Ronimo is one of those studios whose games are all thematically resonant. Not that they necessarily look anything alike. Swords and Soldiers offered cartoon vikings “super saucy” sausages. Awesomenauts was a blur of sharp sci-fi invention. And now Blightbound offers dark fantasy heroes and waves of hideous monsters. But move in closer and they all have something in common.
Swords and Soldiers was an attempt – a successful one I think – to make the RTS a bit simpler to get your head around. Awesomenauts did the same for the MOBA, and when I played a bit of Blightbound with Ronimo developers the other day they were justifiably proud that Awesomenauts still has a community and “you can still get a game going”. So what about Blightbound? I didn’t take precise notes because I was busy playing, but Blightbound, according to Ronimo, is an attempt to take the intricate team-based pleasures of a good MMO raid and make it easier to get into.
It’s a risk – Blightbound is going to be exclusively multiplayer, once you’re through the tutorial at least. But in action it doesn’t feel risky at all. You team up with friends online, choose characters, vote on which dungeon you want to head to and away you go.
Listen: it’s beautiful to look at. Wonderful dingy black-lined fantasy art pulled from pulp horror comics by way of Darkest Dungeon, which the team admits is a central influence. Play the game and gloriously animated 2D characters move through side-scrolling 3D environments with extremely pleasing floor effects. Honestly, it sounds like a strange thing to focus on, but rock shines under moonlight, patches of grass sprout here and there, the whole thing is just terribly atmospheric.
I had a go at a few classes, which provide the bulk of the fun because, to Ronimo, the great thing about a raid is that everyone has a role to perform and a job to do. I liked the healer and the tank – there is some lovely stuff built around blocking – but I really loved the assassin, who is the ultimate damage-dealer. You can puff around the screen in blasts of poison gas, and you get a bonus for stabbing enemies in the back, so you have to keep repositioning yourself in big fights.
It’s technical – lots of meters to charge and team-mate moments to look out for – but it doesn’t feel overwhelming. What it feels like is a dungeon-crawler where everybody gets to see the impact they’re having on how things are going. Depending on your role, it’s down to you to keep everyone healed or shielded or to do the actual whittling away of boss health bars. If you’re thinking, oh, that sounds like the kind of game where I could really mess things up for my friends, you’re right. But isn’t that great too? It is nice, as they say on Wall Street, to have a position in the market.
There’s much more to it – learning the ins and outs of classes is going to be a journey and a thrilling one, then there are puzzles and bosses and even simple enemies with pleasing tricks to taking them out – but the whole thing lingers in the memory as a vivid and violent fantasy miasma. A swirl of light and blades and magic bolts, earth churned up and the undead approaching. Don’t take my word for it, though – there’s a free open beta running on Steam from this evening and you can find out for yourself.