further, with Square Enix attached to the project, there’s a certain amount of instant respect this conveys, which earns the game more eyes than it might have from a smaller publisher. However, n-space isn’t the most well known developer, and many of their games have been handheld ports or licensed properties that were less than well received critically, if not commercially, which doesn’t help. Sadly, this ends up being somewhat fortelling, as while Heroes of Ruin is competent, and at times enjoyable, for the most part it’s as much about its own successes as it is its own unfortunate failures.
Heroes of Ruin centers around a city known as Nexus, a city ruled over by its lord, Ataraxis, who appears to be some sort of massive sphinx. As the story begins, Ataraxis has been struck down by a terrible and generally unspecific curse, and in desperation, the standing rulers place a call to arms to any adventurer in the land who wishes to take it up: save Ataraxis, and in the process, Nexus. You take control of one of four “heroes”Â who has sought to do so: the amoral Gunslinger, the righteous Vindicator, the magically inclined Alchitect, or the massive Savage. The term heroes is in quotes there because the characters are basically somewhat less “heroic”Â than one might think, from their pasts that have led them to this point. The plot for Heroes of Ruin is fine in some respects; the game world is given plenty of depth and care, and we’re given a very strong sense of what’s going on in the world and who the principle players in it are. What we’re not given a good sense of, however, is the actual world as it is now; the characters you meet all have their own wants and needs, but very little time is spent developing all but a few of them, and your characters, for all their backstory, get little development at all. One could argue that your character is meant as an avatar for the player, which would be fine in a game where job class did not define race and appearance, but this game emulates Diablo in its class limitations, so there’s certainly room to do something with the characters, especially given that they have back stories. More care was put into developing the game world than the core plot, which can be fine, but in this case, leaves the experience as the Ataraxis show with some minor walk-on roles, and it gets boring in a hurry.
Visually, Heroes of Ruin looks good, relative to the capabilities of the 3DS. As noted in the demo, the game makes use of solid environments, though the ground textures can occasionally be hit or miss depending on the area you’re traversing. Your character models also look solid stationary and in action, and the various special effects that pop up when performing special attacks and spells look good also. The enemies are generally animated well enough, though there’s a fairly noticeable amount of repetition of enemies; while new enemies will consistently pop up as you play, you’ll find that new zones within an area often have leveled versions of the same monsters, and by the third section you’re seeing enemy types repeat, which is disappointing, but not surprising given the limitations of the console. The game makes up for this somewhat with its more varied boss designs, as several of the boss monsters are quite interesting and well designed. Aurally, the game is also perfectly fine. The music, as it was in the demo, is generally solid, alternating between ambient background score and powerful orchestral compositions, and it fits the tone fine. There’s also a decent amount of voice work, between the little quips from your characters and the acknowledgment voices from NPC’s, though the unimportant NPC’s repeat voice work, sadly, as do enemies now and again. The audio effects are also generally fine and feature lots of neat aural effects when special effects and spells are going off, and for the most part these do the job well enough.
For those who have never played a game of this sort, or have not played one on a console at least, Heroes of Ruin does a good job of simplifying the controls to a point where anyone can understand them easily enough. The analog stick is used for moving your character around the game world, while the D-Pad is used as a quick action palette, allowing you to instantly equip items from the ground by holding up or sell them by holding down, as well as allowing you to use health potions or energy potions with the left and right directions, respectively. The B button is your standard attack command, while the three remaining face buttons allow you to map up to three special actions to them, depending on your class and build of said class, and you can swap them easily enough with the touch screen. The left trigger is your standard interact button, while the right trigger allows you to perform a dodge roll when moving and block when stationary or after the dodge roll, if you want to try and reduce your damage. You can also access most everything you’ll need from the touch screen, including the inventory, your quest log, and your skills with minimal difficulty, and the screen even includes a map that fills in as you navigate the environment, which is very useful. The game also pops up tutorial prompts when you can interact with objects, as reminders on how to break blocks or block projectiles, and when you’re stunned and need to break free, for example, so you’ll never be lost as to how the game works, mechanically. You can basically master the controls in minutes, so no matter your skill level you’ll have a good idea of how to play by the end of the first zone.
