‘Blightbound’ review: A reliable co-op dungeon brawler

The latest game from the Awesomenauts team is a fun time with friends.

Indie dungeon crawlers are a dime a dozen nowadays, but Blightbound is certainly puffing its chest out. The three-player co-op adventure from Ronimo Games has enough of its own ideas to stand out, even if it doesn’t feel worthy of a long-term investment just yet.

Blightbound launched into early access back in July of 2020, and after a year of feedback and updates, the game is finally ready for release. Yet when I hopped in to check it out, it still gave me the impression that it was a work-in-progress. The user experience creates a bad first impression. Text assets and UI elements feel like they’ve been thrown carelessly on top of the game’s great artwork, with some appearing blurry in places. Menus are unwieldy and inconsistent too. The ‘Refuge’ hub zone seems set up to allow players to control their heroes and visit vendors, but in the end, it’s just a screensaver, which betrays the brilliant art once more.

Blightbound is dying for a UX overhaul, so it’s fair to say I wasn’t feeling too hopeful when I launched into the game’s first mission, with a friend in tow. The good news is that my fears about the rest of the experience were squashed as soon as I started engaging with its combat. Especially at a high frame rate, the gorgeous animations, character and creature designs breathe life into the gameplay, as you carefully place attacks to defend your teammates and wallop beasts.

Blightbound
Blightbound. Credit: Ronimo Games

Before you start you can choose to play as a Warrior, Assassin or Mage, and your two co-op partners will have to fill in what you don’t pick. In the beginning, you only have one hero per class, but as you explore the dungeons you’ll find and unlock more to add to your roster. The synergy this system creates in combat is my favourite thing about Blightbound. Most brawlers are immediately hard or boring button-mash fests, but Blightbound finds a happy medium where you have to communicate and play tactically to succeed.

I had my fun playing as a burly tank and a rogue with devastating invisibility-boosted backstabs, but I found my main character in Korrus. Korrus is a Mage with healing and protection abilities, but you can roll each character any way you like as you level up and place your stat points. As a ranged support hero, my base attacks fired spirit bolts, with a charged blast available for up-close critters. Collecting mana orbs unlocks charges of an AOE healing skill that can lift my tank or DPS from the game over gutter with a single-button press.

However, the fun problem is that it’s an AOE skill, and the pace of combat is fast, so I’m constantly having to warn my teammates when they need to stop leaping across the battlefield so I can restore their HP. Korrus’s Blink ability lets me warp around combat arenas to carefully place my healing wards, but I also have a shield ability that can be a lifesaver when I need to eat dangerous attacks and force out a sketchy revive. Each hero also has an ultimate that turns them into a god of destruction or a whirling blade demon. In my case, I could summon a magic book that fires pellets at my enemies, NieR-style. The tactical synergy necessary to complete Blightbound’s missions elevates the combat into something special, even if the set dressing can’t quite bring the whole game home.

Blightbound
Blightbound. Credit: Ronimo Games

As you wrap up the game’s levels (which rotate in difficulty and offer cool side quests) you’ll gain ranks at the Refuge and unravel new features. But by level eight, it seems that you’ve unlocked all of the main content, and it doesn’t take too long to get there. You’ve got your Merchant for selling loot and your Blacksmith for crafting items, and a Bounty board that adds depth to the dozen or so replayable missions. After that, ranking up offers ‘No Reward’, new recipes or minor buffs to your loot-collecting abilities.

The features you unlock up to that point feel like the basics of any dungeon crawler, so this is where you’d expect the game to open up, per se. But in my eyes, I had already played most of what it had to offer, and knowing what the future held, upgrades-wise, it didn’t inspire me to invest long-term. Of course, there are 18 characters to find, upgrade and create builds for, but while the new recruits offered great variety in combat, I found this took a lot of repetition for very little reward.

The saving grace is that the missions contain a lot of cool set pieces and tricky challenges that will always be fun to try with a new team. My favourite was a slick little excursion where you had to ride an elevator full of enemies all the way up to a boss door, with lasers and malfunctions to contend with along the way. Another mission was all about pace, forcing you to rush around the map finding loot before a bell toll would summon a deadly hunting party.

Each mission seems to offer a cool quirk. Another one I liked had you protecting survivors, though keeping them alive against the ending boss felt impossible until you climbed enough levels. The bosses in Blightbound are all well-made and challenging. My favourite — which we nicknamed the Deacons of the Deep — involved fighting a group of clerics as a giant laser spun around the room, forcing you to get on the right side of it and dodge with care. It was crushing to lose after getting all the way through a mission, but it made figuring them out even more rewarding.

Beyond the combat, my favourite feature in Blightbound is the dynamic dialogue, where heroes will react to enemy types, stat boost choices and combat situations with authentic quips. Depending on what missions you choose, you can also progress the story of the hero you’re playing as, which is a nice touch if you do end up caring about the lore. Ultimately though, gameplay comes first in Blightbound, and it proved to be reliable fun with friends.

Blightbound releases for PC, PS4 and Xbox One on July 27. This review is for the PC version. 

The Verdict

It’s not the most compelling dungeon crawler on the market, but Blightbound‘s smart blend of genres and unique visual style help it stand out in a saturated space. I wouldn’t recommend it for solo players, but if you’ve got a trio of friends ready to go and you’re looking for a challenging, tactical brawler with decent replayability then it’s certainly worth a punt. Just keep in mind that despite the early access period, it still feels like you’re buying into something that is a work-in-progress.

Pros

  • Superb aesthetics
  • Fun combat that rewards strategy and communication
  • Loads of heroes to unlock

Cons

  • Still feels like a work-in-progress
  • Gets repetitive quickly
Advertisement

More Gaming Stories:

Advertisement