If someone told me about a fantasy dungeon crawling action-RPG with solid online gameplay and voice communication on the 3DS just a year ago, I would have probably patted his back and responded “yeah, nice joke”, but that was a year ago, and Heroes of Ruin now running on my 3DS and is trying very hard to prove me wrong.
The story is a little on the light side, with a bunch of very diverse heroes trying to find a cure for a curse that sent the sphinx Ataraxis into a deadly slumber, leaving the city of Nexus without its ancient protector. Luckily, as the Diablo series taught us, a deep story isn’t always needed in this kind of game (even if it would help), and this is only the first of many similarities with Blizzard’s acclaimed dungeon crawler.
As soon as you start the game you’re prompted to create your character, and to find out one of those little jarring flaws that prevent Heroes of Ruin from being a true masterpiece. For a game that promises a large degree of customization, Heroes of Ruin is disappointingly limited in what you can do to create a character that can truly represent you in the game’s world.
The four available classes are adamantly bound to their default race and gender. Want to be female? You can only play an Architect. Maybe you’d like (like me) to play a Vindicator tank, but (like me) you aren’t exactly in love with the idea of playing a furry catman? Too bad. There’s no way to change that.
The problem becomes even more serious when you notice that, even among the default class/race/class/gender combinations available, visual customization is dreadfully limited. All you can change is your hairstyle, your skin tone, your hair color and the color of a detail on your equipment. That’s it. n-Space didn’t even think to add the possibility to change our character’s face. In an RPG, unless we play an established and deeply story-driven character like Geralt in The Witcher, this tends to be an almost gamebreaking flaw.
The impact with the game’s graphics can be harsh, as well. 3D Models are very much on the simple side and textures aren’t much better, creating a visual quality that one could expect from an early PSP game. The dungeons you’ll have to explore in the game look rather drab, and the design of the monsters you’ll kill could have used a bit more love in their design. Anthropomorphic sharks are nice and all, but when they seem to come straight from the original DS, their impact tend to be a tad limited.
Luckily, from now on things get better. A lot better. While Heroes of Ruin‘s visuals are nothing to call home about, the soundtrack is truly enjoyable and epic, alternating a quite varied ensemble of tunes that perfectly underline the fantasy setting, raising the atmosphere up a notch. And atmosphere is definitely a crucial element in any RPG.
Heroes of Ruin definitely does whatever it can to tell the player that it’s been designed from the ground up with online gameplay in mind. As soon as you start a new game online is the default mode selected, while it’s definitely possible to play solo if you so wish. This is something entirely uncharacteristic of the 3DS, but it’s definitely a welcome innovation that fills a void that has been there basically since the release of the console. Of course, many games have online gameplay, but none fills the role of the dedicated online game as much as this one.
Starting from the basics, you probably won’t find a game more similar to Diablo anywhere on a portable console. While some may cry for the lack of originality, innovation isn’t always everything in a game, especially when a platform doesn’t have a comparable experience yet.
Controls are smooth and well designed, even if some slightly awkward passages between the buttons and the touchscreen are necessary to get the most out of your character. Ultimately, though, I feel that n-Space managed to bring this kind of gameplay over to the 3DS very nicely, considering the lack of a mouse. Everything is intuitive and quick, and those that are used to action RPGs will feel right at home from the very beginning.
The basic structure of gameplay is exactly what you would expect from a game like this. You start from a hub city named Nexus where you can access shops (including an online one based on StreetPass) and quests, and then branch out to various dungeons in order to complete those quests, proceed with the story and kill monsters to your heart’s content.
The four classes provided give enough variety between tanking, ranged damage, melee damage and healing to fit everyone’s taste, and three different skill trees per class let the player customize his playstyle further. Given that the story is fairly short, playing all four is a good way to get the most out of the game.
While leveling up and progressing one’s character is definitely one of the focuses of Heroes of Ruin, n-Space had no qualms in opening the Holy Ark of every RPG addict: loot. There are literally thousands of items for players to collect and wear, each providing evolution in both stats and looks. Few things can keep many players hooked to a RPG or MMORPG as much as the prospect of getting new and rare shinies for their character, and Heroes of Ruin embraces this concept fully and effectively.
Just like in the Diablo series dungeons are procedurally generated, providing a random and different setup every time they are visited. This definitely works well with the endless search for treasure prompted by the concept explained above, mitigating the sense of déjà vu that visiting pre-designed dungeons over and over would inevitably bring.
Adventuring online with friends and strangers is definitely the main point of attraction of the game. Jumping into a multiplayer match is definitely quick and easy, even if a few more options to set different kind of games and fit different tastes would have been welcome.
The netcode is what makes Heroes of Ruin really shine. In my whole experience online I never really noticed any kind of lag, with me and my adventuring companions proceeding smoothly through our dungeons without a hitch, creating a fun and definitely unique experience on the 3DS.
Voice communication is also included in the package, even if the recording quality is a little low. Despite that, the presence of the option is a welcome innovation for the console, and increases the enjoyment by quite a lot, provided that you aren’t shy, of course.
The only real problem I noticed, especially considering how loot-centric the game is, is that there’s no real distribution system in place. Whoever picks up a dropped piece of equipment gets to keep it. There’s no “need or greed” system in place to prevent the occasional less than savory player to just stop fighting to rush and pick up everything, whether his class can use the items or not.
While this isn’t a crippling flaw, it gets very near to it given the nature of the game, and I really can’t fathom why n-Space didn’t take a page from MMORPGs on this.
The only theory I can pull out of my hat is that they didn’t want to break the flow of the action with menu popups, but the lack of a proper loot distribution system will very possibly turn quite a few players off from playing online at all. Considering how fun it is, that’s a pity.
Ultimately Heroes of Ruin may not prove very innovative for its genre, but it’s a rather relevant evolution for the 3DS, proving that the small portable by Nintendo can pull solid and deep online gameplay with no issue and providing a definitely enjoyable experience even to the most demanding RPG gamers.
Unfortunately, a few flaws here and there keep Heroes of Ruin short of true greatness, but its rather unique approach to gaming on the 3DS turn it into a very valid contender.