Rusty Hearts is a free-to-play game developed by Stairway Games for Perfect World Entertainment and it represents a different type of 3D brawler reminiscent of Castlevania and stand-up arcade games. Its Gothic-and-comedy feel give it a lot of character and the cell-shaded animé-eqse animation style produces a profoundly different effect than is delivered in any other game on the market.
It has some flaws, but they’re mostly negligible; it’s also a new game so what it lacks in current depth it makes up for in sheer gusto.
- Marinated in personality and a Castlevania gothic atmosphere;
- Extremely easy to get into, nice level learning curve;
- In-game customization via crafting seems fairly extensive;
- Multiple game-modes and scripted quests makes replaying dungeons less tedious.
- Extremely linear, repetitive gameplay—very much a theme park MMO;
- Only four classes (three available currently) gender locked;
- Very little initial customization available.
I have already penned a first impressions article of this game but much of my attitude about it hasn’t changed since the beta: Rusty Hearts is a magnetically atmospheric, innovative, MMORPG that shows a lot of style and class in its execution.
As a game, Rusty Hearts provides a stand-up-arcade-like experience by giving players every reason to eschew the mouse for the keyboard. The entire game can be played effectively without the mouse—although, it does make some interfaces such as buying/selling much easier and that creates a little bit of a schizophrenic UI style. However, in dungeons, I almost never touch my mouse. Instead, I rely entirely on the keyboard during dungeon runs.
The most interesting thing about Rusty Hearts gameplay is their take on replayability. The number of dungeons per decade of levels feels relatively small; but access to further dungeons is unlocked by moving through the quests and achieving further levels. Each dungeon has a series of modes that players access by doing well in the previous mode from Normal, Hard, Very Hard, and finally a special mode called Blood Mode.
Each of the ordinary modes escalate the strength, number—and sometimes disposition—of the foes in the dungeon levels. Very Hard often has very tough, numerous, opponents to mow through in gauntlet-style hordes being crushed underfoot. Also, each successive mode provides better experience and better items than the previous. As a result, there’s always a reason to succeed in the previous mode to gain access to the next one for the better loot.
Blood Mode is special. In Blood Mode no experience is rewarded; but extremely awesome items are provided to the players. Protip: Never go into Blood Mode alone. The monsters that are delivered come in such quantity and attitude that they’re almost unstoppable for an individual (or even a pair) and the archers are ferocious with their fusillade of arrows. Blood Mode is only accessible via special inventory items (consumed whereupon entering the dungeon in that mode) and is called for by some special quests that provide epic equipment.
Questing provides a lot of reasons to go back into dungeons you’ve seen once already. In fact, the questing aspect of the game keeps delivering new and interesting scripted events and items in the dungeons that you need to shamble forward in the plot. This element itself gives a myriad of reasons to continue the storyline plots (and to pick up side quests.)
There are currently three playable characters—Frantz, Tude, and Angela—with one who is being released on Oct 25, 2011—Natasha. Each of them represents a different play style that will resonate with different types of players.
Frantz fights like a nimble melee slicer, his attacks are quick, medium damage that hit in a point-blank arc in front of him and around him. He works through crowds of monsters by staying light on his feet and hitting them in groups; using his double-tap movement ability he can jump behind groups of monsters, turn on a dime, and hack-and-slash through them with his rapid-fire animations. His special abilities are mostly point-blank area of effect attacks that flurry blades or slash enemies near him.
Angela is a heavy-weapon wielder who goes with either a sword or a scythe. Her attacks hit a wide arc in front of her in the case of sword, and a huge arc all around her in the case of the scythe. She hits slowly; but with extreme force. The sword is much quicker than the scythe—but the scythe administers a broader beatdown when unleashed. Her animations also lock her in pretty often so she backs up a lot of her fighting with magic that hits AoE and cone.
Tude comes across as a brawler with most of his attacks being agile, low-damage, and melee oriented. His animations are extremely quick and most of his attacks are deft blows setting up enemies for his special attacks. His special attacks aren’t so much magical as combo-setters in his melee style. He’s very good for people who want to pick on a single opponent and pick them apart in a match of wits-and-pugilism.
Natasha has guns. That’s about how much we know right now about her character. I suspect she’ll be somewhat of a ranged play style.
The reason why I cannot give gameplay a full 10 here is that there’s still some game-stopping glitches that I ran into more than once. It’s not uncommon for the game to accidentally “forget” that your character is dead; making you unressurectable and your party unable to move on. The game is also still suffering from some disconnection issues (dropping me in the middle or end of missions) but those seemed to clear up near the weekend so it’s probably a temporary issue.
The graphics of Rusty Hearts produce a sort of nostalgia to older arcade games. The environments are certainly 3D and so are the characters, but the cell-shading animé effect doesn’t entirely blend with the backgrounds all the time. Although, I’ve found that it’s easy to ignore that because it sets the mood for the entire game: the characters really are fish out of water in the town.
The foes are imaginative and amusing and while some of them are simply rotations on a theme, this isn’t something we’re not already used to with an MMO. There’s the skeleton, the skeleton archer, the red skeleton, etc. Then there’s the bosses, which really take the cake when it comes to good art design; they tend to incorporate the sense of humor of the game with the arcade feel—especially the Boozatron (a mech made out of wine kegs) and one boss that appeared to be a concretion golem made of bits of the library, such as bookshelves, illuminated plaques, cupboards, and reading tables. Fitting the humor of the game, the library boss is called the Dewey Decimator.
This section will also include how much the MMO in question will allow players to customize their experience graphics-wise. This means that I’ll be looking at how Rusty Hearts allows character customization, the number of different weapons, weapon-effects, and etc.
