I sat down with Ruined King fresh off the back of a hugely enjoyable binge of Arcane, the Netflix series that, like RK, is grounded in the League of Legends universe. My solitary experience of the main title was around a decade ago, where it would help me and my colleagues pass the (lunch)time at a truly miserable office job. Since then, the idea of jumping into another MOBA has filled me with a sort of post-traumatic dread, so I was truly thankful to discover that this spin-off is more of a traditional, turn-based RPG.
I was around two hours into it when I started to feel a vague sense of déjà vu. The combat system, some of the enemies, and even the art style seemed kinda familiar, but it was only when I came across the fishing mini-game that it clicked: I’ve played this before.
Not this exact game, of course, but in late 2017 I bought–and thoroughly completed–Airship Syndicate’s previous RPG, Battle Chasers: Nightwar. I wish I could say that Ruined King was a 4-5 year leap forward from that, but in truth, in places it’s barely a reskin. You’ll find no bigger disciple of the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ mentality than me, but before I move on from this point I’ll simply say that if you own Battle Chasers, you’ve fought these spiders before.
Ruined King gives you a narratively-entangled six characters (or presumably, ‘legends’) to build a party of three from, a compelling trio of bad lads to motivate you, and a pair of differently-decorated but equally perilous islands to explore. It’s a colourful and interesting setting for the story, which focuses on ‘Black Mist’ and your battle to stop Thresh (hook-wielding black and green fella) awakening ‘Ruined’ King Viego, with the help of hench, power-hungry sea-dog Gangplank. I couldn’t elaborate on this more without risking spoilers and frankly, the macro-story isn’t the best bit of it anyway, the mini-scenes and gradually building interactions between your six heroes are where the real depth and quality come through, helped by some terrific voice-acting.
It looks good too. Not sensational, but the environments are pretty solid, and character art and animation is very nice in places. Bilgewater is the bustling, pirate-infested hub of the adventure, and the progressively gloomy dungeons you visit to ‘fetch this’ or ‘kill that’ are loaded with monsters and puzzles to overcome. The mechanics behind these puzzles are basic, invariably involving pushing buttons in the right order, rotating statues, utilising a particular character’s unique skill, and so on. In fact, even on Veteran difficulty (the second highest, of four), Ruined King didn’t present much of a challenge at any stage; there’s a lot of depth in the lore, collectibles and conversations with NPCs, but that complexity never really makes it into the actual gameplay, unfortunately.
Perhaps the only exception to that rule is the combat, or more specifically, a handful of the boss battles. The one big USP of an otherwise familiar turn-based system is the addition of ‘lanes’, three different ways to execute each ability that essentially boil down to ‘faster = weaker, slower = stronger’. When coupled with ‘hazards’, which afflict particular sections or entire lanes with a negative effect if you happen to land in them, you wind up with a pretty hefty number of potential outcomes at each turn, and some of the tougher scraps can demand real strategy and consideration. I liked the combat in Battle Chasers but it was all too easy to fall back to the same few abilities in nearly every encounter; Ruined King is an improvement, with more variety and interplay between abilities and effects, but you still seldom need to use your full arsenal to get the job done.
One area that–in my humble opinion–Airship Syndicate absolutely nailed is character progression. Using a combination of points granted by gaining levels and consuming tomes of knowledge, you can turn each hero into a number of different versions of themselves, depending on where you choose to spend. The balance is good and the alterations are quick and easy, so if you want to tweak your strategy to dish out a tonne of damage, or reel it in and dial up your heals and shields, you aren’t penalised for a lack of commitment. On top of that, enchanting your gear is more effective in Ruined King than possibly any other RPG I can recall, and again the options are wide and the costs low enough that you’re encouraged to experiment to find the right balance in your team.
I’d love to be able to tell you how long it took me to complete, but due to a weird bug whereby the in-game timer has continued to tick up even while my Switch is on standby, the 600+ hours quoted can’t be relied upon. As a guess I’d say there’s 20 hours in the core game, with another 5 or so of bounties, side quests and general faffing about. It’s hefty but approachable, prone to occasional crashes, and not actually that much of a challenge, but I enjoyed it all the same. League of Legends itself might not tickle your fancy, but the world Riot Games have built is starting to dish out some really good spin-offs, and I’m looking forward to the next one.