Inkulinati has released into some version of Early Access on PC and Xbox platforms today, and I got a chance to draw up a chair and try my hand at this more expanded edition of the game. This isn’t my first time with the game, as I played a short demo of the turn-based, manuscript-inspired adventure back in October.
This made it easier for me to jump straight to the action, which I still enjoy. However, with access to the wider game, I’m cautious about Inkulinati’s narrative structure. From the hour I played of today’s launch, the story seems a little too weak to effectively bind the meatier gameplay moments.
Like with the demo, I urge any new players to start with the tutorial. It has a fun little narrative thread and breaks down the layered battle systems in a way that makes things easy to grasp. Ignore it at your peril, because skipping straight to battle can be overwhelming.
The basic goal is to defeat a horde of ink-drawn enemies on a battlefield of parchment. These foes often consist of cute animals, like rabbits or dogs, clad in armor and wielding Medieval weapons. Both sides will also have a commander — that looks like a little illuminated self-portrait of the main character you’ve chosen — which you have to protect at all costs, or lose the fight.
Using the power of Living Ink, my miniature figure can literally draw up soldiers to engage in combat, though this requires a certain amount of ink. I begin with twelve drops of the precious liquid, so choosing carefully in my first battle, I bring a pair of rabbits — one with a bow and the other a sword — to life. The game goes in rounds, giving my opponent the chance to conjure their own armoured ranks, and then we clash.
Everything flows well when I’m in the middle of a battle. There’s always something to keep in mind, and I find myself tracking whether I have enough ink to call in the long-range unit that I desperately need next round, or if am I positioning my warriors in a location where they can be pushed off a cliff or caught in an exploding cauldron of beans (and yeah that happens a lot).
Rewards for winning are also a lot of fun. Gold, Prestige, and new inky beast types are all spoils of war that help me expand my power, upgrade starting stats, and maybe even avoid paying the bill for a life-boosting mug of ale.
Battles and other fun encounters lie down a hand drawn map. My journey to becoming a Master of the Living Ink has stops for wild animal attacks, forks where I have to choose between spending money at the scriptorium to increase my Ink count or tossing gold around in an alehouse for more base health, and places to stop and buy helpful wares.
At the end of every map is a boss battle. Assuming I make it to the end without losing more than four times (which will boot me back to the map’s starting point), I can challenge a new Living Ink Master to make my way up the Inkulinati’s ranks.
And this is the part that feels the flimsiest to me. Who I am? Why am I off to defeat these Masters? What is the central inky organization all about? These and other plot and worldbuilding details feel sketched with pencil, waiting to be inked in later down the road. Since Inkulinati is currently in Early Access, it’s possible the narrative will get attention before its 1.0 launch. I hope so, because every aspect of this game deserve to be as enjoyable as its chess-like struggle between silly, ye olde creatures.