When you’re buying a car, it’s pretty obvious what sacrifices you’re making when you choose the economy class over one of the luxury models. It’s a trade-off: you won’t have wipers on your headlights (not a euphamism), but you’ll be saving at least a few hundred dollars a month that you can use to… um, buy food.
Games are no different, and in the case Heroes of Ruin for the Nintendo 3DS (developed by n-Space and published by Square Enix), you should know going in that you’re getting an economy model. A nice, comfortable, pack-up-and-go economy model.
The key to loving what Heroes of Ruin has to offer is setting your expectations accordingly. Unfortunately, much of the preview material has billed this game unfairly as a sort of “Diablo-for-the-road.” Truth is, that’s the low-hanging fruit here. Anything that’s remotely hack-and-slash is going to get compared to either Torchlight or Diablo, which unfairly sets the bar far too high – especially for a game on a handheld system like the 3DS.
In Heroes of Ruin, you play as one of the titular heroes in search of a cure for Ataraxis, the incapacitated ruler of Nexus. There’s thomfoolery and deceit aplenty, but it’s just a simple narrative to hold the locations together; nothing special. Routine character customization is where your adventure really starts, and by now you probably know if you want to be the blue elf or the brown warrior. Poking fun aside, there are several character models and the brevity of the game (roughly ten hours for the single-player campaign) makes replaying a palatable proposition.
After some rudimentary introductory animations, you find yourself and your crew of powerful misanthropes crashed on a beach. From there, you’re given bite-sized fetch quests (like finding driftwood for a splint) until you discover that – gasp! – someone has wandered off into the nearby cave and you must find them. With your dungeon crawling afoot, you set off into the cavernous depths of the mountains, forests, and frozen tundra to pillage the lands of their spoils. Again, as long as you know what you’ve gotten yourself into, there’s nothing here that’s going to surprise you: you’re simply working your way through the environments, dismissing enemies and smashing objects for loot.
What, you didn’t know there was loot, too!? Heroes of Ruin comes by its comparisons honestly, so of course treasure has to be part of the equation. Finding new swords, armor, and amulets holds the same thrill here that it does in any game, though – you simply hope that something useful shows up in the random loot drops. One nice touch is that the loot you encounter all has immediate acquisition information and statistical data displayed; you see all of the information you need on the screen, allowing you to decide at once if you should pick up the item or not.
Combat is rudimentary but enjoyable, and there’s satisfaction to be had in successfully pulling off one of the light combos without taking a blow. Most players will find the combat too easy in this regard, especially since health potions are practically hand-delivered for the majority of the game. However, I did find that this helped alleviate unnecessary difficulty spikes, which is something that killed the experience many had with the similarly-themed Dungeon Siege III.
Random side quests in the game are implemented nicely: they essentially run parallel with your missions so there is rarely the need to backtrack, and as an extra bonus they are actually interesting in their own right. One quest has you completing small tasks for a group of goblins, and purposefully taking damage from wolves (for their “research”) is one of those tasks. It’s an interesting idea, and it forces you to make resource balancing decisions that you ordinarily wouldn’t make. More tedious side quests are easily found in the game, but there are enough unique ideas to keep your individual playthrough interesting.
Pleasant as many of the mechanics are, the only way to describe the in-game economy is broken… nay, non-existent. You pick up bags of coins and treasure, and they’re all tallied, but to no end: you amass such an array of weapons and armor that purchasing from a vendor is superfluous, and as mentioned earlier the health potions are comically abundant so there’s no need to buy those, either. In my playthrough, I spent money to purchase a matching wardrobe to see if there was a tactical bonus for doing so, but that’s the only time I spent any money whatsoever. (For the record, no, there was no stat bonus for matching apparel – but I did look better than everyone else.)
