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Inkbound Review: Rise of the Unbound Merges Polish, Strategy and Story in this Co-Op Roguelike

Steven Weber Posted:
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I’ve been playing Inkbound for the past several months, and now that the game has finally launched, it’s time to turn a critical eye to their 1.0 version, and delve deep into the pages hidden within this co-op roguelike strategy game.

It has been nearly a year since Inkbound released on Steam as an Early Access title. Since that time I’ve mustered up the courage to brave the many dangerous stories, building my strength and strategy through the ranks until I reached the summit of level 20 (now they reduced it to 10 levels). I spent many a sleepless night understanding the nuances of each Aspect (class), and concocting increasingly strange strategies pairing my favorite trinkets with a variety of vestiges. The game has come a long way, and it seems like the majority of Rise of the Unbound is meant bring down the stark learning curve that the previous versions dealt with for a more streamlined experience.

In this case, developer Shiny Shoe expanded the game in a number of ways to entice players to get more invested in the story. As a refresher from our Early Access review and seasonal impressions, Inkbound takes place in the Atheneum Library – an expansive social hub where you’ll meet other players, and where a great deal of the story plays out. The Atheneum Library houses a multitude of stories, many of which have come under attack, and only the Needless (your character), is able to stop them by bonding with a Kwill, and assume different heroic aspects from the stories.

The premise has always enticed me as a fan books and stories, and the stories in Inkbound have grown more varied over the course of Early Access. You’ll take part in what feels like a Grecian or Roman epic in the Proving Ground, or skulk your way around an eerie space saga in the Derelict Starship. The locales in Inkbound tell the underlying story, and it’s hard to discern exactly where the inspiration for these stories come from, which I feel is a missed opportunity.

Shiny Shoe crafted something different, with unique settings to blend into a world with its very own distinctive characters, and in some ways, it pays off, simply due to the fact that you’ll be replaying these 6 levels perpetually as you rank up your character. However, there’s no spotlight on the actual underlying storybooks, at least, not in any lasting way, and the world is so encapsulated within itself, there is no way that you will mistake a level for one of your beloved stories you heard as a child, nor is there enough there to warrant any unfolding story within the world of Inkbound.

Rise of the Unbound does expand on the presence of story throughout the game with new fully voiced quests. It’s certainly a welcome addition, and it was nice to be able to return to the game and experience some boisterous vocalization from the inhabitants of Inkbound’s world. There are also plenty of new quests and a new season to keep you busy if you’re a returning player wondering if there’s anything left for you. In addition to collecting a series of new vestiges and a few new trinkets, you’ll also have a brand-new quest line that culminates in the final boss battle with The Unbound, whereas previously we were only able to contend with some end-run bosses. Those bosses are still around, and Shiny Shoe has added some more details about what you’re up against when you start a new run.

Each boss has their own upgrades as you increase in your difficulty rank with challenge buffs and some additional difficulties are thrown your way, such as The Shadow of Ruhnstone boss, who will spawn 4 hands instead of 2, and increase their health pool substantially. Roguelikes are known for their challenge, and Inkbound is no exception. Depending on how proficient you are at the game, a run can take anywhere from 15 minutes to about an hour, based on your rank. I had to spend a great deal of time strategizing to keep myself alive in 1.0. Some of that may also be due to the balancing or enemies and vestiges. Previously, it wasn’t uncommon to obtain a full set of Ambusher gear, which is a particularly popular vestige that grants you amazing bonuses on your very first round.

However, with a full set, those bonuses can last every round, and it made for some wildly entertaining builds, especially with my favorite Aspect, the Godkeeper. In 1.0 they didn’t remove the ability to gain a full set of Ambusher vestiges, but they certainly made it tougher to get a full set of it, especially at the onset. They also seem to want to vary the builds players have been using, with new Vestiges and sets that are meant to expand on builds around poison, bleed and marked damage.

The game has become a lot more polished from the Gods & Relics update to Rise of the Unbound and that seems to be the primary focus here. New players will be welcome to some amazing quality of life features like a simplified Inkwell Dive system, some better tooltips and controller support. Veteran players will find plenty of challenges here that you’ll need to complete to unlock your seasonal rewards like some of the new vestiges and cosmetics. As a multiplayer roguelike it has its charms, even if I feel like the fun of multiplayer can often get marred by the pacing of combat, and how slow it takes some players to make their moves. Granted, I’m probably one of those players people gripe about, but that’s why my multiplayer sessions are with friends rather than the random queue system.

Finally, the game transitioned from some mild cosmetic only in-game monetization, to no in-game monetization some time ago. The game is now a buy-to-play only title, but that doesn't mean that Shiny Shoe isn't allowing additional DLC purchases. If you're so inclined to show off a more attractive appearance, you can buy the latest Rise of the Unbound cosmetics for $9.99 USD, with additional packs available for the previous two releases. None of these cosmetics aid you in beating the game, but some of them are pretty cool looking. There will still be many appearance unlocks you can only get in-game, but if showing off some uncommon visuals is your thing, or if you just want to support the developers, the visual packs are a great way to go. 

If you’re a roguelike fan, Inkbound will surely scratch your itch for dozens of hours, and I expected nothing less from the creators of Monster Train. I am disappointed that we didn’t see new Aspects release in 1.0, especially with two very obvious slots open and waiting. Releasing a polished game built on the back of the previous release was the smart move, but the team teased new Aspects way back in 2023, so that still leaves a lot to look forward to. Despite the genre expanding exponentially over the past several years, roguelike fans can’t sleep on this one, so if you're itching for a new roguelike to steal your time, grab your Kwill and dive into your next story with Inkbound, available now on Steam.

8.5 Great
  • Co-op roguelike gameplay
  • Unique story elements and storybook worlds
  • Rankings, leaderboards, and plenty of unlocks
  • Streamlined for new players
  • High ranks may be inaccessible for some players
  • No new aspects in 1.0 version
  • The narrative takes a backseat to repetitive dives


Steven Weber

Steven has been a writer at MMORPG.COM since 2017. A lover of many different genres, he finds he spends most of his game time in action RPGs, and talking about himself in 3rd person on his biography page.