The hack-and-slash captures the art of simplicity with a standard, addictive setup: annihilate hordes of enemies, explore dungeons, and bask in the glow of stumbling upon rare item drops. However, because of its dependence on the same formula, this basic approach causes an obstacle for new games to carve out a unique identity. For a hack-and-slash to set itself apart from the pack, it must execute everything exceptionally well like standard-bearer Diablo, or establish a standout feature that breathes life into the genre. Unfortunately, Heroes of Ruin does neither of these things, and so the whole experience can be delineated in one word: generic. This isn't a game you're going to walk away from with fond memories; it’s simply a “one-and-done.”
It doesn't help that Heroes of Ruin features a familiar plot setup: you must find a cure for a cursed entity named Ataraxis, ruler of Nexus. Add in the dynamic of a royal family, and there's plenty of betrayal heading your way. Now, stories are usually a weak point in hack-and-slashes, and that rings especially true in Heroes of Ruin. But what's most disappointing is that despite having some gusto, the pacing is so poor that there's little intensity until the last hours of the game. Then the twists just spiral into an overwhelming climax. The pacing destroys any little strengths the narrative has, which would have benefitted from additional build-up. For instance, there's an insipid main villain that doesn't even appear until the latter portion of the game. He would have functioned well as a focal point, building up your desire to knock him dead the entire game, but thanks to his misplacement within the narrative, he’s just another generic plot device.
Usually, a less-than-stellar story is tolerable if combat is addictive and fun; unfortunately, the verdict here is more of the same – Heroes of Ruin doesn't offer anything out of the ordinary for a button-masher. You choose from four classes, customize your character, and then get to bashing enemies for loot. The action battle system is simplistic – there's a main attack button, and you can assign three skills to the other face buttons. Once unlocked, you can also level up your special skills. The problem? A lot of them aren’t huge game-changers, and the animation time for activation make some more trouble than they're worth. At the very least, the battle system is easy to grasp - there's not room for you to fail at building your character. The skill trees are rather small, though, which means there won't be much new to make battles more exciting as you progress.
All this combat takes place within four main areas, each filled with a handful of stages for your slashing pleasure. The individual areas are different enough – one embraces the coral reef/pirate setup, while another adopts the icy chill of an avalanche. Unfortunately, there's not much variety within the individual stages. There's something about Heroes of Ruin's level design that renders makes exploration lackluster. The discovery and wonder is missing; it does nothing to excite you about what's around the next corner, especially since most are dead ends with no treasure to uncover for your trouble.
That's not to say there aren't little things along the way that attempt to add some variety like the occasional puzzle, or boss battle that requires a strategy beyond just button mashing to defeat. These do break up some of the tedium, but end up being far too easy. That's another strike against Heroes of Ruin: it never feels all that challenging, save for the very last boss, and even then, it isn’t that the boss is difficult; the parameters of when you can hit him simply made the fight artificially tough. It’s a huge turn-off for those who revel in a good challenge, like playing Diablo on the inferno difficulty level.
Another deal-breaker might be the playtime; in about ten hours, you can finish off the game. There's just not enough sustainable content. That's accounting for side quests, as well, which are practically all fetch quests. Towards the end of the game, the main quest have an option for alignment, and more decisions like these would have been a welcome addition earlier in the campaign. Dialogue also could have benefitted from letting choice matter; what's the point in choosing an option if it's the only one the game offers?
Heroes of Ruin's biggest boast is its ability to let you connect online with friends or others around the world, but it simply allows you to endure the lackluster campaign with friends. And if the dungeons or bosses aren't anything special, then what's the motivation to play through these same drab dungeons over and over again? For now, the only thing offering motivation to keep playing is new gear, as there are new daily and weekly challenges to complete that offer Valor. Valor is special currency that can be spent on equipment infused with relics, which add special perks. The only way to obtain valor is by enlisting in these special challenges. There's also a trader's network that enables you to trade surplus gear through StreetPass.
Heroes of Ruin is ultimately just another run-of-the-mill experience, which is truly unfortunate considering it's pretty much the only title in the genre on Nintendo’s hardware over a year after launch. Its potential is totally squandered on a highly forgettable experience. Heroes of Ruin doesn't do anything to make the genre sparkle anew, and with its short span of content, you won't exactly find yourself locked in for too long. Heroes of Ruin has no shining areas; it's barely competent, and despite its status as the only online-enabled hack-and-slash for the 3DS, you’d be better off waiting for someone else to execute the genre better.