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PAX Preview: Heroes of Ruin Hands-On

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While visiting Square Enix’s press presentation at PAX East, I had a chance to sit down with senior designer Charles Stuard of n-Space to play a co-operative game of Heroes of Ruin, their newest title for the 3DS. The game is an action-RPG with a heavy multiplayer emphasis designed to take full advantage of the 3DS’s wireless and online capabilities. 

Like any game of the genre worth its salt, Heroes of Ruin featured a number of different character classes to play as. Stuard began to describe the Vindicator to me, and after explaining it as being “like a paladin,” I decided I didn’t need to hear anymore – my destiny lied down the path of the Vindicator.

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Handing me a 3DS, Stuard joined my game in a quick and painless process. We were playing locally, but Stuard told me that the game has full online support with drop-in-drop-out play. Even better, Heroes of Ruin is packaged with full-fledged in-game VoIP support, meaning that you’ll be able to easily communicate with others while playing online. This can be done either through the 3DS microphone or by plugging a headset into the headphone jack. It’s refreshing to find that n-Space isn’t skimping when it comes to online play.

Combat in Heroes of Ruin plays out like you might expect from a dungeon crawling hack-and-slash – beat up the baddies, boost your stats, learn new skills, and hoard all the loot. What makes the title stand out is some really clever design decisions that not only keep the pace of the game fast but also take full advantage of the portable platform.

Rhythmically tapping the B button will launch a string of combo attacks, while holding it in will let you charge up for a more powerful strike that has special properties based on your class. Playing as a Vindicator – a big, burly panther-man with full plate mail and a greatsword designed for taking blows – this attack consisted of a whirlwind blade swing which drew surrounding enemies towards him, which is a great move for keeping pressure off your allies.

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In addition to normal attacks, you’ll gain access to a number of special skills unique to your class. Each class has three separate trees under which these skills fall, giving you a large degree of flexibility as far as customizing your character. You can equip three such skills to the Y, X, and A buttons, and swapping these skills is a relatively painless process. Simply tapping the touch screen will let you change the ability bound there – no fumbling through menus required.

Dungeons in Heroes of Ruin are entirely randomly generated, ensuring that every playthrough will be unique. Our adventure took us through an undead-infested forest, where skeletons and spirits rose up to do battle with us. Despite their random nature, Stuard pointed out that there are often treasure chests placed at the ends of “dead ends,” so you’ll never feel as if you’re wasting time by fully exploring a dungeon floor. Further encouraging the adventuresome are hidden treasure troves typically blocked off by destructible terrain – sharp eyed delvers will want to keep their eyes open for these.

The ultimate goals of these dungeons are “ruined scars,” pieces of the land that magic has torn asunder, typically guarded by powerful boss enemies. Diablo fans will be delighted that bosses and random champion monsters throughout the dungeon will often carry modifiers that make them more of a challenge, such as health regeneration or increased damage. Bosses also have further unique capabilities; an enraged spirit that the two of us encountered would possess the environment around her, tasking us with forcing her back into her regular form. To spice things up a bit, simple puzzles are also scattered throughout the dungeons, giving players a tiny break in the action on occasion.

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Of course, what would a dungeon crawler be without loot? Fans of gear collection won’t be disappointed with Heroes of Ruin. Gold and potions drop aplenty, but the real treats are stat-enhancing equipment. Again, some smart design choices really minimize the tedium of gear micromanagement. When you come across a piece of equipment, a small window immediately pops up, giving you a breakdown of how this piece will affect your stats. Based on these changes, the game gives you a basic assessment of whether it considers this piece an upgrade or a downgrade for your character. If you like what you see, you can immediately hold up on the d-pad to equip it. If you don’t want to lug it around, simply holding down instead will sell it automatically. What’s cool about this feature is that sold items are added to a sort of “cloud” item shop that is transferred to others via Street Pass; you might not have needed that sword, but maybe someone you pass by could!

According to Stuard, Heroes of Ruin has been a game that n-Space has wanted to make on the DS for quite some time, as the dual screens and portability of the handheld are perfectly suited to a co-op dungeon crawler. It wasn’t until the release of the 3DS, however, that the platform had the power to really do justice to their vision. 

With that being said, Heroes of Ruins isn’t much to write home to visually. The framerate is a little bit choppy and the 3D effect isn’t as pronounced as some titles. While I only got to see one dungeon of the game, things seemed aesthetically to be on the vanilla side. There are some nice visual touches, however. For instance, practically every piece of equipped gear will show up on your character, giving your hero a personalized look.

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I came away from Heroes of Ruin surprisingly impressed by some really great design decisions. It’s not exactly breaking new ground, but fans of hack-and-slash RPGs know that a good co-op title in the genre is growing increasingly hard to find. n-Space seems to really get what makes people love these games so much, and it’s the little things – like a multiplayer pause feature that lets enemies ignore you temporarily if you need to put the game down, or the fact that by the end of the demo, I had an entirely new set of gear equipped without ever going to an inventory screen – that make Heroes of Ruin worth keeping an eye on for fans of the genre when it launches on June 26th. 

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