I'm taking a break from the typical rant this week to give you folks a hands-on rundown of the title. I hesitate to call this a review because, even after sinking more than a dozen hours into Rusty Hearts, I'm still only just scratching the surface of what the game has to offer.
I first saw Rusty Hearts at the Perfect World booth during E3 2011. The posters and statues showing off a gothic anime art style caught my eye, as did the fact that many of the demo stations were equipped with controllers.
At first glance, Rusty Hearts' user interface looks like pretty much every other MMO out there. Your health and mana bars are on the top left, the map and buff info is on the top right, your abilities are equipped to hotkey slots across the bottom and all of your menu options are nestled neatly on the bottom right.
What sets Rusty Hearts apart from the majority of its fellow MMOs is how the game is actually played. While you can certainly fall back on the mouse and keyboard, the game is made to be played with a controller in hand. If you've ever played the likes of God of War or Devil May Cry, you've pretty much got the gist of what Rusty Hearts is all about.
The left stick moves your character, the right stick dodges, the D-pad activates buffs, and the face buttons are used to jump, string attacks together and grab. The L2 button is used to block and the remainder of the shoulder buttons, combined with a couple of modifying buttons, are used to activate your abilities. It works wonderfully and, within minutes, I found myself dancing around the screen, laying waste to the undead with my badass battle witch.
The world of Rusty Hearts is basically torn from the pages of Castlevania. Many of the enemies are reminiscent of 'Vania foes, the main antagonist is a vampire named Vlad who is trapped in a castle, and even the music sounds reminiscent of those classic adventure titles. In Rusty Hearts, a band of four companions have ventured into the city, looking to bring down Vlad for their own various reasons. You can pick up and play as any of the characters at any time and make several of each, allowing you to spec certain versions of each character for different situations. Each character has their own weapon masteries and abilities, ranging from magic heavy and swordplay to hand-to-hand combat and firearms.
You can explore the hub world with fellow players, which is also where you will take on quests, craft items, cook food, build armor, learn new skills, etc. You can also party up to tackle dungeons or raids as a group, compete in various PvP arena battles (Think Smash Bros. on a non-interactive, 3D map) join a guild or show off your pet. That's actually one of my favorite aspects of Rusty Hearts: It has all of the trappings of your typical MMO, but boiled down to the basics and not in such a supply as to be overwhelming. There's enough variety here to make you feel like you're juggling several balls at once, but it's not likely you'll log on and spend an entire play session just crafting items. For my play style (and available time), this is a perfect combination.
What makes or breaks any action game, though, is the gameplay. After a couple of hours in Rusty Hearts, I wasn't convinced. The dungeons are repetitive and, while pretty to look at, boil down to clearing a section and moving on until you hit the level's boss. Once I unlocked some new abilities and weapon techniques, though, the game started to shine. Each dungeon has multiple difficulty levels with different enemy types, obstacles and mini-bosses being thrown your way depending on which difficulty you pick. Later levels feature traps and the like, meaning you have to start paying more attention to the world around you, too.
No matter how much fun you're having with the combat, though, the repetitive nature of the fights does mean that Rusty Hearts is best played in bursts of one to two hours. That's enough time to finish a handful of missions, deconstruct a few items for precious materials, chat up your fellow players, craft a new pair of pants, and enjoy the genuinely funny dialogue. And if you're getting tired of one character, you can always switch over to one of the others and experiment with their unique play style for a while.
And did I mention that this is all free? There is of course a money store available but, unless you're in the market for a handful of additional characters (something you won't be in need of for many, many, many hours), some buffs or cosmetic items, you never have to spend a dime on this game. I understand that a couple of additional areas have been added since launch, but those were all bolted in under the free-to-play model. I'm not sure how that translates to a profitable bottom line for Perfect World, but I'm certainly not going to make a fuss about it.
You can download Rusty Hearts from the Perfect World website or through Steam. A preview video, backstory, forums and all that jazz can also be found at the PW site. If you like MMOs, action games, or are interested in something that combines the two in a fun and interesting way, it can't hurt to give Rusty Hearts a look-see. I, for one, am enjoying the hell out of it.
Infinite Ammo is a weekly column by Ryan Winslett about video games, the industry that makes them and the people who play them. He can be stalked via his blog at staticechoes.com and followed on Twitter @RyanWinslett.