Inkbound

Review: Inkbound

Seeing what an indie studio will do after a smash hit is always fascinating. Shiny Shoe is one of the latest creators in this scenario. They’re launching their popular follow-up to their card-based roguelike Monster Train.

Their latest and very ambitious title, Inkbound, has found its way to a 1.0 release after a year of Early Access on Steam. I spent some time with the game last year, playing through a previous iteration of the game before some major changes were introduced. But more on that later.

Inkbound is a roguelike, cooperative, turn-based action game with tons of deep and unique elements that had me coming back for more and excited me for what will come next.

Aspects, Books, Ink, Spells, and More!

The game will get things kicked off fairly quickly, with some explanation about what’s going on around you. There is a ton to dig into about story and world-building, so I’ll get to that in just a moment.

As I mentioned, this is a game that has been in Early Access for some time now. In my experience, Inkbound’s gameplay has evolved over time, but it hasn’t drastically changed.

You’ll take control of a Needless, an unexpected addition to the world that can take many forms. These Aspects range from shield-carrying tank-like heroes, a sci-fi-inspired gunner, a heavy-hitting hammer swinger, a rogue that dashes and inflicts poison, or various mage-like magic wielders. My personal favourite is a Weaver that has you attaching strings to enemies, dealing magic damage, and dishing out some really fun combos!

There’s a lot to choose from right from the start. I played around with most in Early Access, but they have been tweaked and it was still fun to experiment with different builds. Not all variations are unlocked from the beginning, but it doesn’t feel too long before you open up even more possibilities as you level up.

Battling It Out

Once you’re on the battlefield and diving into the action, it plays a lot like a turn-based action game you may have played before. But what’s great about it is the variety of abilities (called Bindings), locations, enemies, and rewards.

Like most roguelikes, you’ll choose a reward or item before heading into a battle area. These rewards are just as unique as the world they live in. Some are story-beats and opportunities to meet new characters, and many give you the chance to upgrade your Bindings or add a powerful passive Vestige.

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The battlefield itself always consists of a circular area that gets smaller and smaller depending on how long the fight goes on. Within this circle, multiple inky enemies will spawn and do their best to take you down.

You’ll be equipped with up to 5 active abilities that can stack and have cooldowns. I loved making an informed and deliberate choice at every turn. No matter how many baddies were ready to pounce and no matter which class I was using, it was a blast to find out the best way to get out of a tight spot, or put an end to the enemies and collect my rewards.

Everything is turn-based, so it’s essential to take your time. Some of the most rewarding experiences for me didn’t come in the form of an actual reward but instead, the satisfaction of completing the most successful combination of moves to come away unscathed. And while you are fighting in a turn-based arena, there are no percentage success rates. For example, Inkbound doesn’t play like the XCOM series, where a 95 percent hit rate could still miss and damper your experience.

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All of this happens in solo or cooperative play. I’ve had my fair share of runs with others, and no matter who it was with or what size the group was, everyone was friendly and willing to work as a team. Runs are possible to complete on your own, but with other players it becomes a less daunting task (at times), and adds a great deal of fun!

Massive bosses also take their stand against your storybook runs, unleashing several other enemies and fighting back with their arsenal of abilities. These are fights I found to be pretty daunting at first. Thankfully, Inkbound does provide a solid upgrade and unlock path, so more powerful combinations can be used, and new Aspects can be dialled up to 11 to take down these monstrosities.

What’s Different in 1.0

How you acquire your gear, cosmetics, and additional items has changed to help you evolve your characters and defeat tougher enemies. Gone are the days of a battle pass. Now you can unlock it all through gameplay loops and the in-game currency you can earn by levelling up solo or with others.

Battle passes are a turn-off for some players, and Shiny Show says they’ve recognized that. So they opened up the game, and in my eyes, it felt better. I never felt ripped off or slighted by the previous version of the game; now, Inkbound feels more rewarding. Always a positive!

And as with any game that goes through this process, there have been balance updates and additional features added like controller support, more tool and game tips, and new items to unlock.

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Inkbound Has Lots of Deep, Deep Lore

The Shiny Shoe team has crafted a whole interdimensional universe. It’s astonishing how much detail they put into making Inkbound what it is.

I’m not an MMO player, and I never really have been, but this feels like a game where paying attention to the characters and their stories, the overarching story, and investing time into your character will pay off.

You’ll dive into the Atheneum, a hub location that “holds all stories ever written.” One of my favourite aspects of the game was this setting. Sure, there are only a handful of locales or stories that your fighting through, but each one has its own cast of characters and pages to turn. It’s one of the most unique settings I’ve played in recent years and the love and care put into the Inkbound world is hard to ignore.

A fantastic voice cast also backs up the excellent writing. Whether it be the Narrator or the dozens of characters you’ll meet, they’re all very well-realized and speak and act like interesting and engaged people (or creatures). Back that up with a visually striking style, and you have a recipe for success!

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Verdict

Inkbound has its inky hooks in me! When I’m not playing it, I’m thinking about it. How could I have approached that run differently? If I did, what could I have unlocked? I’m so close to accessing a new Aspect!

I’ve had a great time with the game and plan to continue playing. I believe that Shiny Shoe has something special here. If the community continues to play and the developers have a chance to expand with even more content, this can be a real long-term winner!

Recommended

[The publisher provided a copy of the game for review purposes.]

Reviewed on: PC

Inkbound
Review: Inkbound
Summary
Inkbound is a fantastically unique and entertaining roguelike. With turn-based and RPG elements, I found myself sinking hours and hours into a storybook world filled with deep mechanics and characters. Whether playing solo or with a team, it's a game worth investing in!
Liked
Gameplay is engaging and unique
Great art style, writing, and voice acting
Rewarding loop that keeps you coming back for more
Lots of variety at every turn
Didn't Like
World building is great, but its easy to loose track of all the information