Beginning with Demon’s Souls and then gradually refined through Dark Souls, Bloodborne, Sekiro, and Elden Ring, From Software has successfully cultivated a new genre of RPG, one that myriad other developers have been eager to emulate – the hallowed soulslike. Difficult, dark, and steeped in obtuse but rich world-building, the soulslike is finding further expression in the likes of Lords of the Fallen and Nioh. Now, perhaps the most en vogue genre of the last five years is being combined with party-personality-management twist of Darkest Dungeon, a slight hint of iconoclastic horror shooter Killer7, and a warped contemporary setting for a new ARPG, available to play right this second as part of Steam Next Fest.
At its most basic, Deathbound, by Trialforge Studio, is a soulslike RPG with all the usual mechanics and tropes. Intensely hard boss battles, a bonfire-style checkpoint system, third-person slash-and-retreat combat – it’s all here. What’s different is the customization and upgrade tree. Deathbound takes place in a world conflicted between technology and science. The architecture is similar to our own, modern, 21st-century world, but mysticism, prophecies, and magic still predominate. On one side of the ideological battle that underscores Deathbound’s world you have the worshipful, more optimistic Cult of Life. On the other, there is the penitential, fire-and-brimstone Cult of Death. You play as a failed experiment in trying to bring these two spiritual energies together.
Instead of one person, you are, in fact, eight people – as you have travel through Deathbound, you absorb the souls of fallen members of both the Life and Death cult, and then you can switch between them during exploration or combat. Remember multi-personality Smith Syndicate from Killer7? That’s you, but in a soulslike. Naturally, every personality you absorb serves as a different build, fighting style, and loadout, but there’s even more to it than that.
You’ve got eight souls in one body, all with competing ideas and beliefs. To maximize your strength, you need to carefully manage who you upgrade and which personas you blend with others. You can’t be all eight warriors at once – you can only take four different personalities with you whenever you leave the bonfire.
At the bottom of your screen is a ‘sync’ meter which reflects just how well your current lineup complements one another. Like Darkest Dungeon, where you need to be mindful of your party’s mental wellbeing, in Deathbound, if there’s disharmony among your various personas, you’ll never be at full strength. On the contrary, if everyone gets along, you can unleash devastating finishing moves and chain attacks combining the abilities of each fallen soul.
If you want to try Deathbound, there is a demo available right now as part of Steam Next Fest – just head over here. It lets you play as five different characters and explore the preliminary stages of Deathbound’s magical realist world.