Blightbound is an RPG chimera. There's some Streets of Rage-style brawler action mixed in with a dash of old-school exponential Diablo numbers grinding. The art style brings to mind Darkest Dungeon and Oxygen Not Included—a lot of grimdark, graphic-novel heavy lines—but strategically, players are looking at interlocking synergies and Ultimate timers, akin to a MOBA. All of this is wrapped up in a persistent living game shell. The longer you spend in Blightbound, the more loot, dungeons, and characters will be dredged up from the depths. It's quite a bold concoction for Dutch studio Ronimo Games, previously known for the Sword & Soldiers Nintendo franchise, who are making their debut with Devolver Digital.
"It's got some Golden Axe in it, some MMO dungeons—there has to be a mage, a warrior, and an assassin because they all fill roles in combat," says Jasper Koning, founder of Ronimo. "But it's also like Warframe, where there's a fixed session with a boss in the end, and then you go back, and go over your loot, and improve your characters, and then you head back in."
Some RPGs love to overstuff the player with options. Boot up Divinity: Original Sin, and a newcomer might be quickly overwhelmed by the sheer number of classes and builds split over a legion of different magical schools, trade skills, and armament expertises. (What's the difference between a Spellsword and a Battle Mage? I'm logging off.) Blightbound goes the other direction at the start. At launch there will be exactly three classes: the warrior, assassin, and mage as Koning said, or in other words, a tank, a caster, and a DPS. That stringent limitation offered Ronimo a golden opportunity. For now, they can balance everything in their dungeons around a very specific suite of abilities.
"We made a conscious decision to design all the combat and puzzles around the classes. There are no healing mechanics outside of the healer," says Koning. "Nobody can pull enemies' attention outside of the tank. When that collaboration works well, you can deal with groups really easily. But it's still true that at lower difficulties that some assassins will go rogue and run out of the screen, but we've tried to reward players for sticking together and working together."
Here's how this might work in practice: The mage is the only ranged character in the game, and when he shoots bolts at the enemies, they'll leave these magical orbs in the impact residue. Those orbs regenerate mana for the mage when collected, so a smart party will make sure their warrior and assassin are sopping up those globules to keep the wizard stocked with juice. "It'll be up to the melee classes to help the mage out," says Koning. "There's multiple loops going on with players."
In general, Koning wants to make sure that every class in Blightbound is fun to play. DPS classes, he says, are attractive because they tend to be the least complicated, and as someone who essentially AFK'd his hunter to a full Tier 5 armor set in World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade, I can verify his observation. In Blightbound though, the assassin has a crucial interrupt ability that disrupts some of the powerful payloads of damage that an enemy is prepared to unleash. "They can silence that enemy for quite a while, so they have a role to fulfill in high-level play," explains Koning.
Blightbound also won't be a traditional action RPG, in the sense that you won't be maining one character and developing it into an ubermensch juggernaut. The goal isn't to deck out one mercenary in legendaries. Instead, Koning talks about an almost "Pokémon-like" approach, where players will be juicing all of the heroes they've rescued from the deeps. You'll be cultivating a wide roster of dungeoneers, instead of dumping all of your resources into one.
That ties into Blightbound's service-y hook. The first update to the game will arrive about two weeks after its release, with another update two weeks after that. Players can expect new characters, a new dungeon, and a new boss character, alongside a slew of fresh items, in that inaugural patch. "It will be quite chunky," says Koning.
After that though, Ronimo expects to tap the brakes and listen to the community. That's one of the strange realities of game development in 2020. Blightbound will release into Steam Early Access on July 29, and Koning will need to absorb all of the feedback the team receives, and fine tune the design after they discover exactly what works, and what doesn't. For now, they know their slash animation looks awesome. That's a good place to start.