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Lone Ruin Review: A Gorgeous But Limited Rogue-Like

EDITORS' RATING : 5 / 10
Pros
  • Gorgeous visuals
  • A few unique and fun weapons
  • Good soundtrack
Cons
  • Severe lack of features
  • Hardly any story
  • Very repetitive runs

The rogue-like genre has exploded in recent years thanks to the massive success of games like "Hades," "Slay the Spire," and "Dead Cells." Now, the developers of "Hell is Other Demons," Cuddle Monster Games, has released its sophomore title, "Lone Ruin." With gorgeous graphics filled with contrast, a spell-focused approach to combat, and three difficulty levels, "Lone Ruin" offers players a classic twin-stick shooter rogue-like experience.

While "Lone Ruin" boasts some stellar visual design and catchy music, it is also a very barebones experience. It offers the core of every rogue-like game with randomized runs, a variety of different weapon options, and satisfying combat. However, it is a generally anemic experience that suffers from not having the more modern elements of the genre that players have come to expect. With the game's modest price point, this is far from a reason to avoid picking the game up, but if you aren't a dedicated rogue-like fan you may find it struggling to hold your interest for long. 

A story ... sort of

Every run in "Lone Ruin" starts with a short cutscene showing the game's protagonist, an unidentified explorer with magical capabilities, as they enter decaying ruins. The ruins are built on top of a powerful source of magical energy, and it is the player's responsibility to try and fight their way to that source by slinging spells at various enemies. 

Unfortunately, the vast majority of the game's story is told through its official description on storefronts. The cutscene in the game itself only sets up that the player's character is going into ruins and has magic, and there is no further development present. There are not even any bestiary entries about enemies that players come across, diaries from the people that once lived in the Lone Ruin, or any information about what the source of magic that is the player's goal actually does. 

The world of "Lone Ruin" is beautifully realized thanks to the game's bright, contrast-filled visual design, but it is ultimately let down by how little information players are given about it. It ends up struggling to have any personality or presence in the game because of it. The lack of story or explanation also puts the responsibility of motivating players to complete further runs entirely on the game's combat and score system. 

Of spells and monsters

All of the gameplay in "Lone Ruin" is built around its combat loop. When players start a run, they are able to pick one of eight different spells. Each spell has its own playstyle, and at the start of each run, three of them are randomly selected to start with one of their upgrades to encourage players to try out different options. Some of the spells are a ton of fun to use because of just how unique they are, but some are also drastically underpowered when compared to the others. 

In addition to their starting spell, players start with a dash ability and can pick up two additional spells and five passive buffs known as blessings throughout their run. Every run is made up of three worlds with each one being made of six rooms and a boss room at the end. Each room is randomly chosen and spawns waves of enemies. While there is some variety in the enemy types and room layouts, expect to come across the same ones repeatedly.

After finishing a wave of enemies, players are able to pick from two different rooms to go to next. This determines what the reward will be for completing the next room, which can be health, spell upgrades, or blessings. This gives the player some choice over how their build develops, but the majority of the blessings have a negligible effect, and it is almost always better to just upgrade your primary spell. 

Sticking to the basics

While "Lone Ruin" hits the important notes of the rogue-like genre, it suffers from how stripped-back its features are. Once you've completed a single run, whether in its normal or survival mode, the only reason to do so again is to get a higher score for the leaderboards. This is helped slightly by the inclusion of three difficulty levels that can be very challenging, but only players that get invested in leaderboards will find much motivation to continue playing. 

This issue is also exacerbated by the complete lack of unlocks. Beating a run of the normal mode rewards the player with a simple cutscene similar to its opening, but that is it — unless you count the game crashing after the cutscene as an unlock, which happens frequently. "Lone Ruin" doesn't have any options in the menu to look at parts of the game. There is no way to see what spells or blessings you have found throughout playthroughs, check stats from previous runs, or look at the different types of enemies or learn about them. 

Jumping in with a fun spell and blasting your way through enemies is a good enough time, but with how limited of an experience it is, it is difficult to recommend it above other great rogue-likes on the market that have fun combat as well as engaging stories, unlocks, and quality of life features that "Lone Ruin" doesn't.

A Nintendo Switch code was provided to SVG for this review. "Lone Ruin" will launch on January 12, 2022, for Nintendo Switch and PC via Steam.