Thanks to Vampire Survivors, there is no shortage of swarm survivor games out there today. That’s good news for me because I am hopelessly addicted to them. Needless to say, I have played quite a few already so I figured it was time to check out another one. This time, it’s Army of Ruin from Milkstone Studios. What does this one have to offer, and is it as fun and addicting as the growing number of games in this still infant genre?
Title: Army of Ruin
Platform: PC (Reviewed), Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One
Developer: Milkstone Studios
Publisher: Milkstone Studios
Release Date: June 8, 2023
Army of Ruin is a swarm survivor game and if you’re unsure what means, it’s a game that uses roguelite elements that both temporarily power up your character in a run and permanently power up your character from the currency you earn in said run. The goal is to pick weapons, and enhancements, and evolve them to survive wave after wave of increasingly difficult enemies for a set length of time.
Army of Ruin follows this formula but it does so with a very deep rabbit hole of challenges to overcome while making use of a shallow pool of content. Let’s dive in a bit deeper to explain what I mean by that.
Surviving the Swarm
The meat and potatoes of the game is jumping into a run and surviving until the very end. Here, you will only find five maps to play on; however, each map comes with four different levels of difficulty: Survive for 10, 15, or 20 minutes and Endless Mode. If that’s not enough of a challenge for you, each of the four difficulty modes can add Ruin levels to it which will further increase the level of challenge you will face. There are five Ruin levels which will add more enemies, new waves of enemies, cause elites and bosses to retaliate when slain, reduce the amount of EXP you earn, and more.
If simply jumping in and surviving is your thing, then Army of Ruin comes with a base set of features to keep you entertained; however, if you are a completionist, this is where Army of Ruin truly shines with its replayability.
Army of Ruin Brings the Challenges
Army of Ruin has over FIVE HUNDRED AND FIFTY challenges, over 200 of which are tied to achievements. Most of the challenges, though, are getting characters to certain levels, evolving weapons, getting trinkets up to level five, and surviving X stage on Y difficulty. The challenges will reward everything from gold to new characters, new weapons, new trinkets, and new charms.
Unlocking new characters will unlock their corresponding challenges and unlocking weapons. So, yes… unlocking things unlocks other things to unlock.
Just how many things are there to unlock in total?
There are 24 characters, 58 weapons (and their evolutions for 116 total), 63 trinkets, 18 Charms, and 15 features! Add in the 559 challenges, and you’ll be set for a while with things to do. I am (at the time of this review), 51.6 hours in, and I am still 55 challenges away from obtaining 100% completion in the game. Given that a lot of the challenges I have left are “Survive for 30 minutes on Endless at Ruin 1, 2, 3, etc difficulty,” it means I’ll be packing on even more hours to my total. I would say 60-70 hours worth of time will get you everything you’ll need to say that you’ve done it all.
In addition to all of these, each of the stages has stars to collect. For example, on the Defiled Graveyard I, completing the stage will earn you 1 star and unlock the other two challenges ; Upgrading the Crawling Root weapon to Level 4 and reaching Experience Level 20 with Ariana. Doing those will earn you a full 3 stars. There are three more for Defiled Graveyard II and III, but only one for Endless, which is Survive for 30 minutes. The other four maps also have the same goal for their Endless modes. That means there are 50 stars to collect in total.
An Armory at Your Disposal
We know what the goal of Army of Ruin is and how it excels at tackling its five maps in different ways, but what do the weapons, trinkets, and charms do?
For starters, everything is autofire. Your only job is to walk around and let your weapons kill things, pick up the experience gems when they drop, and create your survival build. Each character will have their own unique starting weapon to make them feel different, but the weapons themselves offer a nice variety to kill your enemies with. Weapons such as Chain Lightning will kill multiple nearby enemies at once, while others like Blood Wings will send fiery waves hurling out in two diagonal directions. Others like Crawling Root will send projectiles out in a cone in front of you, or ones like Ranger Bow will oddly only shoot to the right, making positioning very important. Then, there are some like Storm Javelin, which will put damaging zones on the ground, or Toxic Stench, which will surround you with a damaging radius.
The trinkets are passive modifiers, but some could even double as weapons. Ones like Dragon Heart increase your damage by 10, 20, 30, 40, and 50%, while others like Ice Mirror will occasionally freeze all enemies in place. Magnifier increases the size of your weapons, while Soul Container will bring you back to life if you die. Then there are ones that will reduce the health of enemies and bosses in the stage while ones like Pearl of Pain will damage all enemies on screen after a certain length of time.
Some trinkets share their design with Charms, which are Kiss/Curse items. An example is the Growth charm which increases your attack size by 30% but reduces your movement speed by 10%, or Curiosity, which gives you a 25% boost to experience gained by reducing your pickup range by 25%.
