If Heroes of Ruin was judged purely on the level of ambition and functionality on display, it would be hailed as the finest title on 3DS. It takes the capabilities of the handheld and attempts to deliver a fully flavoured action RPG, with all of the online play and functionality that gamers could conceivably demand of a home console title. It’s an epic undertaking from the team at n-Space that succeeds in many areas, even if it’s let down by some basic mistakes.
This is a title that sets its stall without any ambiguity, refusing any opportunity to take a creative risk. The world that you inhabit and its ho-hum campaign story are predictable and entirely unsurprising. That’s not to say that it’s lacking in effort, but the rather generic world is populated with all of the standard fantasy tropes you’d come to expect. Whether this consists of speaking to NPCs or reading books scattered around the hub world, Nexus, you can soak in as much lore as you please. At its core, the plot comes down to reawakening a guardian of the people, which involves travelling the lands and finding information and magical artifacts, occasionally dishing out justice to monsters that stand in your way.
What truly matters in Heroes of Ruin is whether the actual experience offers enough variety to overcome the lack of creative imagination, and fortunately that is the case. The actual story campaign may be short – under ten hours even for patient gamers – but it’s a title that encourages you to play and develop four different character classes, even providing as many save profiles for the purpose. The Vindicator is a tank with a rather large sword, while The Savage relies on power in close range combat; those who prefer to fight more tactically from a distance can consider The Gunslinger or The Alchitect. All four have a distinctive style and enjoyable range of skill moves, available as upgrades, that encourage multiple playthroughs for enthusiasts.
The true benefit of the varying styles comes to the fore when working with up to three other players as part of the online offering. When tackling large groups of enemies or a dungeon boss, having a mix of classes contributes to a genuine sense of tactical teamwork, with range attacks softening up and stunning an enemy before the melee specialists can weigh in at close quarters. It’s possible to play through the campaign in single player, and the act of loot gathering and levelling up provides reasonable incentive, but multiplayer brings a new level of immersion to proceedings.
The level of online integration is, by 3DS standards, exceptional. Those simply seeking to gain XP, cash and loot can join other games, with a number of rooms always available with varying standards of players. When starting a game to continue progress in your own campaign, you’ll have the choice of selecting solo, local play or online play open to worldwide players or just those on your Friends List. Other players can simply drop into your game at any point, and when you find a good group that sticks together and shares loot it can be exceptionally satisfying. The voice chat functionality, accessed by holding down the left shoulder button, also allows you to directly communicate and get to know your mystery team-mates. This drop in-play and communication is, to date, unprecedented on the handheld.
In our experience we encountered little lag, with the title’s servers doing a solid job of synchronising the action between players. Voice chat also works well, though headphones definitely help to pick up communications clearly. If your game is open to worldwide players it’s more than likely that the usual bad eggs will appear: levelled up players that storm ahead, complete objectives without waiting for you to join in and hog much of the disposable loot. If you’re the host and such inconsiderate players arrive you can boot them from the game in the start menu, though. In order to experience levels fully with others and without these risks – such as major bosses not respawning – it’s recommended to play with friends, or at least with others from an online community that you trust. We have a Heroes of Ruin online adventurers' guild for those wanting to play with decent folk.
n-Space's efforts to bring depth to the experience also go further, with a substantial range of items, upgrades and options away from the dungeons. A trading area for StreetPass is a good concept, if you can find the hits, while it’s possible to link your save profiles with an online account that also tracks progress on daily ‘web challenges’ that appear in-game. The daily challenges have been simple at the time of writing, such as killing a number of specific enemy types or collecting gold with other players, and the accumulated ‘Valor’ can be spent at a store with some particularly attractive goodies on sale. A stat tracker on the official website is also promised soon, rounding off the online component.
The dungeon crawling and loot collection, combined with this online setup, contribute to a compelling experience. As suggested earlier, however, niggling flaws and development mistakes do emerge, and have a habit of taking the gloss away. One issue is a low level of difficulty and poor balancing, where the desire for accessibility has taken away any genuine sense of challenge: we rarely died, and the punishment in those cases was to be respawned at a generously placed checkpoint. We also maxed out our currency about two-thirds of the way through the campaign: there’s so much loot on offer that it’s easy to accumulate wealth and buy anything you want, making much of the depth of the hub-world’s merchants and their wares largely superficial.
The ambition of this title has also led to some cut corners creeping into view. We encountered a glitch when a level we started failed to activate an objective, for example, forcing us to restart after 15 minutes of wondering where the boss encounter was hiding. Presentation and execution, while not necessarily bad, also suffer on occasion. The graphics are inconsistent, with a snow-filled environment’s pleasing aesthetic being undermined by washed out and muddy textures in an earlier forest stage. The 3D effect has the honour of boasting both impressive depth and being particularly tough on the eyes, while the frame-rate undoubtedly performs better in 2D. Sound is also a mixed bag, with some excellent music being let down by some cringeworthy voice acting. None of the issues are significant, but will be noticeable.
Heroes of Ruin does have a few rough edges and areas where greater refinement would have been welcome, but they don’t detract from an accomplished effort on 3DS. A short campaign is offset by four separate characters to develop, and the experience feels entirely suitable for a fully-tooled handheld action RPG. It’s the online structure that truly raises the bar for the platform; crawling through dungeons is a lot more fun with others to share the glory, and the inclusion of voice chat in particular is a highlight. In many respects this is a by-the-numbers title, but the end result does bear the resemblance of a masterpiece, even if it can’t quite survive the closest of inspection.