Here, Rusty Hearts does extremely well. Unlike other MMOs, new equipment—with the exception of weapons—does not affect the look of a character. Instead, RH allows players to craft or purchase costume pieces for the hair, top, gloves, bottom, neck, and shoes. Many of these are in the cash shop but an astounding number are available in game via the crafting mechanic.
Furthermore, the changes to a character are reflected on the opening screen when the four characters walk out and you get to select one. This means that my Angela, who has different hair and a badass scythe in her hands, shows up with those changes to her appearance. That’s nice to see.
Character animations could see a little bit of work, especially in town, when it comes to the change between moving to stopping. Right now there’s no stop animation—a weird little detail that’s one of my bête noirs—when a character walks and stops moving she suddenly jolts back to a standing position rather than a fluid skeletal animation returning her to a resting pose.
In all, though, RH animations, graphics, and the like are well done, fitting to the atmosphere of an arcade Castlevania-esque game, and will not case to amaze players as they progress through the game.
Two things stand out in Rusty Hearts as excellent audio engineering: the electric-guitar Gothic rock music that plays during battles and the eerie atmospheric background elements added to accentuate the mood of the game. While much of the music is reused, you don’t tend to notice as it either augments the fight; or it’s the same dulcet piano song that the town always plays when you’re in it.
The UI itself has its own interesting audio elements as well. You know you’re doing the right then when you hear sounds you’re used to, such as the chime of metal when things are selected; the paper-on-paper sound of switching between windows; or the casket-lid-closing sound of collapsing a window. All of these sound elements contribute to the gothic atmosphere of the game and I enjoy the detail put into them.
When characters fight there are sounds for each attack, hitting an enemy, being hit, and the like. However, there’s very little variety here—in fact, none—so there’s some detail to be added by giving a wider range of sounds available for special attacks, or taking hits; but that’s not a big deal. Few games rotate or randomize sounds that players get used to hearing when they trigger particular attacks.
The foes themselves don’t make a lot of noise. Bosses do, such as the Boozatron seems to have its own sound effect set, but I haven’t paid enough attention to other bosses to see what effects they have. For the most part, enemies don’t have much audio personality at all.
I think the biggest con I feel on the audio in this game is that there needs to be a lot more voice acting. Much of the dialogue is back-and-forth reading and point-in-fact after you’ve seen it once the jokes wear off and you skip it; but the one thing that I always listen to (even the umpteenth time) is the cutscene from the tutorial because it has voice acting. A great deal of the storyline interaction plots could use people speaking aloud in order to add that extra edge.
Rusty Hearts dialogue promotes a sort of oddball humor that you don’t at-first expect looking at the title of the game and its erstwhile presentation. The characters are thrust into what looks like a benighted English town on the outskirts of a castle besieged by the evil Vlad and his army of undead monsters and asked to aid the townsfolk in clearing it out.
So far, so good.
However, then things get a little dicey. The entire town is full of extremely eccentric people. To make things worse, the two characters through the first 20 levels or so who tell the story (by interacting with the townsfolk) happen to be Angela and Frantz. Angela is a soft-hearted narcissistic screwball who likes to flirt, taunt, and cajole everyone she gets a job from; on the other side, Frantz is a brooding, straight-man whose tone suggests that he’s always sighing and rolling his eyes.
The result? The mission dialogue itself is almost as funny as the quests and there’s a lot of reason to actually read it as it scrolls past. It makes for a nice break between beating the teeth out of skeletons and skinning fishmen in the sewers.
Some of the quests also don’t entirely make sense except for in a haywire-small-town sort of way, such as an anger management class that requires the participants to smash barrels to pass.
Rusty Hearts is steeped in personality and that an extremely good quality for an MMO. Especially one that’s looking for players to keep coming back to play it with their friends. It adds heaps to the replay value of the various dungeons, quests, and the like especially for coming back through the game with another one of the characters.
Pricing Model 7/10
Rusty Hearts is a free-to-play MMO that supports a cash shop driven by Perfect world Entertainment ZEN microtransactions. In this fashion, it has a perfect sufficient and excellent pricing model that works out well across a multitude of free-to-play games.
There’s also a fairly broad variety of different costume pieces available in the shop—however, most of them are just variations on a theme, with very few break-out alternatives that could set a personal style aside. This lack of variation combined with the vivid, flamboyant cell-shaded art style strikes me that perhaps the cash shop is waiting for something before branching out. As a result, while there’s some customization to be had in the cash shop, it still feels fairly limited.
The cash shop also has packages that allow for increased XP generation (7-days or a month) and some random boons. As well as fortune-cookie style item upgrades and random weapon boxes that will give interesting items. However, these also seem fairly empty at the moment.
As a result, the cash shop covers a lot of the bases but it doesn’t go much beyond its intended understated purpose currently.
Unlike other games the cash shop does not introduce anything that looks game breaking or unbalanced for ZEN customers, which means RH will continue to be loved by players paying and not paying alike. The cash shop appears to favor casual players—a smart move for Perfect World Entertainment—as they’re the ones most likely to have more disposable income and less time to play.
In spite of some glitches that seem to be growing pains and yet-to-be-seen content, Rusty Hearts is an excellent game that does a lot with what it has. The promise that it will episodically generate even more content on top of what it has now really gives it a lasting appeal. It’s a newcomer to the MMORPG market; but it’s due to make a big mark with players.
It was hard to decide between giving it an 8.5 or 9—but really, as a new MMO the developers have done an excellent job at addressing issues with the game from the beta and the continued efforts to grow the content base overcomes many of the flaws that I’ve noticed while playing.
The real stand-out portion of this game happens to come from the sheer weight of personality that comes out through playing the characters, the music when fighting enemies, and the thunderous amount of fun that it is to mow through hordes of the undead.