Maybe someone with more critical training can successfully answer why some dungeon crawlers, a genre based on a repeating “kill-collect-equip-sell” loop, are joyful romps through subterranean depths, while others eventually spiral into boredom. Lord knows I certainly can’t.
What I can tell you is that Heroes of Ruin is firmly in Camp Boring, squandering away its early appeal with tedious fetch quests, a broken economy and more backtracking than a presidential campaign.
In the interest of full disclosure, I still haven’t finished the game. I’ve played it since I bought it on release date, and I’d say I’m about 80% finished. Eventually, I got to a boss fight that wore down my patience, and the idea of revisiting three more areas, albeit in new dungeons, lost all appeal. The game’s generic fantasy story certainly doesn’t help. There’s a sphinx looking guy and he’s sick. This makes it somewhat difficult for him to protect the land so it’s up to you to find the cosmic MacGuffin that’s going to heal him. Along the way there’s something about elves and elven ghosts and oh hell, who cares?
When you’re not following quests to save Mr. Sphinx, you’ll be taking on a seemingly endless number of Verb Number Noun quests. Rescue seven sailors. Kill twenty undead. Collect five crystals. Pick a verb, a number and a noun and there’s a pretty good chance that you’ve created a quest in the game. It’s like MadLibs for adventurers. I understand that this isn’t anything new for dungeon crawlers, but what makes it all the more tedious here is how annoying the game makes completing some of these quests. Dungeons are littered with hallways that lead to dead ends, requiring you to wade through hordes of the enemies on your way to a hallway to nowhere, only to then wade through another group on your way back. Sometimes you’ll collect a thing only to then go back through half of the dungeon to then collect the next thing. Sometimes the items of your quest show up with blue sparkles, sometimes they don’t. All of the backtracking results in zero sense of progression. You’re not moving forward, you’re just mapping terrain, terrain to be covered and then recovered in pursuit of the next bauble.
Sure, there’s loot and experience to gain from all of this questing and killing but even those two RPG staples are poorly implemented. Upon starting the game you pick from one of four classes, two melee and two ranged, and there are four save slots should you want to tinker with the various classes. At first, everything looks good. As you level up you use skill points to buy new powers, new, exciting ways to kill things. It isn’t long though before you run up against the fact that there are more powers than there are buttons to activate them. PC games get around this by allowing you to use all the keys at your keyboard’s disposal, consoles have used rings and triggers and other less elegant solutions, but at least they let you access every power, every time. Not this game. If you want that new power, prepare to get rid of something else. While I can certainly understand that the 3DS has a finite number of buttons, it also has a touchscreen. Sure, the touchscreen is used to navigate menus and the see the minimap, a map that can’t be scrolled, to my eternal torment, I would have gladly put up with more layers of menus if it meant I could use more than three powers at a time.
Then again, I played a Savage, the game’s version of a barbarian and honestly, I couldn’t tell the difference between this buff and that buff, between this multiple move attack and that one. All of the powers boiled down to places I put skill points, or things I used to unlock other powers, not meaningful additions to the character or skill set of Beaners, Son of Beaners.
Ditto for the loot. If most of the stat numbers were green, the loot was good. If they were red, the loot was bad. Half of the stats had no appreciable affect on gameplay. As I got stronger and my loot got more loot-tastic, the enemies also got stronger. Hour ten felt the same as hour one, green numbers be damned. Sure, some of my new equipment had buffs which gave a chance for certain affects, but they never seemed to fire, or if they did, they didn’t do anything. Technically, 1% is a chance, so I can’t claim that the game was lying.
Worse though, is how quickly the loot becomes superfluous. In a good dungeon crawler, the great loot is extremely expensive or very hard to find. It gives you a reason to keep grinding swamp rats, or horny toads, or whatever. Killing things gets you more loot. More loot can be sold. More money gets you even better loot. In this game, the really good loot is either relatively cheap (5k of your wallet maxing 99,999) or given at the end of a major quest. Finding excellent loot doesn’t often happen and once your wallet maxes out, you can’t sell anything you pick up, so mowing down enemies becomes an exercise in getting from A to B, not something done to gain a material advantage. If you do stumble across something that actually puts a dent in your wallet, give it five minutes and you’ll quickly be back up to full coffers from selling loot that you either can’t equip or is worse than that you already have.
On the plus side, the game allows four random people to connect wirelessly and all play in the same game, using the system’s microphone for chatting. Loading times are a little long when joining, but nothing that makes you think that the game is busted. Playing a dungeon crawler with random people is like watching a family that hates each other go to the mall: every person heads off in a different direction, looking for fame, fortune or hot pretzels. The online mode doesn’t offer anything all that better than playing the single player game, other than a chance to knock off some of the weekly or daily quests, so I’m not sure why you’d do it. Speaking of those quests, I’m fairly certain Square/Enix was tracking my location in the game so that every day they could offer up a daily challenge in an area I had no hopes of getting to based on where I was in the story. Given that Square allows you to link your Square/Enix login to the game and track your stats online, similar to Rockstar’s Social Club, I think my suspicions have merit. It’s all about me, people.
It’s possible that if I were to get past this boss, the ending of the game would blow me away, but I’m fairly certain that I don’t care. The fact that the game looks like an iPad game, but at eight times the cost, certainly doesn’t help. The bottom line though, is that the game hasn’t given me much of a reason to come back other than it being a dungeon crawler on the 3DS. There was a time I thought that’d be enough. Unfortunately, that time has passed.