Writers and literary academics have long tried to boil the history of narratives down to its most basic elements. This, when combined with our love of lists, has led to numerous theorists and writers taking a taxonomical approach to narratives, arguing for the existence of a certain number of stock 'stories', and no more, available to any human storyteller.
Carlo Gozzi and Georges Polti identified thirty-six 'situations'; Montana State University Professor Ronald Tobias argues for twenty (stretching his imagination to come up with categories called 'Adventure', 'Escape' and 'Love'); William Foster-Harris argues that only three exist, the happy ending, the unhappy ending, and the 'literary plot' (the third is a dumping ground for anything Foster-Harris apparently thinks is too unconventional). The fact that such an exercise can be done, however, suggests that it is true what they say about stories - there really is nothing new under the sun.
Does that mean that Heroes of Ruin, the new top-down RPG from n-Space (developers responsible for Call of Duty: Black Ops on the DS and Mary-Kate and Ashley: Sweet 16 - Licensed to Drive), should get a pass for its hokey, low-effort narrative? After all, in telling a fantasy tale, it's only inevitable that the teller might step on the toes of the generations of fantasy stories that came before.
Heroes of Ruin is unoriginal - the story it weaves of cursed gods and brave heroes and thrones under siege is one we've seen a million times before, and the World of Veil is never developed in any meaningful way beyond the few broad strokes painted in the introduction of each region. We've got untrustworthy-looking sorcerers, righteous kings, forest spirits, forbidding landscapes riddled with magic, and a full bestiary of wolves and wyverns and imps and demons and undead. But these tired elements don't make the narrative, the game, bad in itself. In fact, to be fair to Heroes of Ruin, it's never outright bad. But it certainly doesn't make an effort to be good.
Where Heroes of Ruin scores the most points is in its online functionality. The blurb on the back of the case proclaims how one can "seamlessly drop in and out of 4-player cooperative multiplayer with voice chat", and the game certainly delivers on that promise. Provided a game that caters to where the player is in the story can be found (there seemed to be a dearth of match-ups in Act IV when I reached that point), the online gameplay is smooth and entertaining. Whenever dropping into a region of Veil with three companions, the linear dungeon-crawling and mindless grinding gains a scope and a speed to it that the game struggles to match in singleplayer.
But therein lies a problem - so much of the game is linear dungeon-crawling and mindless grinding. Heroes of Ruin has been described as a 'lootathon' by many websites, but that's being kind to the game. The loot system is designed for multiplayer, meaning it is slightly more bearable when there are three other people also staking a claim in the armour and trinkets that enemies drop, but enemies still drop items at a ludicrous rate and it isn't hard to end up with a full wallet of 999,999 coins before the end of a first play-through. It's easy to get top-of-the-line armour and weapons, and it's even easier to get health and energy potions, given that they are practically dropped by every breakable crystal and smashable pot. Anyone needing to visit the Restorative Potions store more than once or twice during a game may need to step back from the 3DS.
Further, the dungeon-crawling can get tedious as a result of the lack of a stake in anything in the game until almost seventy-five percent of the way through the game. The central crisis surrounding Ruinlord Ataraxis' curse never feels very much like a crisis, with everyone in and around Nexus appearing to fare pretty well despite the ill health of their sovereign. It also doesn't help that the game busies the heroes with quests that, despite being part of the main storyline, feel disconnected from it and ultimately pointless (an early plot surrounding Lord Eckhardt's Living Weapons feels particularly anticlimactic). Add to that the uninspiring visuals and repetitive maps, with assets and layouts recurring across four or five locations at any one time, and it's hard to figure out what it is about Nexus that the heroes are fighting for and why.
The game hits a further snag when one considers how easy a lot of it is. With four classes, multiple skill trees and the aforementioned multiplayer functionality on offer, there's a decent amount of replayability in this title. Further, the combat is simple to understand and easy to perform proficiently. However, Heroes of Ruin is accessible to a fault, and when combined with the relatively low numbers of enemies that come with each wave, that accessibility makes it very easy to dispatch enemies without much thought and march on through the maps, even in singleplayer. The lack of difficulty levels and the abundance of loot only exacerbate this.
Heroes of Ruin would like to be the 3DS' Diablo, the 3DS' Gauntlet, the 3DS' Hunter: The Reckoning. Unfortunately, n-Space fails to endow the game with challenging gameplay or engrossing storytelling, apparently hoping that the solid multiplayer will draw audiences. In a marketplace where there's nothing new under the sun, we need a more interesting hook than that.