Such games as Castle Crasher or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game might not be the first that come to mind when thinking of a free-to-play massively multiplayer online role-playing game. But that's just the comparison developer Stairways Games is going for with Rusty Hearts. This game fits into the new breed of MMORPGs where the fast-paced, combo-centric combat feels more akin to Devil May Cry than World of Warcraft. We got the chance to go hands-on with the game and discover what other tweaks Stairways Games has planned for the action role-playing genre.
Of the three premade characters available, we were assigned to play Angela: a sassy, scythe-wielding warrior described as a cross between tank and healer. That's right, instead of having you build a hero from the ground up, the game has you choose from a set of three (through there was a fourth blacked-out silhouette). The justification for breaking one of MMORPG's most sacred features stems from the game's anime inspiration. In addition to its iconic art style, anime has always been known for its high drama and character-centered storylines. Stairways Games wants to channel some of that drama here and believes the story would have more of an impact using pre-established characters.
The game's control layout was also a bit different. You don't use the traditional WASD keys for movement or the number keys for spells. Instead, movement is handled with the arrows keys and your attacks are mapped all across the left side of the keyboard, similar to several real-time strategy games. If the keyboard configuration doesn't do it for you, the game has also been optimized to support gamepads. We actually played the entire demo using an Xbox 360 gamepad, and it worked surprisingly well. Our character's basic attacks and jump were mapped to the controller's face buttons, while her special abilities were handled with the shoulder buttons. Pressing B switched the set of special abilities she had access to, which allowed us to utilize the whole of our magical arsenal.
The layout of Rusty Hearts was similar in concept to the world of Guild Wars. There was a large, communal hub world where characters could interact with each other, visit shops, join a guild, or otherwise make hang out. Once we had our party in order, we headed into one of the game's numerous dungeons. Each dungeon was broken down into several sections, with each section being an instanced encounter with an adjustable difficulty setting. True to its arcade inspirations, the combat itself was fast and chaotic. Juggling between scythe and sorcery was a snap as we slew our way from one room to the next.
Once the dungeon section was cleared, we got the chance to play a card-flipping memory game to earn some extra loot. However, even this simple minigame was madness because all the players who participated in the dungeon got to play at the same time using the same set of cards. We could also find additional items for sale using our own money; however, these were predominately convince items (such as health or experience buffs) and cosmetic items. Overall, we had a fun time with the game, though it remains to be seen what impact not having a character creation will have. Rusty Hearts will start its open beta later this year.