In a hero-driven game, how do you get players to stray outside of their comfort zone and try out new characters? For Blightbound, the next venture from Ronimo Games, the answer to that question comes through sacrificing an overarching narrative in favor of individual story beats for each character, which you can only unlock through playing as them.
"[The story] is a lot richer from what came before. We actually hired a writer this time around," Jasper Koning, co-founder of Ronimo Games says wryly.
Blightbound is the latest game by the studio behind Awesomenauts, a 2D multiplayer online battle arena first released all the way back in 2012 by Ronimo. Awesomenauts is a cartoonish game featuring bright characters with overexaggerated facial features—a far cry from Blightbound's muted colors and darker dungeons. Ronimo thought "it would be interesting to try something darker," and that they wanted to "try something PvE instead of PvP."
The result is a three-player multiplayer dungeon crawler, with a core loot system for each of its three character classes: the Warrior, the Mage, and the Assassin. As mentioned above, there isn't an overarching story to the game; instead, you'll stumble upon characters and items while out adventuring around dungeons.
Interact with these characters or objects, and they'll impart knowledge upon you, which helps flesh out the story of the character you happen to be playing as. There are nine characters in total for Blightbound at launch, each of which have five story segments to be unlocked through tracking down expositional points in various dungeons. It's something that Ronimo Games hopes draws players in to re-run dungeons with different characters, trying to uncover the complete story for each and every person in Blightbound.
In general, Blightbound is meant to be a quick-fire exploration game, with dungeons that you can explore at your own pace alongside strangers. It's pretty fun, too. It superficially looks like Darkest Dungeon, but it's far more accessible than the famously punishing dungeon crawler, and with some very nice artwork to boot.
What About Next-Gen and Switch?
Watching Blightbound's gameplay, I couldn't help thinking what a natural fit it would be on the Nintendo Switch. So I ask Koning: it's easy to beg developers for a Switch port (as plenty of people undoubtedly do all the time), but what actually goes into bringing your game over to Nintendo's home console? It's harder than it might seem for a game like Blightbound, which has a number of complicated multiplayer systems that don't necessarily translate from platform to platform.
Koning also says the studio learned some hard lessons from Awesomenauts. "During [Awesomenauts's] development we made an internal tool that was designed to create menus because we wanted to do more complicated interactions and iterate more, but at the same time that system wasn't that well-suited for console development. So we decided that we would not have the partner port that version over. Part of it was that we didn't have the porting stuff done in house, and part of it was that the ports were using different tools. Like, the menus were different, the way it dealt with DLC was different. [...] That needs to be redone every time you move into a new platform."
The studio is hoping to be smarter with Blightbound. "The PC has our full attention and the consoles are kind of in flux right now, which is also why we've decided to hold off and wait and see what is gonna happen in that space," Koning says.
Next-gen is another question mark for Blightbound, as it is for many indie developers. While launching on PS5 can pay dividends, Koning says launching on next-gen is "kinda tricky."
"We don't have next-gen dev kits right now," Koning tells me. "I think technically we could have if we really wanted to push for it, but for a game like Blightbound it's kinda tricky. First of all you're gonna be swamped by all the big boys that are showcase games for these new platforms. And also what we're kinda worried about is cross-play isn't necessarily a given still. If it isn't then you're launching on a platform that might only have a couple more million boxes and that isn't necessarily that healthy for a multiplayer game. So that's all the kinda stuff we take into consideration before deciding what to do. Obviously we want our game to run well on every platform until the sun that is viable but we just try to be smart about it."
It's a pretty sensible approach with next-gen approaching. There's still a lot we don't know about next-gen consoles after all: their price, their release dates, and the games they'll have on day one. Rather than worrying about launching on current-gen consoles now and having to port Blightbound to next-gen consoles at a later date, Ronimo is content to simply sit back and let the next generation of consoles unfold over the next year, and then make an informed decision about which platforms to bring Blightbound to.
For now, Blightbound is aiming for Steam Early Access. Ronimo Games does have a final launch window yet, characterizing it as "somewhere next year." Koning also tells me that they are looking into other platforms like consoles to launch on, but they'd like to have a "nice version that's really solid" before they think about bringing Blightbound to other platforms.
Look for Blightbound on July 29.