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Inkbound lays the groundwork for a great co-op roguelike

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You have to respect a game that calls its villains villains. It doesn’t get more clear than this.

ink manwhich will be released into Early Access on May 22nd is the latest title from developer Shiny Shoe monster train, Described as a turn-based, co-op roguelike, ink man is a game that invites the person to overuse the verb “gets”. Alas, I am compelled: ink man Is Hades meeting of Diablo meeting of in breachwith the tiniest splash of Fortnite Thrown in for good measure.

let’s start with HadesAs in, structurally, it is the most obvious point of inspiration. ink man is a narrative-driven, action roguelike from a top-down perspective, filled with characters that give you tasks to complete on your many runs through their storybook locations. There’s the Silent Promenade, which isn’t as quiet as its name suggests, as well as the Proving Grounds, which, yes, no, of course let me prove my ability. After each run, you return to the Atheneum, a hub-area-slash-library that, to a book nerd like me, feels super cozy despite its apocalyptic trappings. The story goes like this: Every book ever written has been kept in the Athenaeum, but – But – They are in danger of being destroyed forever, as the aforementioned villain has drained their ink, rendering them pale.

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Weaver and Obelisk combine their Thread and Tank abilities during a colorful battle in Inkbound

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Image: Shiny Shoe via Play Gamez

Yes, yes, but the gameplay. You initially play as one of three classes: Magma Miner, Mosclok or Weaver. Magma Miner is a tank that can stack ability power and shield. Moscloak is a type of rogue, with a focus on comboing dashes and shuriken throws. The Weaver is the traditional mage who connects enemies with threads, conjuring them up to take more damage with each new foe. In the pre-release build I played, two additional classes were unlocked after progressing through some early questing: Clairvoyant, a combo support and damage dealer, and my personal favorite, Obelisk, the one with two giant stone shields for weapons. Aggressive Frontliner.

Of course, like any good roguelike, each class can be heavily modified in terms of style of play, with abilities picked up along the way. Some of my more successful runs included hitting Moscloak with as much poison damage as possible on each of his abilities, and a run that turned my obelisk into a godlike, teleporting juggernaut. (Needless to say, I won that.) Like HadesOr like any major rogue, by the time you reach the end of any race, your abilities are unrecognizable from the character you started with.

The player interacts with a stigmatizing NPC in a dialogue scene in Inkbound

Image: Shiny Shoe via Play Gamez

Battles take place from a top-down perspective in the vein of DiabloWith a hotbar of abilities inherent to each class, but also turn-based, with upcoming enemy actions and total damage dealt clearly a la in breach, If that sentence confuses you, your initial hour with the game will be the same as mine. It takes a second to get used to how the action flows. But once you do, combat becomes tactical and thoughtful. Movement and abilities both use Will, a limited resource that replenishes each turn, which forces the need to balance mobility with damage: can I use my Will to get the hell out of these little blasts ’til dudes? Do I do it for the kill, or do I spend something to get out of this big AoE circle on the ground that’s promising to halve my HP?

Complicating matters is a shrinking circle of play that gets smaller as fights progress, encouraging action over inaction, a mechanic that should be familiar to anyone who’s ever played Fortnite or the like. By my fourth or fifth run, every ink man The fight felt like a brain teaser, something to be carried off with a deliberate series of moves and attacks.

unless you’re playing multiplayer, at which point ink man Almost feels like a different game entirely.

Obelisk uses an impressive abilities to take out multiple enemies at once in Inkbound

Image: Shiny Shoe via Play Gamez

OK, maybe “completely different” is exaggerating things, but not by much. Everything I’ve already said about the gameplay holds true when you add another player (or more – up to four). Battles are still turn-based and enemy damage is still clearly determined. Except, when it’s the players’ turn, all actions are performed by your party at once. Whereas when playing solo, each move may be carefully considered, in multiplayer, chaos reigns. You might be making a dash to Obelisk form when suddenly your Moscloak buddy does his dash-and-shuriken combo, clearing out the enemies you meant to spend your turn finishing . Too bad if you left-click at the same time, because there’s no undo button if you walk into the open air. You just have to wait till the next turn.

It’s a game that calls for voice chat to coordinate attacks, but even then, once you add another player to the mix, ink man Suddenly it feels more like a desperate brawl than a careful game of chess. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s been a long time since I’ve played a game whose co-op experience felt so different from its solo version.

During a run in Inkbound the player chooses between three modifiers, which are displayed as card abilities.

Image: Shiny Shoe via Play Gamez

ink man, like all Early Access games, is bound to change as updates go on – but what I’ve played so far has a strong foundation. Currently, my main complaint is that the NPCs feel less distinct than I’d like, which makes it difficult to invest myself in the story. However, I appreciate the creative writing dictum of naming the player character as “redundant”, with the supporting cast commenting that if you’re not needed then you’re not a real character. Still, the whole “All the Books Ever” angle feels less cooked up, if only because, perhaps for legal reasons, we’re not wading through any copyrighted material, but rather general take on storytelling. (Now that it’s in the public domain, maybe they should great Gatsby Updates?)

However, in the end, the truest measure of roguelikes is whether they create a feeling of “one more run”, and ink man is in command. If the game’s Early Access is its prologue, I’m ready to read Chapter One.

ink man Will be released into Early Access on May 22 on Windows PC. The game was reviewed on PC using a pre-release download code provided by Shiny Shoe. Vox Media is an affiliated partnership. These do not affect editorial content, although Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased through affiliate links. You can find Additional information about Play Gamez’s ethics policy here,

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