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Lone Ruin – Review

Action roguelikes have to balance quite a few gameplay aspects to be really engrossing. Then as the genre is a hot topic these days, you have to bring an aesthetic, charisma and mood to stand out too. What’s clear from the first few seconds of playing Lone Ruin is they’ve definitely got a unique ancient gritty synthwave necromancer vibe that pulls you straight in. Add on a stunning grimy dark electronica soundtrack and Lone Ruin stands out. So how’s the gameplay?

If you are looking for shorter bitesized runs of 30 minutes at a time – its fantastic.

Angelina Jolie gives you your starter weapon and you can test it out before you venture in.

Each run kicks off with you meeting a pixel Maleficent like being who offers you a choice of a starting weapon. There are 8 to choose from. Some are short range, some longer and heavy duty but require aiming and longer recharge. Others cause burn damage or pulsate out in waves. What’s crucial here is that each weapon will start off play differently and three of them will randomly come with an additional random buff. That buff may be a quicker recharge, added burn or freeze damage effects, a double shot, faster fire rate or a bigger area of effect. This first decision sets you up for what every room will bring – a fundamental decision on your loadout. I love that it forces you into trying different weapons that you might not automatically choose because they come with a juicy buff, thus meaning you’ve already got a bonus effect before you begin. This stopped me being lazy and defaulting to chain lightning or shards for a starter attack and let me really play with my loadouts.

Once into your first room you’ll need to battle waves of enemies. They spawn in different patterns and actively chase you around the room. Room layouts and enemy patterns are procedural and your dash ability doesn’t just get you out of harms way but allows you to move between floors like a jump too. Enemies come in simple bats with one shot attacks to giant eyes that chase you with heavy lazers to giant trees shooting spirals of bullets. Early on in each run as you move from room to room you’ll notice that Lone Ruin starts off very sedate but quickly turns up the heat without you knowing. What was manageable last room battling a group of three enemies is now much trickier in a room full of narrow corridors with a giant bouncy chest chasing you down at the same time. It’s a slow creep like a frog in hot water and suddenly you’ll find Lone Ruin hands your arse to you in a painful set of mistakes and mistimed moves.

Prioritising bullet hell enemies is key later in the game to ensure you aren’t constantly in a state of alert.

With every room comes a loadout choice. You can equip up to 4 spells. One is automatically given to your dash but you can sell it and add a fourth attack if you want to. You can also equip up to five passive buffs. These are things like increasing damage on low or full health, doubling your damage but also doubling the damage you take or if you are lucky – the revive second life. All of these weapons and buffs are sellable and upgradable but your procedural ruin always has two exits from each room. These will have a random selection of weapons, weapon upgrades, buffs, buff upgrades or treasure and shops to visit. You make those decisions based off what you are given. Whilst some runs may throw some odd combinations together at times (shops straight away when you’ve got no coins to spend), this largely works and feels fairly designed. While buffs upgrade twice, weapons can sometimes be really mutated out to being huge beasts so you might want to go all in on one mighty weapon. You can also only carry up to 500 coins at any one time. Upgrades can cost up to 300 coins each so if you get the option to buy 2 really powerful upgrades, you might fancy selling a buff or another weapon to take the plunge. Again, this choices matter but all loadouts are viable theme is what really made Lone Ruin so enjoyable outside of the fluid minute to minute gameplay.

The gameplay is fluid too. Your character moves easily and the isometric view doesn’t bring up many issues. Attacks are well choreographed and the colour palette for them is striking. Even when there is a lot going on, you can pick yourself out on screen although I did often die through dashing into my own grenade blast. There are three bosses in the game and whilst they follow standard attack patterns, bosses two and three especially are tough as nails. I think players will bottleneck here but Lone Ruin requires skill, timing and pointed offensive moments throughout its gameplay – the bosses just accentuate that concept. Bosses were also where I ran into my only bugs though. On the second boss I had managed to fall out of the game area with a dash and then again with a revive that knocked me off the stage. They ended my run as there is no pause or save so that was frustrating and hopefully patched out soon.

Bosses are tough and will be a bottle neck for some players but they are very satisfying to bring down.

The main quest has three difficulties which adjusts your health, the enemy spawn rate and how soon harder enemies spawn into the game. This concept applies to the ten minute survival modes where instead of getting an upgrade each room, you collect coins to unlock a new upgrade from a random selection of three. Survival is great fun but like the main game, it spends the first two minutes warming up and so feels slow to get going on easy and medium difficulty. Hard is suitably tough as old boots though.

Those pacing and single bug issues aside, Lone Ruin simply clicked perfectly with me. I’ve had a blast and I’ve found the online leaderboards for each mode oddly addictive too. I’ve even topped the easy survival mode one because I hit something of a flow state with the way how the controls and that loadout came together for me. I can see some people maybe not enjoying the bitesized element of its run but for me, Lone Ruin is the perfect way to skilfully banish evil arcane enemies using unique loadouts. It hasn’t got stale and I don’t think it will for a long time yet. Oh… and that soundtrack – turn your bass up to really feel in the groove. I want that available separately!

Review copy provided by the developer. Available now on Steam.

Lone Ruin
Final Thoughts
An action roguelike that whilst bitesized in its runtime for each run, is absolutely engrossing in the way how it offers strategic choice and pushing player skill to the fore.
Every weapon and loadout is genuinely viable.
So much choice to be made every time you upgrade.
Action feels smooth, fluid and skilful. It's difficult to feel overpowered and you'll have to rely on player skill to win.
Stylish visuals and a stunning Necrotronica soundtrack (if that's not a genre - it is now).
Online leaderboards for all quest and survivor modes keeps replayability high if you get into it.
Falling through the floor on the second boss bug was annoying.
A glossary of items in the menu would be helpful so you can make good decisions in your first couple of hours with the game as you learn all the different options to choose from.

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