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Heroes of Ruin Hands On Preview

Square-Enix gives us an online hack-n-slash experience unlike anything we've seen before on a Nintendo handheld.

Nintendo’s struggles with their online strategy (if you can call it that) are widely known and widely reviled.  We’ve seen some slight improvements as the years click by, but it looks like Square-Enix might be the ones to teach the big N how to really do things right on the 3DS with Heroes of Ruin.  Square-Enix and design house n-Space picked the perfect sort of game to leverage the online functionality of the 3DS – a dungeon crawler.  Keeping far away from the frame-by-frame criticality of an FPS or fighting game, a game in the vein of Diablo should let Nintendo’s network stretch its legs without really angering the hardcore twitch gamers.  Although already released in Europe, Heroes of Ruin doesn’t launch in North America until July 17th, and the online multiplayer is just one aspect that has us sharpening our swords in anticipation.

Heroes of Ruin does its best to cram a Diablo-esque experience onto the 3DS without trying to come up with anything truly revolutionary— except the fact that it works. Set in a fairly rote fantasy setting, you can choose from four character classes and design your own mercenary to go on quests and gather “phat loots”.  The four classes feature a close range combatant (Savage), a swordsman (Vindicator), a magician (Alchitect), and a gunslinger (Gunslinger, natch).  Each of these classes has a skill tree with fifteen unique branches of a “passive,” “active,” or “buff” variety.  The obsessive player who likes to discover that sweet spot on a skill tree should be pleased with the leveling system.

It’s possible to take on the quests solo, but this option seems to be thrown in to quiet complaints of the completely introverted.  The game is designed for four player teams to meet up online and kick ass – together.  Primarily using a match-making system with drop-in/drop-out capabilities, groups of four are formed to tackle different objectives.  Teams comprised of local players are also possible, giving you one more way to avoid a solitary run through.  If you do hook up with a group over the internet, Heroes of Ruin features a simple option that has only been dabbled with on other Nintendo systems:  voice chat.  Tapping the shoulder button will let you strategize and trash talk your teammates like you’ve been doing reliably since Halo 2 on your home consoles.

If you make some friends during your adventures, it behooves you to keep partying up with them to get an alliance bonus.  The number of times you meet up with the same online buddy is tracked, and as your alliance time increases you will be rewarded with extra loot drops and damage boosters.  This simple idea seems like it will encourage the community to be civil and chatty, but only time will tell if it’s a successful ploy.

N-Space has devised some unique ideas using the Street and Spot Pass functions on the 3DS to keep you coming back to Heroes of Ruin for a long time.  Street Pass allows you to buy and sell items you’ve earned to other players in a sort of ad hoc marketplace.  Not a huge feature, but a nifty side note for sure.   The Spot Pass is a bigger deal, allowing you to download daily and weekly challenges to keep you involved in the community and the game long after you’ve wrapped up the primary quests.

Finishing the main objectives on the cartridge seems to be the biggest complaint among European players and reviewers:  the game is just too short.  Finishing the game with one character class clocks in under the ten hour mark, but the developers intend for everyone to play through once with each class.  An interesting idea, but leaves some doubt about whether replays with a difference character will be very engaging.  Reviews also point to some balancing issues, where the game becomes a bit too easy towards the end, and money becomes too plentiful – complaints that can really throw off a dungeon diving game.

Despite those gripes, reviews seem generally positive across the Atlantic, garnering a 73/100 on Metacritic as of this writing.  Playing through a short demo, it’s certainly hard to gauge replayability of a title, but I was able to get a decent feel for the basic combat and other mechanics.  The game’s use of the button layout and touch-screen seems intuitive and easy to manage.  Smacking giant spiders with the sword of a Vindicator or the pistols of the Gunslinger was tactile and satisfying – a plus when you know you’ll be doing tons of it during the campaign.  Using the alternate attacks for both characters was also fun.  I look forward to somersaulting around the jungle while dropping mines in my wake when I play as a Gunslinger in the full game.

Only two classes are playable in the demo, and the differences between them felt significant, which is probably a good sign if you decide to play through as each class.  To make your avatar a bit more unique, there is a character customization kit that lets you get a little creative, but isn’t going to allow for Skyrim levels of choosiness.  You’ll probably be able to see most of the possible combinations when you play with others online – I felt like I saw most options on display just during the demo.

The online underpinnings seem to be perfectly adequate, only giving me a problem when the party host quit, which ended the game outright.  It’s hard to judge if this sort of end-state will be the same in the full version, but the demo does show that there was no lag or difficulty getting into a game and starting an adventure. The voice chat – a feature that could get dicey – isn’t an option in the demo, so there’s no way to know how well it works yet. It should come in handy, though, as many players spend some time trying to attack each other when someone new is plopped into a quest with no way to communicate.  Be sure to give the demo a try while there are still a healthy number of players to party up with and really get a feel for that angle of the game.

Heroes of Ruin is satisfying the community and critics sufficiently by creating a quality dungeon crawler with a dependable and enjoyable online component.  Accomplishing this level of online functionality and community is quite the feat on any handheld, especially a Nintendo system.  This achievement alone may make Heroes of Ruin worth your money and time to check out.  North American residents will get their turn on July 17th when it’s released here, and can get a small taste with the demo available now in the eShop. 



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