Lots Of Ink, No Squids

HIGH The combat is a uniquely engaging turn-based system that never feels unfair.

LOW Online play is already sparsely populated.

WTF Half the NPCs in the game hate me…

When I played the beta test for Inkbound a few months ago, I was impressed by how polished many aspects already were, and enjoyed the no-fluff gameplay loop, especially with a group of four. So when the opportunity came to check out the EA release, I jumped at the chance.

Inkbound is a new isometric roguelike developed by Shiny Shoe, whose previous experience with the genre clearly shines (heh) through via the level of polish and thought put into the design and mechanics.

The game opens up with a brief sequence introducing the world and some major NPCs. Players take control of a ‘needless’ – a being that cannot speak, and is implied to be both numerous and of little value. However, after proving themselves through a few trials of combat (the tutorials), the player’s needless is then permitted to enter the Atheneum Library and begin doing their part to save the world. They do so by jumping into the books of the Atheneum and fighting the monsters that infest the pages.

The story is largely set-dressing to justify the gameplay loop, but I think it does a great job of doing so. Often the ‘gaminess’ of some titles is just accepted as a matter of fact, so I appreciate that Inkbound has a plot that put together characters and a world that would combine to create a roguelike structure.

Players can choose between three character classes to start, with two more unlocked later and even more slated to be added down the road. These classes can be switched at any time between runs. Each character class has a few set skills it starts with every time, but multiple upgrade paths can be explored during each run. Players can also obtain extra skills during play that add even more options.

When players initiate a fight, enemies spawn around them in an enclosed circular zone. Battles occur via a turn-based system — during their turn, players can move and attack freely while using up their allotted action points for that turn. These points allow each character to move a limited distance and/or use skills, and can be replenished via limited means, such as items or energy pellets that spawn semi-randomly.

Players also have visibility on what actions an enemy will make on their turn, the upcoming area of effect and how much damage that will happen to the player’s needless, should they fail to avoid those highlighted zones by the end of the turn. This may sound like giving the player too much of an advantage, but when every battle can potentially be the end of a run, it adds an incredibly engaging level of strategy, encouraging proper resource management and tactical planning in order to maximize the results of each encounter.

After playing through several runs through different routes and character classes, I never felt a lack of challenge or any sense of boredom. However, players are generally choosing between multiples of the same type of areas — either multiple combat encounters or multiple peaceful shop/item zones. I feel that having a greater range of options would result in more variety and help spice up each run a bit more.

Inkbound also heavily encourages teaming up in squads of up to four players, and even goes so far as to make play online-only and the hub area is actually an online hub, complete with text chat.

The system for finding a party was easy enough, but there were barely any other people visible to me, even shortly after this EA release — this does not bode well for people who might want to play on a squad in the future. I also would appreciate an offline option for single player (and couch co-op support would be awesome) as there is no real reason the game must be always online, especially since it can be completed solo.

Minor misgivings aside, Inkbound offers a solid roguelike experience that manages to feels fresh thanks to some smart design choices and considerate quality-of-life features. Any roguelike fan looking for a new game to sink hours into can feel safe in picking up a copy of Inkbound — but also get a few extra copies for friends.

Mitch Z
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