Hands-on with Natasha, Rusty Hearts' new markswoman

Rusty Hearts - Natasha character

Take one part Diablo and one part double-dragon, mix with two parts anime action cartoon, and blend. That's a rough recipe for free-to-play action-RPG Rusty Hearts , a game in which a half-vampire with a good soul joins and leads a rebellion against a tyrannical vampire overlord. Rusty Hearts' sensibilities are anime to the core, and they complement its hyperkinetic action-RPG gameplay. But one thing has been missing: over-the-top bullet ballet. To fix that oversight, Perfect World Entertainment is introducing a new character on October 25th: Natasha Borzenkova, a bombshell who dives into the action with dual pistols and a slew of firearm-related special abilities.

From my time previewing the character, Natasha is all about footwork and combos. While you can glide through dungeons on the easiest settings just by shooting everything, you get no style points for doing that, and Rusty Hearts grades players not just on how many enemies they kill, but how artistically they do it. Why shoot someone in the face when you can kick-flip him, then juggle him in mid-air with a series of shots from her twin revolvers? This is a game that rewards players who take the time to linger over a battle in order to play with their victims before dispatching them. And Natasha has a lot of ways to play with her kills.

The blizzards of destruction that Natasha unleashes seem positively subtle next to her outfits and character model. Natasha is hyper-sexualized, and a lack of context for her character heightens the sense of gratuitous objectification. Since Natasha has yet to be written into Rusty Hearts' main plot, her appearance is really all we know about her. She likes guns, clothing with lots of straps, and standing with her hips thrust forward and shoulders tossed so far back that she looks like nothing so much as a boomerang.

Natasha shouldn't be a mystery for too long, however. While the story is focused on other characters for the moment, Natasha does have a unique backstory and motivation. She is a former con artist who made a small career out of "saving" villages from monsters that were working for her. Suckering villagers, however, stopped being an option when her brother was murdered by one of the vampire lord's henchmen, and she joined the revolt that serves as the backdrop for Rusty Hearts. It's a story that perfectly suits her combination of showy combat maneuvers and ruthless efficiency. She comes across like a carnival act suddenly playing for keeps.

The kind of punishment that Natasha dishes out is every bit as over-the-top as her wardrobe. Like Harpo Marx, she can reach into her jacket and produce something as absurdly oversized as a repeating rocket launcher . Parking it on the floor, it fires a steady stream of rockets in a straight line, which is devastatingly effective in tight corridors. It's powerful on its own, but in combination with a party, the turret is a game-changing support weapon.

Since Rusty Hearts also tracks consecutive hits and rhythm, Natasha is able to pull off a few special moves if you get the timings right, or string enough hits together, Natasha might suddenly chuck a hand grenade into a swarm of enemies for devastating extra damage.

Natasha can hold her own in a fight, but she's most potent when paired with more durable, melee-focused characters. When I was in a party with the scythe-wielding Angela, Natasha stayed on the edges of the battle dealing massive damage while Angela pulled aggro from the monsters. Since I barely had to worry about dodging attacks or looking after my health, I was able to deal far more damage from the battle's perimeter.

Without her pistols, and at a little distance from her enemies, she is a little weak and a little vulnerable. This means that at higher level-encounters, her fast dodges, missile turrets, and double-jumps aren't just for style. They're a matter of survival, especially because so many of them also provide damage bonuses. As Natasha levels up and climbs the skill tree, I found myself looking at each skill upgrade with an eye toward whether it would be effective with my play style, and whether I would have to adapt my tactics.