I am playing Rusty Hearts.

Because I am apparently a sucker for Free Shit and because I have finally done the necessary work in order to have a gaming PC (hooked it up to my TV, bought a wireless keyboard and mouse and a gamepad, ran an ethernet wire into my room so I actually get a connection), I was swayed by Steam suggesting I download this little game called Rusty Hearts. “Free to play MMO!” it said. Figuring, okay, this is some stupid Maple Story ripoff, they’re gonna charge me for hats and stuff and it’s going to be horrible, but it’ll kill a few minutes.

I played for several hours yesterday and–I am not exaggerating–literally all day today, from about 8 in the morning when the dog woke me up until it was time to watch Breaking Bad. I took a couple breaks here and there, for naps, for food, but yeah–I’ve been grinding.

I’m not that familiar with the world of MMOs. I played a few minutes of World of Warcraft once and HATED it. As a couple recent blog posts have shown, I’ve been playing a little bit of Final Fantasy XI–I don’t really have a handle on it at all, I’m gonna play some with Eric during the week and hopefully I’ll figure it out. Mostly it’s the fact that I find MMORPG combat to be EXTREMELY dull, especially at the beginning when you have no skills. It’s a game of, I’m going to hit “attack” and then watch as my dude whacks the rats with his club when he feels like it. It’s boring. Rusty Hearts is not an RPG–it’s a straight-up action brawler arcadey thing. It’s a button masher, by and large. I’m a fan of that sort of thing–I like being able to actually do something in a game. It’s not as graceful as Bayonetta or as brutal as Lords of Shadow, but for a free game? Awesome.

Actually mentioning Lords of Shadow is funny cause Rusty Hearts feels very much like Castlevania: The MMO. The game takes place in a generic European village, you’re fighting Dracula (or Lord Vlad, as the game calls him, but it’s Dracula), you’re fighting baddies in different regions of a castle–it’s not one of the Metroidvania installments, but it feels very similar. Anime-style as well. The plot is…well, you’re a member of a group of warriors who are putting together a mission to storm the castle and defeat Dra–Lord Vlad once and for all, and you’re scouting doing random missions–reconnaissance type stuff–for the few days before in preparation. It’s fairly story-heavy–I’m not familiar with how MMOs go, but i don’t think they’re this plot-based. You actually don’t create your own character–you pick from one of three (soon to be four) pre-made characters, each with different skill trees. The only customization is in getting different hats and outfits, which I really don’t care about–that’s one of the main things you can spend your money on if you want to pay. It’s somewhat amusing, the fact that in the hub world there’s multiple copies of three different characters all running around. I could probably make a point about diegesis in gaming, but I haven’t thought it through enough.

What I like about the levels is how short they are–I’m averaging about five minutes for each run through it. You go through the levels a LOT of times. A dozen or more, if you’re doing all the quests, and that’s not counting runs you go through to just grind. There’s some story quests which make you visit a location multiple times, but there’s enough generic fetch quests that’ll make you go in there. The quests are all fairly standard, Kill X amount of enemy, Bring me X amount of random drops type things. Given that the levels are short, and given that the gameplay is actually fun–I get a Zenlike calm from repetitive beating stuff up action–it doesn’t feel bad.

In a lot of ways, the game is as good as it is because it understands carrots and sticks. There haven’t been any quests that have taken THAT much effort to get, so it’s one of those game’s that’s a constant feedback loop of giving you something to do, letting you do it, and then patting you on the back and smiling grandly. The rewards aren’t even that great–I’ve got more gold than I know what to do with, already, your inventory is woefully small and I just end up selling everything I get, and I hate inventory management in general so I don’t really bother keeping my equipment that perfect. It’s just the constant set of “GOOD JOB” for doing things that are easy–but not TOO easy–that works. It’s a total Lab Rat game and one which hits just right. That’s not always a compliment–Dragon Age II is one of the worst games I’ve ever played and yet I completed every single quest that game had to offer because of how well it played on my psyche. We’re not talking about Mass Effect 2 here, where I completed every single quest because I had emotional involvement in them. It’s just total reptile brain stuff. But as a way to relax and kill some time, I could do far worse.

I don’t like how slow you move in Warcraft and in FFXI–to go from one area to the other requires traipsing through a large play area, unless you grind to Epic Mounts or whatever. Here, there’s a smallish hub–about the size of a typical RPG town, I’d say, with your quest givers and stores tucked away–and you go through one of a series of portals to the different dungeons. You don’t spend any time traveling at all, which is wonderful–traveling, once you’ve seen the scenery and oohed and aahed, if appropriate, is boring. All you do in the hub is get quests, prepare, and form parties, things like that. It’s a very practical game in that it recognizes that you want to, you know, play it.

I’m liking the party system very much. You can create or search for a party based on what dungeon you need to be exploring, what level you want (the dungeons have a few unlockable difficulty levels and some quests only exist in one or another), etc, and people pop in as necessary. I’m finding it to be very ad-hoc and VERY polite. It’s early days, so the servers haven’t been flooded with trolls yet, and everyone’s still just learning how to play, so people are being pretty helpful in the chat. (The chat interface is terrible–I can never seem to click in the window and have to do some jerry-rigging every single time, so, developers, take note.) Things become very chaotic especially when you get a four-person party, especially when–as is likely–multiple people are playing the same character–so it devolves into a really fucking fun chaos. It reminds me of playing the Simpsons arcade game at Skater’s World back in the day–I used to go there all the time for punk shows, and sometimes–because going to Punk Shows isn’t always about the music, it’s about the scene, it’s about the people, it’s about having a good time and being 16 and being away from your parents doing cool shit for a while–I’d hang out in the arcade and I and three random people would gravitate to the Simpsons arcade game and we’d just play it until the end, pumping in extra quarters if we wanted or leaving and having someone else replace until the game ended, and the group, which had shifted over the course of the game, would smile at the accomplishment and then disband. That’s what it feels like.

Needless to say, for a crappy anime-styled game that’s unfunny (the game has, as its solitary joke, that weird very Asian sense of humor where every single character is inappropriately buffoonish and that’s as far as they take it, like, ha ha, look, this girl is supposed to be a combat specialist but she’s forgetful–it’s kind of irritating) and has an unremarkable story, I’m really enjoying it. And hey, it’s free. Worst that happens is it sucks and you’ve just lost the time spent downloading it. I play as Frantz on the West server, my character is named Yagharek, and I’m usually in the Gorgon server. Say hi if you see me.


(Hey, they don’t all have to be trenchant bits of academic analysis. This game does not merit it in any way. It is delicious, delicious junk entertainment.)

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