Trinkets are important here because they also infuse your character with different elements such as Fire, Ice, Nature, Light, Darkness, and Wind. You need to pay attention because your weapons will evolve if you are infused with the right elements. For example, Chain Lightning needs 1 Ice infusion and 1 light infusion to evolve into Lightning Storm versus Spectral Dagger, which needs one wind and one-night infusion. The nice thing is, you don’t have to hunt for the same trinkets to evolve weapons as there are multiple trinkets with the same element type, so you never have to feel pigeon-holed in your choices.
Charms also gain a bonus to their effects if you are infused with the right elements as well; however, charms usually take three infusions. Given that you only have six trinket slots (and six weapon slots), there is some strategy involved. It’s mainly just making sure that you are picking weapons and charms that match the elements you have infused… or picking ones that have similar requirements so that you don’t go over your 6-slot limit. It does involve a little bit of thinking but not much.
Getting Better and Better
In each stage, you will come across gold from time to time. Whether it’s hidden in a crate, gets drawn to you if you find a piggy bank, or just handed to you when opening a treasure chest, you’ll earn gold as you play through the stages. The higher the difficulty, the more gold you will earn and the more you will need it.
You will be spending most of this gold on the Upgrades tab, which permanently upgrades any characters that you have unlocked. Here, you will find your standard fare of increased damage, increased fire rate, weapon size, projectile speed, more experience gained from gems, more gold earned, faster run speed, bigger pickup range, more health, more health regeneration etc, etc.
Some of the upgrades have a certain number of levels to them (mostly ten, but ones like re-rolling your choices whenever you level up has 15 levels to it) but some don’t have any level caps… like more damage. However, with each point you buy, the cost increases so you better enjoy farming gold because you’ll need a lot of it… especially if you want extra lives outside of the Soul Container trinket or if you want to mark more weapons/trinkets as your favorites so they have a higher chance of showing up during a run. They get rather pricey, really quickly.
Army of Ruin does a lot to keep you coming back. Doing each of the challenges encourages you to try the different characters, weapons, and trinkets and even though you are doing the same maps over and over again, they are done in different ways to make the gameplay feel fresh. The fact that you can complete every map with any character or any weapon combination speaks to how well the game is balanced. That isn’t to say that some weapons are better than others because there are some that are a bit on the higher-tier side of things, but for the most part maybe only one or two weapons feel like you can skip over them versus some other games where you just want to ignore the majority (fire wizard. If you play swarm survival games, you’ll know which one I’m talking about and why that is your ONLY choice.)
My only complaint about the game is that there are only five maps to play on, which makes things a bit repetitive. Hopefully, future DLC will fix that to add some more variety but, for now, it’s a good start. My other complaint is the lack of creativity when it comes to their characters. The initial cast is fine but once you start unlocking characters, you soon realize it’s the same models as the original cast, just different colors. Sure, they have their own unique weapons, but color swapping feels like a cheap design trick last seen in Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 and its army of palette-swapped ninjas.
Outside of that, I have nothing negative to say about the game. The gameplay feels very fresh and crisp, the weapons all feel unique with little similarity, the graphics are well-done with nice, hi-res maps and enemies, and while the music selection is a bit on the sparse side, the music slaps and will live in your head for days on end.
I hate to say “Vampire Survivors Clone,” but if you want a game that plays like Vampire Survivors, has similar systems, and more modern graphics, this is a must-have game. It’s highly addicting, the challenges keep you coming back for more, and even if this were your first swarm survivor game, it would be a great introduction to where anyone with any skill level can hop in and have a good time with it.
Plus, unlike Vampire Survivors, the weapon spam on the screen when everything is maxed out is very tolerable, and best yet, you can still SEE things on the screen! That’s always a plus.
For eight bucks, it’s money well spent, so maybe you cut back your Starbucks double pump Azerano, extra star whip, high mountain ice with room for mana spice (yes, that was a Hearthstone reference) for one day and use that money to pick up this game. Your thighs will thank you, and so will the developers!
*This game was purchased for review.
Army of Ruin
Army of Ruin is a swarm survivor game where you become an unstoppable bullet hell machine. While only five stages are available, each stage has multiple difficulty levels and with over five hundred challenges and over 300 unlockable characters, weapons, trinkets, charms, and features, the game will keep you coming back for more!
- Great graphics
- Very high replayability through challenges and unlocks
- Great soundtrack
- Addictive gameplay
- Fun for players of any skill level
- Unlocked characters are just reskins of other models
- Only 5 maps mean the aesthetics are a bit repetitive
- Music selection is a bit sparse
- Overall Score