Great online infrastructure, stands up as both a single player and multiplayer experience, loot and treasure galore, daily and weekly challenges to keep players engaged, almost endless character customisation.
Frame rate issues, voice-chat static, cut and paste level design, no real challenge or difficulty curve.
Nintendo and online gaming have never really been the best of friends, it has to be said. Marred by years of messy friend codes and a seeming reluctance to embrace the untapped mysteries of the internet, it’s heartening, then, to finally see a game like Heroes of Ruin shake Nintendo out of its doldrums. The question is, is this the online revolution we’ve all been waiting for? In a way, yes it is. Heroes of Ruin does several things right when it comes to the online side of things; it’s just a shame the same can’t be said for the game underneath.
But let’s start by focusing on where Heroes of Ruin succeeds, and that’s getting online. Say goodbye to tedious lobby rooms, because Heroes of Ruin just lets you go out and get on with it, allowing you to start your adventure while other players drop in and out at will. Loading times between each mission can be slightly excessive, but the only time you’ll be stuck waiting for other players is when all of you need to progress through the same door or before big boss encounters. You can just as easily join someone else’s game too, and at the moment there’s a wide spread of games all at varying levels, offering something for new and old hands alike.
The frame rate, however, is a different issue. When you’ve got four players all trying to hammer out special attacks at the same time, it can get pretty patchy, sometimes taking quite a severe dive with sound effects cutting out and monsters clipping in all over the shop. Clipping even occurred when I played alone, albeit very occasionally. To be fair, it wasn’t a huge deal breaker, but it was certainly a mixed experience to say the least, and my ventures into the voice-chat option were no different. Holding down the L button will broadcast whatever you have to say to your team mates, but sometimes only a crackle of static made its way out of my 3DS’s microphone. Other times, of course, it worked fine, but those were few and far between– although it probably didn’t help that most of my party members seemed to be either Spanish or Italian. Thankfully you don’t have to have voice-chat enabled if you don’t want to, but unfortunately there’s no escaping the deathly grip of the frame rate.
You never know who’s going to show up when you’re playing online, unless you’re playing with your friends, of course.
But while Heroes of Ruin won’t win any prizes for technical excellence, the rest of its online features really work to foster a proper community (or at least as much of a community you can have with four players), and this is particularly evident in its Alliance mode. Whenever you register a friend on your 3DS, they’re automatically added to your Alliance, and the more time you spend playing with these friends, the more exclusive bonuses you’ll unlock while they’re in your party. Unfortunately you can’t do the same thing with players you meet online, but picking up the slack in this area is the Trader’s Network. Here you can buy and sell items from other players you meet online, as well as from your own various character profiles, meaning that all that Alchitect loot you find as a Vindicator doesn’t necessarily need to go to waste or get turned straight into cash.
Hold on a second, an Alchi-what now? Ah, yes, welcome to Heroes of Ruin‘s character classes. I’m still not sure whether it’s meant to be a cross between an architect and an alchemist (as far as I can tell, it’s some kind of staff-wielding sorceress), but the Alchitect is one of four classes you can choose from in Heroes of Ruin, the others being the burly Hulk-esque Savage, the ranged gun-toting Gunslinger, and the Vindicator, the regal cousin of the Thundercats with a big sword and a dash of white magic. Of course, you can play with just one character if you wish, but all of them feel different enough to warrant giving each of them a go, particularly since each class employs a different camera angle and an ever so slightly altered map layout for each mission. Handy, then, that the game has four profile slots! Moreover, while your initial character customisation is a little on the shallow side, the plethora of loot and treasure you come across more than makes up for a bland set of hairstyles and skin colours you have at the start. Much like Xenoblade Chronicles, each weapon and armour upgrade carries over to your on-screen appearance, although some are much more noticeable than others.
At the same time, however, when the difficulty level is incredibly tame, all these character distinctions tend to fall by the wayside, making this the real downfall of Heroes of Ruin. Despite each class being well-balanced and having an interesting set of abilities and skill trees to unlock, the game never really requires you to use them in any particularly meaningful way. With each dungeon practically overflowing with life and energy potions to replenish your health and special attack bars, the only tactic you ever need to use is “whack the nearest thing that moves until it’s dead”. You may be overwhelmed by enemies very occasionally, but for the most part combat falls into relatively unsatisfying button-mashing. The odd quest or puzzle bring a sliver of excitement to the fray, but when puzzles are incredibly scarce and most quests simply involve “collect five of these” or “kill ten or those”, this brings the focus back squarely onto its combat again, leaving the game feeling a bit like a one trick pony.
You’ll be sick of these shark pirates by the end of the first act.
This feeling of monotony is made even worse by the game’s mission locales. Individual rooms are recycled faster than you can change out of your undies and put on a fresh set of armour (which, given the rate at which enemies drop loot, you’ll be doing incredibly often), and this kind of cut and paste level design leaves a lot to be desired. It might not be so noticeable if each act’s three missions weren’t based around the same themed environment, but even the class-specific camera angles can’t mask the fact that you’re essentially just running round the same set of rooms in a slightly different order for every single mission.
Even the Trader’s Network feels slightly redundant at times, since the game’s also overrun with cash as well as loot and potions. You can’t go two feet without coming across an item cache, and my wallet was soon bursting at the seams long before the end of the game. But even if you ignored the item caches completely, the money you make by selling your shed load of spare items makes it just as easy to simply buy all the best weapons instead of trading them. There’s also the Valor Relics to consider– weapons and armour you can buy with the valor points you earn by completing daily and weekly challenges– but the same problem applies. If the game’s difficulty is such that you can just buy or collect perfectly adequate equipment from merchants and monsters, why bother going to the extra effort of doing all the in-game challenges? There’s no visible reward or trophies to show off to other players, and considering the alarming turnover rate of most items, you’re highly likely to out-level that particular piece of equipment pretty sharpish anyway, so what other reason is there to complete these challenges?
The Savage (above) may have a similar brawl style to the Vindicator, but their stat differences make each class a very different experience.
Of course, all this begs the question about whether Heroes of Ruin will last beyond its relatively brief 6-7 hour campaign. Part of me suspects it won’t, at least not in terms of single player– although I was pleasantly surprised to find that it does, in fact, hold up as a single player experience. It’s perhaps a slightly greater challenge given you’ve got to do everything by yourself, and it also gives you the benefit of being able to take your time and explore a bit more, as playing online can often devolve into a race to simply find the best loot, giving you no time to actually see the rest of the game or complete any of the side-quests for fear of losing out on all the best gear. Granted there isn’t really much to see given the generic nature of the maps, but quite often there are different pathways to explore and hidden treasure chests to find (even if most pathways are, in fact, dead-ends).
All in all, Heroes of Ruin is a competent dungeon-crawler, but one that lacks any real challenge. With bland, uninspiring design and mediocre combat, it’s hard to imagine that players will keep coming back to Heroes of Ruin, even despite its excellent online capabilities and varied character classes. The game is its own worst enemy at the end of the day, leaving it more of a ruined hero than a truly great one.
Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.