Thankfully, leveling is slightly more balanced than the economy. Level progression feels like it means something, because after you’ve leveled up there is usually a significant difference in your abilities – good for all of us “instant gratification” types. (The only caveat is that, once past level 27, levelling seems to take significantly longer.) Selecting your additional powers from the skill tree will require some thought, because in a single-player campaign there is no way you would max out your abilities; you’ll have to carefully select the path your character will take in this regard.
Heroes of Ruin vacillates between giving the player too much information in one instance and not enough in another. For example, every side quest that you’re given is usually a mission that involves finding someone’s lost artifact, and when arriving in the area, finding said artifact isn’t difficult at all – there will be a sparkling blue area larger than your character indicating where you should look. Conversely, it can take several minutes in most of the boss battles decide what the game needs you to do. Between the lack of guidance and a disturbing game glitch (which I did experience on four of my six visits to the final area), the final boss battle in the game is a prime offender, putting an unfortunate and frustrating cap on an otherwise great game.
One thing that can help ease some of these frustrations is the online multi-player option, which is well-implemented and fun — when it works. There are daily challenges that are sent to your 3DS for you to complete, and those are a welcome addition. Simply put: they work. They’re delivered regularly, and you can play with the challenges as your only goal if you want.
Finding compatriots to travel with is as easy as selecting the menu option; active games load up immediately. However, across twenty attempts to complete a significant portion of the game with others, I never succeeded for any duration over eight minutes. There were several games that I joined where my cohorts and I made it through an entire area, but once the load screen hit the “connection was lost” every single time. This is particularly damning for Heroes of Ruin, because the online component of this game is one of the most touted features.
[+Not frustratingly challenging] [+Very nice, bite-sized level design] [+Brief levels with multiple save points] [-Online component does not seem to function as intended] [-Game economy is… just, broken]
Production values are generally high in Heroes of Ruin. Not only is the voice acting better than average, but the game utilizes the three-dimensional capabilities of the Nintendo 3DS very well, with the environments being the real showstoppers in this regard. Games in the current generation have done their best portray depth in environments, but the 3DS (particularly with this title) really shows the potential for immersive settings. At several points you’ll see spawned imps in a lower level of a dungeon coupled with some tasty floating particle effects, and the end result is fairly striking. There are some animation and graphics issues, like floating goblins and detached tentacles, but nothing like missing textures or anything else that would be considered “major.”
[+Beautiful use of the Nintendo 3DS’ three-dimensional capabilities] [+Great voice acting]
Determining value for portable titles is always a difficult proposition, because different things are valued differently depending on the individual. Personally, I’m extraordinarily busy and love having portable games – and for that I am always willing to spend $40 on a 3DS title. They allow me to still be part of the conversation while having core experiences at my leisure. Heroes of Ruin does exactly what it is supposed to makes an attractive option of replays, making the standard price for this title absolutely justifiable. Just to lay all the cards on the table though, again, the single-player experience sans replay is only ten hours (possibly twelve if you attacked every side quest). And if you were relying on the online component to help lengthen the experience, don’t: it simply doesn’t work as advertised.
Even at that, I would still recommend this game for the standard price of $40. If your expectations are set correctly, it’s a really fun little game, and the conciseness of the experience alone will certainly win you over.
[+Great replay value] [+Nothing bloated here; no filler] [-Online does not work as advertised]
Heroes of Ruin accomplishes exactly what it set out to do, which is provide a solid hack-and-slash experience on a portable system. Its appearance belies its charm: everything seems pedestrian at the onset, but the game proves to be an extremely enjoyable experience when boiled down to ten hours. Colorful visuals and some very nice three-dimensional effects support a nicely designed quest system, and coupled with the engaging art style and replayability, Heroes of Ruin is a perfect pick-up-and-play blast.
[+Very appealing aesthetics] [+Perfect difficulty] [+Great length; doesn’t overstay its welcome] [+Expertly designed for a portable system] [-Online does not work as advertised] [-Lacks some nuance of balance, especially in regards to in-game economy]