Lone Ruin review: "Fun, yet flawed"

Lone Ruin review: "Fun, yet flawed"
Images via Super Rare Originals

Written by 

Daniel Hollis


11th Jan 2023 14:00

The roguelike genre has had a boom in recent years, and titles such as Hades have been a massive factor in that.

Not only have they become more accessible, while retaining their devilish difficulty, but they’ve also given players an incentive to venture forward and have one more go at attempting to beat their previous run.

Lone Ruin is the latest entry into that genre and the second release from Super Rare Originals - a publishing label dedicated to giving small indie developers a chance for their games to shine.

It also harks back to the classic roguelikes many fans of the genre have grown to love over the years, which sometimes works to its detriment.

You’re a wizard, player

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In the case of Lone Ruin, the hook for its combat loop is all based around using a variety of spells. A short introductory cutscene leads you to explore a decaying set of ruins and discover the magical powers that reside within.

Over the years, the ruins have played host to a growing corruption, and it's up to the player to get into the centre of it all and put the evil to rest. Of course, the adventure isn't going to be an easy one, and with the game being a roguelike, you can expect to die over and over again.

While modern titles in the genre such as Hades and Returnal have done an admirable job of incentivizing players to keep going through new story beats, Lone Ruin relies solely on its gameplay to sink its claws into you, which for the most part, it does a good job at achieving. 

You won't be uncovering any major revelations during your time here, but the retro-styled visuals and well-realized art design will have you asking questions that you'll be making your own answers to. Having that degree of mystery surrounding everything feels reminiscent of a FromSoftware title, which does little to hold your hand and allows the player to draw their own conclusions to its world design.

As you venture deeper within Lone Ruin, you’ll come across various biomes, but they do very little to distinguish themselves from one another. The same basic battle arenas present themselves, and it's not too long into your playtime you'll feel you've seen everything that game has to offer from a visual standpoint.

Its old-school visuals are gorgeous to behold - especially on an OLED Nintendo Switch screen - but looks can only carry Lone Ruin so far.

Spells a'plenty

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As a wizard, your primary source of power is drawn from spells, and you'll be spending the majority of your time in Lone Ruin using them. As you venture deeper into your run, you'll come across more and more abilities - depending on what route you take - and slowly expand your arsenal until you come to the boss room at the end of each biome.

These bosses will severely test your might and the magical prowess you've built up until that point. Challenging, deadly, and exhilarating - these are the best three words to describe the bosses you take on in this game, and even when you think you;ve got their pattern down, a future run may throw another few boss attacks into the mix.

However, there's one big problem with Lone Ruin, and that's the fact that most of the base spells you choose from never feel that great to play. As you begin a run, you'll be able to choose one of a selection, but the majority feel cumbersome to use, and in certain situations, do more harm than good.

For us, we found the Shards to be the most intuitive to use, which turned Lone Ruin into a twin-stick shooter. It has a short cooldown but also packs quite a punch when it comes to disposing of waves of enemies. But on the other hand, a weapon such as the Scythe would jettison you forward after each attack, and on more than one occasion, caused us to either fall to our death or plunge us into a sea of enemies.

As you progress through your run and unlock more rooms, growing your powers becomes easier, and your base spell can be powered up, but it makes getting to that point a slog quite often. The RNG of Lone Ruin can feel entirely against your favour, causing certain runs to feel like lost causes as soon as they've begun.

It doesn't help that the game is also prone to a few frame rate stutters - at least on the Nintendo Switch version. A few rooms deep, when enemies become more relentless and vastly increase in numbers, the occasional chugs of the frame rate can be the difference between life or death.

Lone Ruin's art style, while wondrous to look at, can also get in the way of your gameplay, as enemies are often the same colour as the background, easily blending it in and making it hard to see.

The fundamentals of combat are there, and you can also slip into runs that flow almost perfectly, but it feels like a chance of the dice more so than any other roguelite we've played in recent memory.

Bang for your buck

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That being said, Lone Ruin comes in at a fairly low price, and there's plenty to sink your teeth into. While it's not a game you'll play for hours on end, if you have a spare few minutes, it's incredibly tempting to jump into a run and test your luck.

The pick-up-and-play mentality Lone Ruin has shines throughout any of its rough edges. There are various difficulty options if you want to modify your experience, and there's even a survival mode that sees you taking on waves and waves of enemies that grow increasingly tougher.

What it lacks in its narrative, it makes up for in its ability to instantly play it at a moment's notice. There's no need to skip any dialogue or cutscenes as Lone Ruin gets straight into the action. It's also worth the price of admission alone for the incredible soundtrack, which is honestly a highlight of Lone Ruin.

It makes each encounter feel considerably more epic than it is and will have your pulse pumping in the very first room alone. Even after several runs and hearing recycled tracks, it never gets old hearing those tunes blast through your speakers.

Fun, yet flawed

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Lone Ruin is fun in short bursts, but it in no way challenges the goliaths of the genre. While that wasn't developer Cuddle Monster Games' intention, it's hard for players to wonder why they should invest their time into this game.

With so many other options on the market, it can be hard to recommend dropping a title that does little to push the genre forward. For anyone who is huge on the roguelike genre, Lone Ruin is probably something you'll want to check out.

It offers a decent amount of challenge and flexibility to find a playstyle that best suits you. But for casual players, who may have only dipped their toes in the genre, it may prove challenging to keep your attention for extended periods of time.


Reviewed on Nintendo Switch. Code provided by the publisher.

Daniel is a former Guides Writer for GGRecon. Having originally focused on film journalism, he eventually made the jump to writing about games in 2020, writing for sites such as NME. Eurogamer, GamesRadar, Tech Radar, and more. After a short stint in PR, he is back in the world of games media writing about his favourite games, including Bioshock, Fable, or everything Fortnite and Xbox Game Pass related.