Earlier this year, I watched a very short presentation by bound in inkan upcoming turn-based roguelike from Shiny Shoe, the developers behind Deckbuilder monster train. I thought he had potentialbut it’s hard to determine how much potential something has when all you have to do is images they baked earlier, like a cottage pie from a Sunday brunch oven.
I’m thrilled to report that I spent over an hour with the game alongside Shiny Shoe CEO Mark Cooke and Creative Director Andrew Krausnick, who were not only lovely, but supportive of my amazing ability to grope my turns. Still, I was impressed with how the game’s fast-paced combat suited its roguelike needs, as it pushed us through even the trickiest scenarios – as opposed to other strategy games that can give the impression of trudging through a sea of glue.
I played a build that was precocious in every sense of the word. We’re not just talking about the first part of the game, but also the fictional elements and the very real possibility that a lot of the things I touched on could change quite significantly. But hey, I got to sample a run that worked really well and gave me the chance to see if Shiny Shoe’s latest roguelike release had the potential to hook me.
As is the case with most roguelikes, you start out in a central area, this time called the Aetheneum, which will act as a home for NPCs and a place to gather your two buddies before each run begins. Once you’ve chosen to dive into an Unranked or Ranked Race (more on Ranked Race later), you’re periodically faced with decisions that will steer you towards a build or goal – again, like most other roguelikes. I voted for the starting step that would take us on our quest to eat two fish, because eating fish is good for your health.
And, as you can imagine, you are faced with other decisions! You must choose one of three abilities and then select a proving ground that not only changes the theme of the upcoming stage from barnacles to magma to an enchanted forest, but adds a mutator to make your run a bit trickier (although I’m pretty sure that bit didn’t work in our build). Oh, but there’s another decision: do you choose an easy battle or a harder battle – especially if the harder one reaps bigger rewards like keys to unlock loot chests? We often opted for the tougher ones, mostly because I knew deep down that Cooke and Krausnick would carry me on their poor, poor backs.
Minus the combat, there’s a familiar rhythm to Inkbound’s races. You level up, maybe heal or spend your gold on respite locations, choose your preferred arena and difficulty, and dive into increasingly difficult fights. While much of the mid-decision making was typical fare, it was the fight that helped things stand out.
I played the role of the magma miner, while Cooke and Krausnick (separating control of a single character) played the role of a thief armed with huge shurikens. Combat in Inkbound is much like Divinity Original Sin, where your character has a hotbar filled with abilities that cost a certain number of points to use. Circles warn you if you’re about to get hit or vice versa, and if you hover your mouse over an enemy, you can see all of their passive buffs and bonuses in plain text.
But what makes Inkbound’s combat much faster is its flexibility. Unlike DOS – or many others RPG – you are not rooted in place before committing to a movement. Instead, there’s a slightly more open movement system. You can roam freely within the limits of your ability points, which are depleted as you travel. There’s a nice sense of freedom, as you explore some positional possibilities before you start a move, and what you lose in tension or risk, you make up for convenience. Where is the ideal place for the area-of-effect slammo wammo? Or your smacky wacky that chains lightning to enemies and shocks them for a turn? Well, take a quick walk and find out. It’s especially great for those of us who have trouble visualizing movements before doing them.
Movement is encouraged with glowing orbs that litter each arena. If you collect them during your turn, you will recover ability points. Not only that, but each arena gradually develops a swirling fog that closes in between rounds as the fights drag on, with the “slip” not being that long at all, really. In no way does this hinder the proceedings, but it acts as a nudge towards completion rather than a frustration.
Fast-paced fights don’t mean a lack of cool moments, either. I built my Magma dude as someone who inflicted stacks of burns on baddies I hit, with the intention of super-hit them with a column of fire that would soak up those stacks for a big chunk of damage. Incredibly, I pulled it off on an awful purple worm and it was awesome. Even Cooke and Krausnick were impressed! I executed a very loose strategy! So yes, Inkbound allows someone without a lot of strategy to do fun and interesting things.
My only concern with Inkbound is its progression, which lets you tackle ranked runs and attempt to climb a leaderboard, instead of, say, unlocking permanent upgrades to make your runs easier or your Aetheneum look prettier. . That makes sense, considering it’s more of an online co-op venture with your friends. Shiny Shoe says there will be seasonal progression with a battle pass full of cosmetic items, new stages, and some tweaks to the Aetheneum, but I’m afraid that won’t be enough to keep players coming back for more. . It’s very early, so my thoughts might be unfounded as development continues. Let’s hope so.
Anyway, I had a great time with Inkbound and it’s definitely a game to watch, even if you’re not a chief strategist like me.