Ruin of the Reckless Review
Emphasis on the “Ruin”
On paper, Ruin of the Reckless has a lot to offer. Take Binding of Isaac, add in a pixel-art style instead of the grotesque, and make the game a brawler. But, to use an old cliche, the devil is in the details. While a game like Ruin of the Reckless makes a great, if not particularly original, pitch, playing it is another story. The ways this game creates an unsatisfying experience are subtle but immediately noticeable. A game like Ruin of the Reckless should feel great and engrossing even after repeated playthroughs, and I was wanting to give up on it after the first one.
In Ruin of the Reckless, you play someone who recently died and therefore has to climb this tower to get a wish to come back. Essentially, the story is just an excuse to put you in a tower with randomized levels and a bunch of monsters that you have to kill for reasons. You start the game with simple bracers and a magic attack, but as you climb through the tower, you can find or buy additional weapons, items, and spells that you can choose to equip as well. As you get further up, you face harder and harder enemies until you either beat the game or, more likely, die trying. While dying robs you of all the experience and items you gained during the playthrough, there are cards that you can find or buy that offer a degree of persistence. These are rare, but they can offer you bonuses, such as different starting equipment and easier enemies, or they can make the game harder for you if you find it too easy.
All of that sounds fine, but the real problem comes to execution. Ruin of the Reckless is a top-down shooter. Most enemies are small and easy to kill individually but attempt to overwhelm you with swarms. Other enemies stay behind those enemies and attack you with ranged attacks. The key to surviving is running away from enemies while culling their numbers with your own attacks.
However, Ruin of the Reckless wants to be a brawler. The main weapon you use is a melee attack, and the few ranged attacks are either weak or unwieldy. This means that while you have to run away from enemies, you also have to get close to them, so the whole game becomes this darting back and forth that feels incredibly awkward. Furthermore, if you are using some of the game’s more precise weapons, like the rapier or spear, then you have to be really careful about aiming. Several times I would take a rapier to a group of enemies and slash through them repeatedly before realizing that I missed all of them. While the obvious response may be, “Git gud,” the problem is that I have no desire to get good with this weapon because it felt so wrong to use. If I play a brawler, I want to be able to get close to enemies and beat on them with satisfying thuds, and more often than not, I just felt frustrated trying to hurt enemies. It does not help that the game does not have other features that make me want to endure the combat.
The progression system and item mechanics are a mess: unnecessarily complicated to understand and fruitless to optimize. There are a wide-range of pickups, but figuring out what does what and what replaces what is a mess. There are 6(!) different types of pickups, and while some of them have clear purposes (all the boots look like boots, for instance), many are less clear. I often bought items that I realized after I had no use for.
To add to that, there are also orbs that significantly change how you play, but you are significantly limited in how many you can have by your level, and the game throws a lot of orbs at you. This means that finding an orb is usually met with frustration. You will not be able to use most of the orbs you find and you are guaranteed to regret some of the ones you do pick up. Eventually I did figure out which of the orbs are not worth picking up at all, which made my builds more consistent, but even that was a bit disheartening.
There are moments when the gameplay does click and everything does work. At one point, I had a build where I had a lot of AI pets with me but I could not use my weapon, and it was a ridiculous sort of fun to run through levels just watching enemies die. I also thought this game went well with podcasts. It does provide a good bit of mindless filler while listening to other things. It is an odd bit of praise, though, as my moments when I enjoyed the game the most were also when I was most disengaged with it and most apathetic about what was going on. However, the more engaged I got with the game, the more I felt frustrated and unsatisfied.
This game is difficult, but it is not difficult in a way where I felt my skills and my mastery of game mechanics were tested. Enemies will wear you down through swarming attacks and cluttering the screen with explosions, and then you eventually just die. I never died and thought, “Wait, I should have done _____.” Instead, it was always, “Well, okay, that happened,” and I would wonder if I really wanted to play again.
The art style and presentation are fine. I love the look of the main characters like the shopkeeper, the two playable characters, and the side characters who hang out in the lobby, but most of these characters show up very little during actual play. The monsters and enemies are not bad per se, but they are a bit more bland. More importantly, enemy actions are not clear, which makes getting swarmed by enemies even more frustrating. In particular, the most common basic enemy attacks by jumping up in the air, something which seems to keep popping up in top-down games despite being terribly hard to read in the heat of battle.
I really wanted to like Ruin of the Reckless. It does a lot of things I want to like and enjoy, and there are moments where something really works for me, but the whole package is marred by some fundamental design flaws that make playing it and replaying it a frustrating and unenjoyable experience.