You’re given four classes to choose from when you start the game: the Vindicator, which is a warrior/paladin class, the Gunslinger, which is a rogue/ranger class, the Alchitect, which is a magic casting class, and the Savage, which is a heavy hitting barbarian sort of class. Each has their own benefits that they can use solo or as a part of a team to be effective; the Vindicator has healing skills, buffs, high defense and solid damage skills to work as a tank, the Savage has heavy power attacks, the Gunslinger has ranged attacks to keep enemies at a distance, and the Alchitect has powerful magical skills. All four classes are good choices to play as, and you can basically level your chosen character as you see fit and equip gear to compliment that, so if you want a high strength Alchitect, go nuts. Granted, each character has a solid role to play for a reason, but you can modify a bit, so if you want your Vindicator to be a damage dealer, knock yourself out. You’re given a good amount of freedom for how you want to develop your character once you pick them, so you can potentially make any sort of build work if you’re so inclined.
As you play through the game, you’ll be able to improve your characters through gear and leveling up. Gear is fairly self explanatory: as with most games in this genre, you have various different pieces of equipment you can place on your character, including weapons, body armor, shoulder armor, rings and more, and each improve some stats. Some may only improve the base attack or defense ratings, while others confer statistical advantages that improve multiple skills at one time. Leveling your characters is a little more involved, albeit not much, as the game is simplified compared to its console and PC brethren. Your characters have three stats they can work with: Might, which governs damage dealt, Vigor, which governs damage received, and Soul, which governs energy abilities. Each level you’re given three points to spend as you see fit on building your levels, and each character benefits best from spending them to play to their strengths, IE a Vindicator might want to improve Vigor more, while an Alchitect might want to improve Soul more. You can also spend one point on your skill trees as you see fit, allowing you to buy new talents. Each class has three skill trees they can develop, each focusing on different aspects of their character, and offering three types of skills to purchase. Powers are simple attack actions, Buffs are statistical boosts, and Passive skills improve aspects of the character with no action. Each skill has a set level you’ll need to be before you can buy or level it, and some skills require you to buy a level in others, so you’ll want to have an idea of what you want going in, but for the most part it’s not hard to test out abilities and see how useful they’d be before committing to them. The majority of the abilities your characters have available seem fairly useful, all in all, so it’s hard to go wrong with what you pick.
When you’re not in battle, you’ll either be messing around in your character menus or looking around Nexus, the… well, nexus of your journey. The menus are simple enough to work with, as you simply touch their icon on the touch screen to bring them up and navigate through them as needed, to review gear, skills and quests. The inventory screen is especially useful, as it segregates everything you pick up based on its type, and allows you to instantly sell gear you find right from the menu, so you needn’t backtrack to Nexus when you’re overburdened. The touch screen also offers a map at all times, allowing you to see where you’re going easily, and it even highlights quest-specific targets on the map when they’re visible. While in Nexus, you can visit with the local vendors, each segregated to specific class types, along with general vendors that sell potions and accessories. You can also visit the salesmen in the more impoverished sections for two somewhat more novel options. The first is a vendor who allows you to sell the gear you find that belongs to other classes so that other characters can pick it up in turn to help them out. The second is a vendor who sells rare gear in exchange for Valor. The game offers up various daily and weekly quest that can be undertaken that, if completed, earn you Valor tokens. You can then exchange these at the vendor for rare equipment you would be unlikely to find as drops or in stores, making it worthwhile to try and accomplish these quests to buff out your characters. There are also various secondary characters in Nexus who will offer you side quests in addition to your main objectives, which, as you’d guess, pay out nice experience, gold, and gear for your troubles, making it worthwhile to seek them out.
The core game will run you about six to ten hours, depending on how much time you devote to exploration, as some quests can require this and there are hidden treasure rooms scattered about the game world. You can also play the game with others, either locally or online with friends and strangers, in a party of up to four characters at once, allowing you to work together to take out enemies and bosses. You’re also given four slots for character creation, allowing you to create different characters with different play styles, in one class or across several, so you have the freedom to work with the game as you see fit. The daily and weekly quests are also a novel idea to bring the player back for more, as they’re rather challenging in some cases and can put your skills to the test, and the rare loot you can get from doing so isn’t a bad incentive either. If you find running through a dungeon, alone or with friends, for hours to get the best loot exciting, Heroes of Ruin can be a good time for portable players, as it certainly has a lot of that to offer, and it’s fun overall.
