So it was this games store page that initially sparked an interest in me
"Ruin Raiders is a turn-based strategy tactical rogue-like where you guide your customizable squads on a mission through the ever-changing levels of an ancient civilization. Explore ruins, demon-infested depths and more, while upgrading your raiders with unlockable gear, before facing bosses that hide in the abyss"
Turn-based combat with rogue-like progression, you say?
Well sign me up!
I mean, turn-based combat is my jam at the best of times. I regularly buy, play, and review the genre so that alone was enough for me to at least consider a code request. With a rogue-like progression system added though, another genre I've got an interest in, that request became a definite.
Now I want to start with this before we go any further. Ruin Raiders is a much more casual experience than I was expecting. I'd just finished reviewing the excellent and extremely detailed Phoenix Point on Xbox and found switching to this quite a change of pace and tone. You can tell it's aiming for a way less hardcore audience and features much simpler gameplay, but that alone doesn't automatically make it a bad game.
It's quite fun in places but does have some faults that may lead to it feeling repetitive and one-dimensional to more experienced players.
The action starts off pretty simple. You pick the members of your three-man team, choosing them from the three initial classes available in the beginning. There's the bird type, who can grant one extra action point to another team member. The bulldogs, who can make one-shot that never misses. And there's the Rhinos, who can create armor for themselves that absorbs a few points of damage in combat. You can take them in any combination, one of each type, two of one and one of the other, or have them all the same but, once you've made this choice, it's then off on your first run.
Your squad is dropped into the ruins of an ancient civilization and you're left to explore them by yourself. Now if you've ever played something like Enter the Gungeon, Undermine, or many other roguelikes, you'll recognize the system here. Each stage is made up of a series of square rooms, connected by doors leading to the next one. They fit together into a maze-like structure and you don't know what you'll come across till you've entered the location to see. I quickly found exploration to be a little boring though, to be honest. The design of each room is very samey and quickly becomes repetitive. Every one of them is rectangular shaped and has a random smattering of cover spread around. Each of the stages within a level all have the same look with the same assets used repeatedly. Some more interesting layouts, with interactive traps and dangerous areas to avoid or lure enemies into would be welcome. But regardless, you'll be moving through each room, controlling your team in real-time, as you search for the exit to the next floor.
Now obviously that's not all you do though. That would be ridiculously boring if it was.
While making your way to the next level down, you'll also be keeping an eye out for goodies collect. Many rooms have chests, some locked and some not, with various items you can equip on your animal-men. Occasionally there's something shiny lying in a corner to be picked up. They can be new weapons, health kits, skill upgrading crystals, stat-boosting equipment, and most commonly and importantly, Entium. This resource, handed out quite liberally, is the in-game currency for Ruin Raiders and is used both for buying things from the vendors you'll stumble onto during your travels, but also for upgrading your capabilities between runs.
We'll speak more about that later but just remember that Entium is important and you want to collect as much as possible during a run. There's also what I'll call "rune rooms" which are a sort of gamble you can go for on your travels. Some rooms contain a switch marked with a colored rune on it. These are buttons that must be pressed in a certain order and will open a door hidden somewhere else in the level. This door will have the combination on it and, once you know it, you must decide whether you'll search for all the switches, and activate them in the correct order, or keep looking for the exit. It gives a little bit of a decision to make, especially on more difficult stages, where the more rooms you're going through equals a greater risk of danger.
So you're going through each room, opening chests, picking up items and equipment, perhaps seeking to open a rune room, all while collecting currency and looking for the way to the next stage.
And, of course, fighting through enemies.
Much of the time you'll walk into a room only for things to suddenly change. The game will swap from its free-roaming exploration mode to its turn-based strategy one and combat will begin.
I'm not going to mess around, chances are you'll know what you're getting here and will be deeply familiar with it.
It's the bog-standard turn-based combat, very basic and easy to understand, it has no tricks or quirks that make it unique so take that as you will. For new players, this will be a very good one for cutting your teeth and getting into the genre. For those more experienced though, this run-of-the-mill style might be a little too simple.
Each of your troops has 2 Action Points and they spend them to move, shoot and use skills. You move each unit around the map, using a skill point to travel a handful of squares on the grid layout of the room or spend both points to travel a much further distance. You can take cover behind half walls, making you slightly harder to hit, or behind full walls and increase the effect.
You then use your weapons and skills to do damage to the enemies while they try to do the same. You can use Overwatch to fire on an enemy while they move on their turn. Every shot has a percentage chance to hit and you should pay attention to this as your soldiers seemingly went to the Xcom school of firearms where they can be standing two squares away and have a 33% chance to hit their target.
There are little bits of strategy to consider, flanking enemies negates their cover advantage, getting closer means your percentage chance to hit is increased, but it's all stuff you'll have seen before in a million games. Later on, things get a little better with certain effects like slow, target, poison, etc starting to appear but it'll still be extremely familiar to most of us.
You'll rinse and repeat this exploration and combat routine for a few levels until you stumble across the boss. Now, these fights are a little more interesting than the standard battles. They have unique skills that require you to move around and set up attacks, all while working out how to avoid damage. They're usually bigger and require much more damage to be dished out before they'll drop.
Kill them and it's off to the next ruin to do it all over again, with slightly more powerful opponents.
And it's about here you're almost guaranteed to die for the first time, if you haven't before.
The enemies make a huge jump in difficulty and well, you see, your team isn't very powerful at this point. You'll be leveling them up as you go, giving them better weapons and equipment, while adding new skills too.
But you'll also realize you have a cap on how strong you can get during a run.
And that cap is LOW.
You can only advance so far before you're blocked from becoming any more powerful. Hit level 2 and, no matter how much more experience you earn, you can't go any higher. Entium Crystals, used to unlock skills, can no longer be used after you've installed 2 on an agent. You can only use low-level equipment. Basically, you're blocked from upgrading past the lowest and least powerful stage.
Which is where the rogue-like part comes in.
Once dead you return to your base camp and this is where that currency, Entium, comes in. As you collect it throughout the levels, you must make a choice. Do you spend it during that run, upgrading your equipment and increasing your survival chances? Or do you save it to spend in the camp?
Spending in the camp will increase the upper limit that your soldiers can advance to, allowing them to become more powerful before you hit the cap. You can unlock new soldier types, increase the class of weapons you can equip and allow your next team to unlock more skills. These upgrades cost increasingly large amounts of currency and you have to spend all you have before leaving on the next run or lose it all. It's a very simple system, one that looks and feels like it's directly from a mobile game, and one that doesn't have much depth to it with only 4 areas to improve.
After upgrading, you choose a new team, perhaps with a new class if you went that direction and set off again from the beginning. This time you'll be able to upgrade further before reaching your cap and hopefully getting a little further, collecting more currency before you die.
And then you upgrade more, increasing the potential level of your team.
And go back out, hopefully getting further and earning more Entium.
And rinse and repeat
Ultimately it's a simple game whose main hook is that it's a fusion of two popular genres: turn-based strategy and rogue-likes. Unfortunately, though, neither part is developed enough on its own to feel satisfying when together. The areas you explore feel empty and repetitive with only "Ruin Rooms" providing anything of real interest. Combat is decent, I always enjoy turn-based strategy, but it's also very simple and of a common type you'll have seen elsewhere. It gets slightly better as new classes and skills appear but the nature of restarting over and over means you'll be grinding through the lower levels repeatedly to get there. It is a game that's fun enough for short bursts, the odd run here and there, but playing long term is when its repetitive nature shows. Those new to turn-based combat games might find this a good place to learn the genre. Those more experienced though will be left wanting.
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final Score: 6/10
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