Heroes of Ruin Co-Op Review

8/1/2012 at 3:19 PM

2012 is the year of the Action-RPG. Between Diablo 3, Torchlight 2, Path of Exile, Krater and a few others that slip my mind, the playing field is surprisingly crowded. Enter Heroes of Ruin, the prime portable contender in this genre, available on the Nintendo 3DS. With it comes a veritable smorgasbord of co-op-friendly features, but is the game itself worth checking out?

Players can create a character from one of four classes: the Vindicator, who is your paladin archetype, the Savage, a dual-wielding berserker, the Gunslinger who, well, shoots baddies with extreme prejudice, and the oddly-named Alchitect, a battlemage archetype. You can customize your character a bit, changing hairstyles, skin color and such (eat it, Diablo 3!), name ‘em and send them out into the world.

The plot is fairly generic and revolves around your hero helping NPCs within the hub city of Nexus and investigating the cause of a mysterious curse ailing Ataraxis, the Ruinlord of Nexus. Quests are of standard fare, requesting you kill certain enemies to advance the plot, or gather items for people in town. Environmental puzzles are scattered throughout the dungeons and serve to mix up the action. When playing online, you'll also receive a set of daily and weekly challenges, similar to what Bungie included with Halo Reach.

With the Vindicator and Savage, combat feels very sluggish. Attempting to chain basic attacks to special abilities is a chore, and if you’re too quick on the trigger, some of your inputs will flat out be ignored. This wasn’t nearly as much of an issue when I played as an Alchitect, or when I had the Savage’s attack speed bonus up, but it’s definitely frustrating. The uneven framerate doesn’t help, either. It seemed to be slightly better if you play without 3D enabled, but your mileage may vary.

Heroes of Ruin does a fairly good job of streamlining common ARPG functions. Potions and your quick-equip/sell abilities are mapped to the D-pad, and believe me, you’ll be making extensive use of that last one.

Each class has three skill categories to power up, but calling them trees would be inaccurate. You can choose to bring three active abilities or buffs into battle with you by mapping them to the face buttons, and there are a smattering of passive abilities to put points into as well. Powering some abilities up to their maximum level allows their effect to affect other players, so picking a few to stick with is probably wise if you intend to play with friends (and why wouldn’t you?).

Unfortunately, the abilities don’t really matter too much since it’s possible to just brute force your way through most of the game using only the auto attack and each character’s charge move. I’d find myself forgetting that I had extra abilities, which was a bad sign.

Heroes of Ruin’s biggest flaw is that its loot system leaves a lot to be desired. In a dungeon crawler of this type, that’s a nearly criminal offense. When an item drops, you’ll be able to see if it’s better/equal/worse than what you’ve currently got on, but comparing gear in a more meaningful fashion is an exercise in futility. Worse, other than trinkets and rings, all of the drops are locked to specific classes, so you’ll constantly be showered in loot you can’t even use. It’s lucky then, that the quicksell hotkey is readily available, otherwise you’d have to haul all this stuff to a store.

A forgettable plot, iffy combat and a lackluster loot system do not a great game make, so let’s talk co-op, and dig into why Heroes of Ruin frustrates me so much. Before I rattle off the co-op features, keep in mind that this is not only a portable game, it’s a portable game on a Nintendo system.

First off, Heroes of Ruin supports drop in/drop out campaign co-op for up to four players, either via local wifi or online. In fact, the default option for starting a game is set up for online play. I haven’t seen a portable title encourage co-op this much since Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, and it filled me with joy. You can set your game to allow anonymous players, restrict it to your friends list, further restrict it to local partners, or take it completely offline for a solo session. You actually have to work to make it a single player game. Take that, lone wolves!

What’s that? You need more? Alright, how about the fact that Heroes of Ruin supports voice chat? The quality’s not the best, but I’m not gonna look a gift horse in the mouth here. If you don’t want to hear anonymous players yammering at you, you can disable voice chat on the fly. While meeting random people for casual group co-op is certainly fun, the real way to play is with players on your 3DS’ friend list, who are tagged as being part of your Alliance.

Playing with Alliance members grants you “experience” with your individual friends. As you adventure together, you’ll level up your relationship from the standard Mercenary all the way to Brother in Arms. Each of the ten levels of experience you gain adds an additional party effect for you, from simple things like waypoints replenishing health and energy to reducing respawn time from death, all the way to granting massive buffs to item drop quality and party damage. It’s a fantastic system, and one I’d like to see expanded on in the future.

The daily and weekly challenges I’ve mentioned above often have a co-op component - there are currently two active ones that ask you to accomplish certain tasks in co-op. If you haven’t already figured it out, Heroes of Ruin has co-op coming out of its ears.

It’s extremely unfortunate that the astounding average-ness of the campaign and gameplay end up detracting from all of these features. In my online sessions, more often than not, players split off and did their own thing. I didn’t notice enemy difficulty scaling, so I found myself poking around a half cleared level with three players all in different corners of the map. By the time I caught up to people, the quests were often completed. The lack of ability to quickly teleport to other players in a map proved quite annoying. Apparently, Diablo 3’s Banner system has completely spoiled me.

Item drops are shared amongst all players, so there’s a mad dash for loot as soon as it drops. If voice chat is on, you might have a better shot at asking for a trade, but outside of playing with friends, it seems to be a competition. Luckily, a few people I played with always left items for other classes on the ground. Playing with friends fares a little better - you’ll at least tend to stick together. Best of all, progress gained in co-op carries over to your own game. Solving some of the environmental puzzles is a little easier with friends, and the boss fights remain interesting, but the hack & slash action leaves a lot to be desired and the loot is just as nonexistent.

It’s worth noting that since the game defaults to playing online, certain aspects of the 3DS system are disabled - you cannot use the Home button until you save & quit out of your game. If you happen to close the system and put it to sleep, you’ll be unceremoniously booted back to the main menu when you return to the game, which can cause a loss of progress. The framerate issues also exist in co-op, and when four players are dropping abilities all over the screen, the chaos causes the engine to choke.

If Heroes of Ruin had stuck the landing on the Action RPG framework, we’d probably be looking at one of the greatest portable co-op games since we launched this humble site. The efforts towards enabling co-op play are commendable, and it’s unfortunate that they’re not wrapped around a better game. As is, it remains a hard title to recommend unless you absolutely crave some co-op while on the go.

This Nintendo 3DS review of Heroes of Ruin was based off a copy provided by the publisher.