Rusty Hearts Preview from E3 2011

MMO meets Castlevania meets beat ‘em up? If the words “Sign me up!” rose to your lips, you’ll want to check out our preview of Rusty Hearts from E3 2011.
If I’m honest, my love of co-op multiplayer began with the beat ‘em up genre. In the arcades (and later, on the NES), games like Double Dragon, Golden Axe, Renegade, and Streets of Rage showed the rich promise of close-quarters combat alongside a friend toward a shared objective. My supply of quarters steadily dwindled, but my love of gaming with friends (I guess we call that “social gaming” – like all gaming isn’t to some degree sociable) grew.

Unexpectedly, Rusty Hearts took me back to those glory days.  The graphics are cell-shaded but decidedly detailed and next-gen. The environments aren’t the least bit claustrophobic as you’d expect from a beat ‘em up, with mood-setting contrasty tones and a vibrant palette. Best of all, the side-scroller action isn’t really scrolling to one side – following the mold of games like Devil May Cry, the action follows a roomy, faux-3D horizontal and vertical path through the level, with rooms unlocking as all enemies are defeated in the previous room. Still, the gameplay offers the same short session, button mashing, beat ‘em up fun that I remember.

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Meet Angela from Rusty Hearts

Executive Producer Mark Bell and Perfect World hopes to bridge the gap between the joystick and the keyboard by playing to both camps – offering, for example, wide compatibility with controller peripherals, yet tossing in traditional RPG features such as a rich, character development-driven yet tongue-in-cheek story, complete with detailed cutscenes.

The story revolves around three friends – the tankish, scythe-wielding Angela, the melee DPS-ish Tude, the hybrid Franz - who decide to defy the Vampire Lord that’s ruled over them for hundreds of years and help the townspeople they’ve oppressed. The name of the game bears reference to the fact that the sense of goodness in these characters has gone “rusty”, and that the process of regaining their humanity might take some time.

All players will play one of these three heroes, but the customization is varied enough that I didn’t realize that there were only three characters until Mark told me, and that was after watching the game played over scores of shoulders at the Perfect World booth. What made me pay particular attention to the game, in fact, was that my character was wearing a Landshark costume, one of the many crazy costume options available in the game through looting, quests, and crafting.

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Rusty Hearts' Tude in action

The world of Rusty Hearts also bears similarity to Vinductus in that it’s divided into a social area and a dungeon hub but, according to Mark, Rusty Hearts will differentiate itself by the stories it tells about each character as you play. Lore and cutscenes weren’t much in evidence in my initial playthrough. But, stylistically speaking, the setting has its feet in both Transylvania and medieval Kyoto – a sort of Ninja Gaiden meets Castlevania - and seemed to draw out the most fun and mythical elements of each.

Jumping into the game for the first time, the control scheme was unlike any game I’d played before. The two default modes were click-to-move or arrow-key-to-move, with the left hand on the first two letter rows of the keyboard for attacks and abilities. After familiarizing myself with this a bit, I found I actually liked it better than the traditional WASD movement with number keys for actions.

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A boss from Rusty Hearts

Unhanding the mouse actually increased the speed at which I played, and I was more likely to use keyboard abilities appropriately and effectively if my hand wasn’t constantly losing its place on the keyboard. Mark noted that the game will allow multiple customizable control schemes, as well as the ability to quickly switch between two of these styles. He also asked me to give the controller a whirl. It worked as expected, but I’ve never enjoyed control schemes which rely on the shoulder buttons, so I would have had to mod it a bit to find my sweet spot.

Gameplay was fluid and ability driven, with some room for combos and co-op attacks. Loot and powerups were dropped by the myriad mobs we faced, and especially powerful items were saved for the end of each level, when players have a one in nine chance to pick a “silver” loot card (otherwise you get a decent consumable or minor item).

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Angela putting the hurt on bad guys

As for the MMOish elements of Rusty Hearts, Mark pointed to the game’s channel-driven chat and persistent economy. Also, Rusty Hearts features two rudimentary forms of crafting. In the first, most direct form, players place looted “augment stones” on equipment to boost its stats. It’s a gamble – every augment stone you place on an item has a chance to break all the augments placed upon it. In the second form of crafting, players can gather materials for certain NPCs. Returning with the materials will produce a promised item, much like a collection quest. Players will be able to sell their items or, if the weight on their character grows too great, store them in their own personalized room for later use.

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Smash baddies with your friends in Rusty Hearts

Rusty Hearts was my personal pick for surprise of the show. It’s unlike any Perfect World game I’ve played before, yet so like the games I played for hours on end as a kid. Look for the game to enter open beta in July, or to enter early, grab yourself a closed beta key while they last!

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