If there’s anything that I’ve learned, it’s that when you combine animé and Dracula you sometimes end up with a strange sort of Castlevania hybrid. Needless to say, in Perfect World Entertainment’s Rusty Hearts I found myself in yet again amid the urban rust of a dreary English town built outside the walls of a drafty castle that had been overtaken by the undead and a storyline filled with gloaming and angst as the NPCs pressed me into service to retake their fair city and the castle from the grip of that strange nosferatu. Okay, so it’s not Dracula per se but one Lord Vlad and his army of the undead I find myself pitted against, but I still feel very Belmont in this game.
Rusty Hearts plays a lot like an old arcade game—possibly dredging up memories to some of Golden Axe or Dungeons & Dragons in some dimly lit underground parlor (or in my case a brightly lit basement at my University.) In fact, most of this game eschews use of the mouse entirely and permits a keyboard-only use from movement to skill access. To that point, it delivers a very suitable knockout punch when it comes to interfacing with the UI.
The hack-and-slash elements do not suffer at all from being keyboard-only; far from it, wit hands on the keyboard and eyes on the screen in the middle of the tumult, I felt like I was right there in the fray splintering bone and sinew from skeletal guards as I advanced through levels. The camera is fixed and shifted with me as I advanced through the dungeons—mostly dank sewers filled with skeletal undead or fish men who rose up in gauntlets to impede me.
They were easy prey to elide over as we slid through their ranks like death incarnate. Growing ever more powerful as we advanced in rank and delved deeper into the waterworks in our quest to pierce the walls of Castle Curtis and eventually face the vampiric Lord Vlad himself.
Needless to say, this game is actually quite atmospheric.
Graphics and Sound: Clear, crisp, arcade-style graphics combined with gothic music…
If it were a decade earlier, I would not be surprised to find this sort of game being played in those arcade parlors I mentioned in the introduction. The graphics, however, are rather superior to those stand-up games and deliver a beautiful performance when effects are triggered. The scene backgrounds and textures also produce a nice atmospheric feel whether I was wandering through wandering through the town or slogging through the sewers.
I really found myself enjoying the music, especially in town, which seemed to sound a lot like the gothic chords of piano and strings playing out some doleful tune. It did an excellent job of adding to the overall sense of foreboding both in the town and in the dungeons. Dungeon music feels like strings of Gothic metal tuned into video game music, rolling out ringing strings of electric guitar music as I marched through the dank underbelly of the city.
As for the characters, they all produce their own individual sounds when they trigger their abilities. The sound effects are snappy and good indicators of what skills are being triggered, although they can get somewhat repetitive (the same sound always triggers with the same skill.) Once again, this made me entirely nostalgic for arcade games since it’s fitting to the genre.
Overall, Rusty Hearts makes for more than just a technically competent and confident arcade hack-and-slash design, it exceeds its components and delivers something that’s fun to watch and enjoy.
Gameplay: Hack-and-slash at the core with a lot of Castlevania atmosphere drizzled over the top.
As I mentioned above, Rusty Hearts is a down-and-dirty hack-and-slash arcade that is unabashed about its commitment to the genre. If the massive waves of monsters that I got to mow down with my spells and sword was any indication, it was the screams of jubilation as I cleaved through skeletal hordes with my skills and blade.
Combat and movement entirely eschew the mouse and unlike other games do not use the WASD controls—instead, I needed to get used to using my right hand on the arrow keys and my left hand on the left side of the keyboard. ‘X’ became my primary attack (a sword swipe) and my grab-stuff key, used to activate things or pick things up off the ground. ‘Z’ worked as a sort of guard that reduced damage and ‘C’ allowed me to grab a peon enemy, lift them off the ground, and then perform a special attack.
Skills would be accessed via the keys ‘A’ through ‘H’ and also some of the F-keys (I suspect I’d put consumables there.) As a result, during combat, I would most often find myself button-mashing ‘X’ and then intermittently popping my finger up a row to hammer an area-effect skill or something that would give me an advantage in combat. As I tended to play the witch character, Agatha, I was exploding fires, throwing whirlwinds, and punching earthen fists out of the ground.
