LAN Mob Game Review - Has Been Heroes

We hear the idiom, "Don't judge a book by its cover." at a really young age, and we hear it often. It's a great metaphorical phrase meaning one should not prejudge the worth or value of something by its outward appearance alone (in case you didn't know). That being said, video games actually tend to be judged by outward appearances pretty quickly. Graphical style, ESRB, developers, etc, etc, can all work in tandem to give off a general basic idea of what kind of atmosphere or feel a game will have before we even get playing. In fact, I've bought games on box art alone! However, the metaphor could not stand firmer for Frozenbyte's partnership project with GameTrust, "Has Been Heroes". Has Been Heroes is a delightfully breezy looking game with a simple premise and a light $20.00 price tag to match, however, almost nothing about the gameplay is light. Has Been Heroes is an insanely deep, brutal and punishing title.

 Developer - Frozenbyte
Publisher - GameTrust  
Available for Xbox One, PS4, Windows, Nintendo Switch

I've written about roguelikes and difficulty in a past blog and I'm a huge fan of the genre. As expected from the genre, you will die in Has Been Heroes and you will die A LOT. To anyone who didn't know what Has Been Heroes is, would you have guessed it was a tactical combat roguelike? Exactly. Has Been Heroes follows the story of Tam the Rogue, Crux the Warrior and Metacles the Monk (among many more heroes as you unlock them) and their legendary mission to...well their mission is to escort the young princesses to school. However, shortly after their adventure begins it is brought to an abrupt end as our heroes are hit with a random falling meteor. This is when players are introduced to the major mechanic of death in Has Been Heroes. Our Heroes find themselves at the gates of Heaven where god himself offers to revive the protagonists in exchange for their help defeating a great ghoul terrorizing the land. Now that players are introduced to dying, it's time to go die a lot!

The plot doesn't show up very often other than some silly banter between your heroes relating to your quest. Players unlock more spells and items after each playthrough by giving God some orbs from the enemies you've slain, and players can unlock more playable heroes by succeeding in runs. Players can check out their library of unlocked content at the main menu, but unfortunately these menus seem barely finished - but more on that later.

Has Been Heroes gameplay is unlike anything I've ever played before and that's a really good thing. Players move their heroes along a maze-like map (bottom right of the above screenshot!) where they can fight enemies, stop at shops, gamble and open chests among other things. Players collect keys, coins and candles (a resource that allows you to backtrack) on their way to the final boss of each area. Moving around the map is pretty simple and straight forward, combat however...Each of your heroes occupies one of three lanes at any given time, and enemies will appear in one of each lane as well. Once again, following the theme, combat is way deeper then it first seems. As you can see, each party member has a health bar and small green blocks next to them. Those blocks represent Stamina, which is a massive part of combat. For the most part, a character's stamina must be broken before you can hack away at their health bar. You see, even the plethora of enemy types that barrel towards your party also have a stamina bar that needs to be dealt with. Each hero type has X amount of attacks and it is in your best interest to take out an enemy's stamina with an exact attack, and it's extremely important to plan each move very carefully, because melee attacks have cooldowns. For example, if an enemy has three stamina and the rogue attacks them, they will have zero stamina, but the rogue will now be on cooldown. When an enemy goes down to zero stamina they become stunned, and the next attack aimed their way will go straight for their health pool AND send them to the back of the lane. It's pretty important. If you aren't managing stamina well things can take a pretty bad turn and you'll get overwhelmed really quickly.

This is what getting overwhelmed looks like.

There's still much more to combat than attack and stamina management. For one, each Hero comes equipped with a weapon that has various stats, some are passive such as "20% cooldown on all spells", and some are as game changing as "When you cast a spell, you can automatically attack again". On top of your weapons, players can find a number of passive items on their journey that vary from simple attribute buffs/nerfs, immunity to elemental effects and even extra stamina bars. The plethora of items allow you to essentially create a "build" for each hero, considering their strengths and weaknesses. The variety doesn't stop there! Players can also gain access to a bunch of spells (elemental and physical) to assist in combat. Some simply do damage, some wreck stamina and others apply status effects. These mechanics easily make up my favorite aspect of Has Been Heroes, the variety. It's a common trend in rogue-likes to "rarely run the same build twice", but considering the unique combat and dungeon crawl style, Frozenbyte did a marvelous job of making each run rewarding, even if you don't do so well. As I mentioned above, after each run, all the orbs you've gathered are turned in towards progress to unlock an even wider pool of spells and items. Unfortunately, this amount of depth can have some negatives, based on who you ask.
Some of these spells are a massive power spike.

So, much to my dismay, I really didn't care for Has Been Heroes at first. Originally, it was due to the sheer brutal difficulty, because as I've mentioned, this game is way tougher then I ever imagined. I don't really mind restarting over and over, but more than any other roguelike, this got monotonous really quickly. Perhaps it was due to the tiny pool of early enemies, rolling bad spells all the time or the less than stellar soundtrack, but things started to feel like a chore.  As with any roguelike, the more you play the more you understand and the bigger your item pools become, helping you deal with the difficulty spikes. However, that doesn't really address the biggest problem plaguing Has Been Heroes. Frozenbyte has created one of the deepest and easily most strategic combat systems I've ever seen in a roguelike, but they barely tell you how it works! That being said, I'm no stranger to the genre. I have over 200 hours in Binding of Issac and a near Platinum Trophy in Enter the Gungeon, among many others, and these games don't hold your hand in the least. However, they make all of their game mechanics known to you pretty quickly, and Has Been Heroes simply doesn't clue you in on a lot. Frozenbyte's lack of explanation for mechanics like elements interacting and effecting enemies, a very cool backstab mechanic and even a thoughtful and helpful system of equipping spells in certain places providing powerful passives seem to be excused by "This is a roguelike!". They don't even tell you what the previously mentioned candles do! Frozenbyte has developed an awesome combat system that has so much going on and it's a self inflicted wound to allow your playerbase to get frustrated and confused by some bad tutorials right out of the gate. It's not as simple as writing it off as a supplementary mechanic of the genre.

"Wait...I can do what!?

I still genuinely enjoy Has Been Heroes for what it is. It took sometime and unfortunate outsourcing but once you understand how the game works it's a total blast. Some of the most difficult situations start to feel really manageable and conquering them feels incredible. I slowly started to think of combat as a chess match, thinking three, four, even five moves ahead to succeed. Boss fights are a massive spike in difficulty and can be really jarring, but the spells you unlock from failing will eventually help you succeed. These spells as well as items and even heroes are documented on the main menu, but unfortunately there is almost no information here. It feels like a huge oversight to not include a proper bestiary or item pool for players to check out. Outside of these problems, Has Been Heroes accomplishes so much for such a small price tag. Frozenbyte created something great, I'm just afraid it's not particularly accessible. I definitely recommend everyone giving the game a real try, and not writing it off for the raw difficulty. Once you get into it and start to understand how the world of Has Been Heroes works; there's a really great and unique roguelike here. After all, you can't judge a book by its cover.     
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