“It’s true that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” This famous line was given to us by the author Margaret Wolfe Hungerford in 1878. It comes from a book that she wrote titled, “Molly Bawn”. I have never read this book, and I do not know what character says this line or why they say it, however it is entirely within the realm of possibility that whoever did say it felt prompted to do so after playing the video game Regions of Ruin. After all, I played the game and often found myself thinking that same thought. You see, much like the jar of strawberry flavored Smuckers that I stole from the fridge at work, this game is not my jam.
Regions of Ruin is a 2D pixelated side-scrolling RPG adventure game that features resource gathering and base building. No, I don’t think video games are getting tricky to classify – why do you ask? As the game starts up, you’re given a very brief history of the land and dwarven people. You then take control of a dwarf who is in charge because he is the character that the player controls. From that moment on the game has begun, and it doesn’t waste any time in pushing you out the door to begin adventuring.
And what merry adventures you’ll have. All of said merry adventuring plays out as follows: you find a fellow dwarf, talk to him (or her? I’m not sure since they all had beards), he/she gives you a few lines of dialogue and/or a quest, and you venture forth to gather resources and kill goblins. Eventually, once you’ve gathered enough resources, you can craft certain buildings in order to give you and your growing dwarven posse upgrades and even more materials. Once you’ve done that, congratulations! Hope you want to do those merry little activities forever.
Probably my biggest complaint with Regions of Ruin is that it never evolves. Your interactions with the world and characters feel immediately repetitive. By the time that I wandered into the 14th samey looking town, met my 32nd friendly dwarf that had almost the exact same dialogue as all the others, and murdered my who-knows-how-many-enth goblin, I began to feel that the game wasn’t really going anywhere. The game’s own description reads, “…fight and build into an open world that progressively challenges you and your settlement.” Lovely words, but meaningless ones nonetheless. Regions of Ruin’s idea of “progressively challenging” the player is having more enemies appear than before. Maybe some of them will be slightly bigger this time.
I say that the lack of evolution is my largest gripe, but now that I’ve written that down I’ve thought of several others. The user interface is a bit of a clunky mess. When opening menus and attempting to level up or progress my skill tree, I would instinctively use the D-pad to move through the menus but found myself accidentally opening the book that contained all of the game’s lore. This would cause my eyes to strain as I attempted to understand what kind of nonsense was being said about this painfully generic fantasy world amid a sea of misplaced commas. “Some incorrect comma placement?” I can hear you say, “Wow, Cade, can you think of any real criticisms for the game?” You’re darn tootin’ I can.
In the gaming world, there is a term known as “game feel”. There’s no set definition for the term, but to sum it up quickly it’s the feeling that a video game gives to a player through the actions you can perform. In a game like Doom, it would be the visceral responsiveness of killing demons and floating through the air like a Swiss Army ballerina. In a game that also tries to have an emphasis on combat like Regions of Ruin, you would want your game to feel weighty when you slam a heavy attack down on an opponent. You’d want to feel a slight shove when you use your shield to block an attack. However, the game offers zero interesting, responsive or cathartic game feel. Attacks feel wimpy even after you’ve powered them up. The swing of your strongest axe has all of the impact of a fly hitting a window. Fights feel much more like frustrating inconveniences than epic battles.
The frustration from the combat is compounded by the visuals as well. The pixelated style is all well and good until layers of set pieces, characters and pop-up messages start slamming into each other. I found my character suffering from a split buttocks on many an occasion because I couldn’t distinguish a goblin’s raised arm from a tree, bucket, campfire, or a completely different goblin. I know that sounds a bit crude, but that’s probably the game’s best feature. Each time you’re attacked, a randomly generated message pops up on the “bottom” of the screen to show what part of you has been injured. I had a scraped shin once, a few broken arms and, much too often, a “split buttocks” which, some might argue, is a perfectly normal buttocks.
Aside from the occasional chuckle at my dwarf’s latest injury, Regions of Ruin on Xbox One offered me very little enjoyment. The exact same song droned on and on for my entire playthrough until I shut it off in the settings. The dwarves that I sent out on missions to gather materials never found as many resources as I could gather, and the buildings that I constructed required an absurdly large amount of materials. I’m no stranger to games that ask a player to grind repetitive tasks, and I’m also no stranger to games that don’t really have a clear goal to be working toward. Where most of those games succeed though is in having interesting characters, visuals or gameplay. Regions of Ruin on the other hand, much like a sandwich without strawberry jam, is an uninteresting and bland experience.