All of this combines together with the gameplay to generate a very Devil May Cry action-arcade sense as skills combo together, multiple hits on a target mean something, and there’s even a style bonus.
The skill themselves differ between the different characters (there are four) and they provide a slightly different gameplay experience for each one.
When a ranged enemy stood off screen and prepared a shot, a small warning icon appeared where the shot would come from. It started with “Attack!” and then rolled to “Firing!” when the projectile was loosed. In fact, I became so used to this warning I kept getting struck by arrows fired by skeletal archers currently on screen—you actually have to pay attention to them if they’ve nocked an arrow. Still, this is a brilliant innovation and means that enemies off-screen continue to remain a treat even if I hadn’t cleaned them out. It made me think about how I would take on a room when solo.
Each level ends with a boss monster and that boss may take various shapes. Often they’re a twist on the theme of the level, a blood skeleton, or a bulging brute monster with the genre-fitting name like The Butcher, or a hulking fishman. Within a few levels of the boss monster and running solo, they actually proved to be quite a challenge—however, this was softened somewhat when I brought along two or three of my friends. Even at higher difficulty levels. Also, having other people along simply made everything a lot more fun.
As there are four possible characters to choose from—although only three in the beta test—Agatha, Tude, and Frantz, this means there’s very little customization from the start. You play who you are; in fact this is important to the narrative told in the game. However, as I progressed through the game I discovered that there are costume elements that can be applied to my character (some that can be crafted as well.)
Speaking of crafting, there seems to be an extensive crafting system built into the game. It’s not skill or class-based, however, any character can craft items given the proper ingredients. It seems more-or-less like another highly complex currency system for obtaining interesting and powerful weapons from a vendor. So people will probably spend a bit of time playing through just to get the proper ingredients to afford their next sword/armor/equipment.
Freemium: Chances are it’s exactly like other Perfect World Entertainment games.
Like most Perfect World games, it’s obvious that the cash shop is run on ZEN.
Perusing what was currently available I could see that there would be a certain number of consumables. Obviously there will be a giant passel of various items for costumes for the various characters. And probably some limited duration buffs for weapons and armor available. Changes are there might even be rare crafting items that can be bought in the store.
It’s too early to tell; but I suppose that anyone who has played Perfect World Entertainment’s other games might have already experienced how PWE approaches the cash shop. I don’t see them changing their paradigm for Rusty Hearts.
I couldn’t buy one from the cash shop, but it looks like there’s also pets to be had. I am told that pets are planned for a later update but the team couldn’t speak about them currently except that they will fight alongside the characters in combat.
Conclusion: Rusty Hearts is going places with its fast paced hack-and-slash and gothic atmosphere.
Even after only playing three hours of this game I can say one thing: Lord Vlad is totally going down. (Someday.)
According to PWE, Lord Vlad will maintain his distant grim-evil character as he throws obstacles and gauntlets at the players while try forge their way through the plot towards him. He is basically the ghastly mastermind who lurks behind every danger thrown at the town nestled in the outskirts of Castle Curtis. He isn’t a boss in the game; but you will feel him pulling the strings behind every ghoulish episode that trickles through the game’s storyline.
Dungeoneering in this game and even playing with other people really make it hit the spot. While I don’t like being pinned down to a particular character, I am amused that Perfect World Entertainment took the fixed-characters to their logical extreme by building them directly into the narrative (and they even provided a way to skip long conversations should you not want to experience them.) The comic book style of the storytelling coupled with the gauntlets of gruesome monsters and undead really make the atmosphere of this game click.
As with every other MMO, Rusty Hearts is better with friends.
I think anyone looking for a new game to play, who want to get away from the standard FPS and TPS genre or even escape the sandbox worlds of vast universes; they’ll find an interesting arcade-themepark hybrid within this game that might keep their attention for some time.
And, for those who grow bored of following the “saving the town from vampires” narrative, there’s always PvP with this interesting hack-and-slash style of arcade game play. I didn’t get a chance yet to experience that; but never-fear, PWE fully intends to create a scintillating PvP community that will stand your hair on end.
In all, Rusty Hearts has the makings of an interesting new MMO with atmosphere, panache, and thunder-between-fingertips.