An unstoppable force has descended upon the land. Those who underestimated its power and disregarded its persistence have been silenced. Those who were unprepared have found themselves swept away. There is no denying it - for gamers, there is only acceptance.
The liberal use of combos is strongly encouraged.
No, it isn't Lord Vlad, I'm talking about. He's the main villain of Rusty Hearts and a pretty tough guy, I'm sure. But the crashing tidal wave of irresistible muscle I'm referring to is free-to-play. The revenue model that sounds like it could never bring in revenue has turned out to be much more than a novelty. Even industry juggernaut World of Warcraft has made major concessions to it. (Heck, while writing the following paragraph, I received an e-mail about another popular game going free-to-play.) It's been pretty much ignored on our forums, but I think those days are over, and maybe Rusty Hearts will be the game that finally pushes our more jaded members into the present day.
See, we gush over games like Castle Crashers and long for a good game of Diablo, but I think some of us still cling to the notion that the free stuff is just some grind-fests targeting casual gamers, hoping to hook them into a spending spree for just the right top hat or kitten tail or cutesy pet. And there is some of that. But I've played Rusty Hearts and I'm here to tell you that this is fun. If you loved Castle Crashers and wouldn't mind seeing it with Devil May Cry chic and a lot more speed, look into this once it becomes available. You have nothing to lose but the time it takes to download it and try it out.
The story concerns a witch named Angela, a vagabond named Tude, and a half-vampire named Frantz who are fighting the aforementioned Vlad and his army of bloodsuckers. Vlad visualizes a future where humans and half-vampires are out of the way and the true undead reign. Angela controls lightning and fire magic while Tude prefers melee attacks. They will be joined in the fight by at least one other playable character, meaning that you and up to three of your friends can join in on the defense of humanity. You don't get to create your own character from scratch, but Rusty Hearts is a cel-shaded and stylish playable anime, so the pre-written characters are somewhat understandable.
You can gather your party in a centralized area. There are different channels you can hop to if one gets too crowded or is full of undesirables, so there should be a good selection for as long as the game is popular. Player-versus-player options exist, but I only played in cooperative mode.
The area I played through was set in a Gothic castle and took place entirely indoors. Once I gathered my party in the town hub, we all stepped through a portal and began the fight in an instanced part of the castle. As we moved through, destroying enemies, we collected loot and explored from room to room. Lesser items that drop from defeated foes are up for grabs. However, potions and higher-level items are distributed by a jackpot system that randomly selects a party member once anyone picks up the item. This is a novel approach that admirably addresses the tendency of some players to run around hogging up all the good loot while everyone else is fighting to keep the team alive.
Quickness and combo skills are keys to survival and progress in Rusty Hearts. It is a dungeon crawler, but the action is shown from the side, giving it almost a fighting-game feel, and the liberal use of combos is strongly encouraged. There are four difficulty settings to choose among before each battle, so there is even more reason to perfect your attacks.
Interestingly, this game plays very well with an Xbox 360 controller or other PC-compatible gamepad. On the keyboard, your character's movement is mapped to the arrow keys, her basic attack is on X, and her special attacks are assigned to keys A through H. (When I was being shown the game, the company rep remarked that I was one of the only people to stick with the keyboard option.) Those who prefer a gamepad can use one button to switch between sets of skills.
No firm release date has been announced yet, but the next closed beta begins July 27, 2011. If you are lucky enough to be reading this on or before July 4, look in our feature pages for a