That said, Heroes of Ruin has some notable flaws that hamper the experience a bit. The single biggest issue with the game is that it’s simply not challenging. If you play with a character and completely screw up equipping and leveling the character on purpose it might be vaguely challenging at times, but outside of that, the game is very much a cakewalk from beginning to end, and death is only a mild inconvenience at best, costing you little and dumping you back at the last waypoint you reached. Further, once you beat the final boss, that’s it, game-wise; you can continue acquiring gear and playing online if you want, but there’s minimal benefit to doing so outside of the social interaction, and something like “starting over with the same character”Â or “higher difficulty levels”Â would have done a lot here. The online components also occasionally have the mild hiccups, as the daily quests don’t always update properly from one day to the next, and the online connectivity can occasionally be spotty at times. Perhaps the most obvious issue, though, is that for all of its attempts to be accessible to a large market, Heroes of Ruin doesn’t have very many original ideas to work with. The online quest board and rewards coming from this are novel, but everything else in the game is very much attributable to other games in the genre, from Diablo to Titan’s Quest to Fate to Dark Alliance and beyond. There’s nothing here that genre fans haven’t seen before, to be blunt, and while this is a fine entry point for newcomers, diehard genre fans will have seen everything this game has done already several times over.
The bottom line is, Heroes of Ruin doesn’t do anything to reinvent the wheel, insofar as this genre goes, and while it streamlines a lot of the processes involved in such a game and offers some very strong accessibility, it also hampers the experience somewhat. The plot, though adequate, never really feels like it’s compelling or driving overall, though the game certainly looks and sounds strong enough given the console in question. The gameplay is quite simple to learn and understand, and there’s a decent amount of variety to the experience thanks to the massive amounts of gear and multiple classes to play as. Online quests that rotate daily and weekly, as well as online multiplayer for up to four players, can also help to keep the experience interesting in the long term, if you’re interested in this. However, once the game is over, it’s over for that character, as there are no additional difficulty levels or options to replay the game, meaning that all you’ll have is the online multiplayer for that character, leaving you to play online constantly to no real benefit, or start over. Further, the game is basically a cakewalk and offers no other difficulties, the online can be spotty at times, and aside from the online challenges and rewards, there are no original ideas to speak of in the game. Heroes of Ruin is a good introduction to the genre for newcomers, and pillaging the dead for loot is fun in general, but it does nothing to stand out from the pack, overall, and offers no compelling reason to come back to it after you’ve completed its relatively short campaign.
FINAL SCORE: MEDIOCRE GAME.
Short Attention Span Summary:
Heroes of Ruin is fine as a “baby’s first hack-and-slash”Â sort of experience, or as a handheld experience for those who have none, but taken on its own merits, its solid gameplay and design are beaten down by its lack of originality, challenge and options. The plot is good at establishing a world to play in but bad at making the player care about any of it, while the visuals and audio are generally quite solid and technically sound. The gameplay is easy to understand, and players new and experienced alike will find it simple to learn and grasp, while also appreciating the variety offered in equipment options and character classes. That the game also offers daily and weekly quests to grab online, as well as online play for up to four players, adds to the long term value, and can keep the experience interesting for some once the main game is over with for them. That said, this will be the only thing doing so, as the game lacks any sort of post game content, such as restarting with the same character or additional difficulty levels, to keep things interesting, meaning that online play is often the only option in this position. Further, the game is exceptionally easy, to the point where death is infrequent and only a mild inconvenience when it does happen, the online can be spotty in some cases, and aside from the online quests, the game really does nothing that anyone with even a little exposure to the genre hasn’t seen several times before. Heroes of Ruin might be a good introduction to the genre for those who’ve never seen it before, or a good time waster on the go for genre fans, but it hits just as many notes as it misses, and the end result is a game that doesn’t manage to impress as much as it wants to.