Heroes of Ruin Is Flawed but Fantastic

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Heroes of Ruin cover artHeroes of Ruin cover art

Image: Square Enix

Since its big reveal more than a year ago, Square Enix’s Heroes of Ruin has enjoyed a unique brand of buzz among handheld gamers. Loot-heavy dungeon-crawlers with solid multiplayer support aren’t exactly easy to come by on the Nintendo 3DS, so those of us who appreciate both this classic style of gameplay and the specific strengths of that portable were hard-pressed to find any other suitable alternative.

Still, even among this interested minority the reaction to the final product has been mixed. Yet amid frame-rate issues, questionable design decisions and off-putting audio glitches the title manages to offer the most addictive kind of gaming fun.

Heroes of Ruin takes place in the fantasy realm of Veil where Ataraxis, the sphinx ruler of hub world Nexus, is dying. Taking the role of any of four different hero types, players must fight to find a cure and to unravel the mystery behind his supernatural affliction. The game puts a nice slant on the classic character tropes offering speedy ranged fighter the Gunslinger, the tank-like Savage, the magic-using Alchitect and the paladin-style Vindicator. I chose the last, and was pleased to find that all the visual tweaks I made to my lion-faced character model translated directly into the game’s cut scenes.

The problem with said cut scenes is that they seemed to waiver between engaging world-building and ugly, uninspired filler. It’s a theme that plagued the game throughout with everything from level layout to quest types alternating between impressively immersive and just plain hackneyed. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the sound design. The narrative voice is strong and evocative at one minute and sound effects pan skillfully between stereo speakers as you traverse a dungeon, while the next you’re treated to some of the worst “‘Ello, guv’nuh!” voice work this side of a high school production of My Fair Lady and the anthemic swells of the level’s battle theme disappear entirely in a massive technological hiccup.

Wait times, too, can be bothersome, but, as the sizable dungeon levels front-load before a given mission, you can contently hack and slash your way through scores of enemies without having to worry about another such lull until your triumphant return to Nexus. As a single-player experience, Heroes of Ruin lets gamers slip into an almost Diablo-like level of destructive Zen, button-mashing to string together hit combos and tossing in specialty moves (unlocked from the obligatory skill trees) to really up the damage potential. And, obviously, to the victor go the spoils. Randomly generated loot abounds, and, more than the surreal landscapes or the deep character customization, it is this loot that adds color to the world of Heroes of Ruin.

Each dropped item has a type – sword, breastplate, charm etc. – as well as a numerical level that describes its relative power. Add to this a myriad of enchantments, and you’ve got a perfect recipe for obsessive collection. The addition of these item powers also means that simply equipping your highest level wares isn’t always the way to go, as sometimes it’s worth the related trade-off in reduced stat bonuses to hold on to a lower ranked article with a more helpful buff. Certain items only suit certain character types, of course, and a varied party is suggested for the game’s online multiplayer so as to quell the mad rush for that rare dropped item.

Heroes of Ruin screenshot 1Heroes of Ruin screenshot 1

Image: Square Enix

Multiplayer changes the game in a couple of interesting ways; it increases level load times, but it also turns what can be a pretty straightforward story-driven single-player experience into a more chaotic and noticeably more exciting affair. Obviously you can ignore the game’s narrative in either mode with little ill effects, but the idea of managing your own inventory, finding the proper mission items and watching the backs of your fellow adventurers leaves no time for things as superfluous as plot or motivation. The fun of the game is in the playing, and partnering with online strangers breathes real life into the action.

That’s not to say that such blissful multiplayer madness doesn’t come at a price; dropped host connections (either because of networking errors or disinterested teammates) aren’t frequent, but neither are they unheard of. Thankfully Heroes of Ruin auto-saves regularly, so you can use that new-found weaponry and armor to continue the quest on your own or with a whole new crop of other gamers.

Securing a powerful new pair of irons for the party’s Gunslinger promotes a shared sense of accomplishment, but you can spread the wealth around even within the single-player mode using the game’s StreetPass trading feature. Sell unneeded items to the shopkeeper at the Trader’s Network, and they can be purchased by other nearby players who perhaps haven’t been as fortunate on their own loot pickups. It’s not exactly like you’ll need the money, though, as the economy in Veil is totally hosed.

By the end of my play-through, T’Challa, my panther-faced crusader of justice, was firmly in the 1%, bypassing dropped gold at every turn because he literally couldn’t fit any more in his coin purse. The interesting twist is that this perpetual financial windfall, while making standard equipment purchases mere pocket change, served primarily to increase my thirst for those delightfully rare loot drops and the goods from Nexus’s sole specialty item dealer who only accepts payment in the Valor points earned from completing the game’s daily/weekly challenges – a nice implementation of the system’s SpotPass feature.

In addition to a competent command of the 3DS’s wireless options, Heroes of Ruin also makes proper use of the system‘s 3D effects, adding a nice layer of depth to both the isometric dungeons and the painted, comic panel-style cut scenes. Obviously, both online interaction and 3D visuals destroy battery life, so a flattened 2D solo adventure makes for the most monster-slaying between charges, if not the most fun. Like so many things in this title, it’s a trade-off.

Somehow, despite the dizzying blend of its greatest of highs and the lowliest of lows, Heroes of Ruin remains loads of fun. At its core the game is a frantic loot-drop punctuated by the odd bit of establishing story and predictably repetitive fetch quest, but, as the history of the Ruinlords of Veil fills itself in around the periphery of your own quest, you’ll likely find that you truly want to stay there. Slowdown in boss battles is noticeable – despite developer n-Space’s clever ruse to cast it as the effect of a monster’s “slowing spell” – and retreading levels can seem a bit of a chore, but even now, 10 hours in and with 99% completion, I still hear the call to battle.

Review materials provided by: Square Enix

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