Ronimo Games, the minds behind Swords & Soldiers and Awesomenauts, have put their latest project on Steam Early Access. A dark and moody turn from their previously bright and colourful style, Blightbound is a co-operative dungeon crawler set in a world corrupted by an evil fog. Three players will take a mage, a warrior, and an assassin into the depts of hand-crafted dungeons to rescue survivors, kill monsters, and find a whole load of loot.
We had a chance to check out the first Steam Early Access build. It features nine heroes across three classes and six levels to play. The game does require three human players, and it currently supports both couch co-op and online play with matchmaking.
Procedurally generated levels are all the rage among smaller developers these days, so it is always a pleasure to see a good handcrafted level. Each level has plenty of back alleys to explore for extra loot, monsters to slay, puzzles to solve, and a boss battle or event to cap off the entire run. Most of the puzzles are standard dungeon crawling/platformer type puzzles and don’t change between levels, so many solutions can be memorized after a couple of runs. The tricky ones are the ones that require a coordinated group to act in unison or not at all. No matter how simple the puzzle is, the lack of communication with matchmade players is usually a handicap. Levels are generally short, and loot is based on the types of enemies that spawn in the level. The difficulty and loot quality are dependent on how many levels the group has already run together and a random roll. Level difficulty and drops can be previewed during level voting, so players won’t be unexpectedly obliterated.
Combat is simple but very well executed so far. Each hero has four abilities and a basic attack. Each class have a main mechanic, such as the Assassin’s combo system. The three heroes in each class do not have unique abilities, but rather have a unique combination drawn from the class’s pool of abilities. The smaller pool of abilities is complimented by how well abilities between classes synergize with each other. For example, certain mages can use a vacuum ability to initially pin groups of enemies in a single place. At the same time, the warrior draws aggro and roots the enemy while the Assassin attacks the group from behind for devastating levels of damage. While all characters can DPS, Ronimo Games has designed each character to fulfill a specific role. The dedication to the traditional MMORPG holy trinity gives each member of the party a distinct identity within the group. The boss fights are one of the high points of combat with the extra mechanics requiring players to move around the area and dodge incoming damage. I would absolutely love for enemies and bosses to increase in mechanical complexity later on the game.
Blightbound’s progression is designed around individual character progression and refuge progression that affects all characters. Players assign skill points as characters level up and equip new items from drops and crafting. Characters also have individual questlines to complete. While the level ups are pretty standard, the crafting system has a little more promise. The emphasis on equipment stat boosts aren’t flashy, but they do offer a chance to hash out some basic builds. The in-game store offerings aren’t great, so crafting will be the main method of gearing out characters. Crafting is designed to be environmentally friendly with a recycle and reuse mentality when it comes to old equipment.
Refuge level ups offer universal boosts and access to new resources. New playable heroes are found with some regularity in the game and do take some time to level up and gear. The universal boosts do take the sting out of the grind a little, and the new NPCs are usually helpful.
Blightbound supports both mouse and keyboard combos and controllers. The controls are simple and practical due to the low number of skills in the game. My only complaint is difference in dodge controls between the Wizard and everyone else. Right now, the Wizard is the only character that dodges towards the cursor while the other two classes dodge in the direction the character faces. Considering matchmaking defaults to randomly assigned characters, the transition between Wizard and everyone else is quite awkward. I would prefer the Wizard to dodge like the other classes with a tap of the dodge button, while holding dodge will continue to bring up a location preview then dodge when the button is released.
The audio/visual presentation is a nice change from Ronimo’s previous work. While Ronimo’s cartoon style is still very much there, things are darker and more mature. While the game itself is 3D, the nearly horizontal camera angle gives the game a neat almost 2.5D look. The audio experience is solid so far and makes the game feel more complete than it actually is.
Blightbound is a solid little dungeon crawler so far. It is well polished with strong teamplay mechanics. Ronimo’s biggest challenge moving forward will be controlling the grind to keep things interesting. Having only six levels in early access has put a big spotlight on the need for mechanically diverse and challenging levels to prevent them from blending together. Ronimo plans to keep Blightbound in early access for at least a year, so there will be plenty of opportunity for the level designers to strut their stuff before launch.