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Hades meets Dead Cells in gorgeous new roguelike with free Steam demo

Realm of Ink is a beautiful new action roguelike that has a free Steam demo out now, and is a great way to scratch the itch before Hades 2.

Realm of Ink is a gorgeous blend of Hades and Dead Cells - A swordsman with dark hair containing a red streak.

Hades 2 is one of my most anticipated games right now, so seeing another game clearly inspired by its action roguelike mold is bound to spark my curiosity. Match that with an equipment system reminiscent of Dead Cells, another personal favorite of mine, and a gorgeous, inky artstyle, and Realm of Ink has already captured my attention. With a free Steam demo out now, I’ve already found myself hooked in by its combat, and I’m eager to see whether the full game can deliver.

Realm of Ink is a new Steam game that takes after some of the best roguelike games around. The immediate, obvious comparison is Hades – in perspective, structure, and general feel. You select from a series of weapons with light and heavy attacks, combine that with a double dash on a short cooldown, a pair of active spells with passive benefits, and additional stat-boosting perks, and move from room to room collecting and upgrading your gear as you take on combat encounters and, eventually, challenging boss battles.

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Those active abilities, known as Ink Gems, feel a little more Dead Cells in nature. Each gives you a passive boost and an active ability that can be used on a cooldown – such as a wide cone attack that gives you a boost to your critical hit chance for every enemy hit, or a wave of fire that will detonate already-burning enemies for bonus damage. These open up the most room for synergy in your builds, and can be swapped out freely when you find new options to find that ideal pairing.

The Ink Gems you have equipped also affect your pet, Momo. This adorable inky pal follows you around, and will gain a passive effect and an active skill based on your current combination of Ink Gems. It’s one of the more unique twists that Realm of Ink brings to the table, and Momo can be quite a handy companion in the right situation, further enhancing your chosen strategy.

Realm of Ink pet transformations - A lineup of different forms Momo can take in the action roguelike game.

Much like Hades, each room you clear presents you a reward, and then a choice of two or three possible rooms to tackle next. You’ll see up-front what type of reward you’ll get – an Ink Gem, a choice of perks, a handful of silver coins to spend at the shop on healing, new items, and upgrades, and so on. Then, at certain milestones, you’ll face off against a mini-boss or full boss encounter.

With the launch of its free demo, I jumped in to get a feel for how it played – really the key factor for me in any good roguelike – and was impressed by what I saw. While it doesn’t quite match up to the level of Hades, it was compelling enough that I finished two runs of the demo, which comprises the first area of the full game. The combat tells from enemies are balanced well, and much like the Supergiant game there’s a routine focus on using careful movement and well-timed dodges to evade incoming hazards.

Realm of Ink demo - Gameplay of a player using the twin blades weapon.

With how much of a splash Hades made, it’s no surprise games are following in its wake – and while the core structure is very similar, even down to returning to a Sanctuary between runs where you can swap out your gear and chat to other characters, Realm of Ink does enough to make me want to play more of it.

Perhaps its weakest point right now is the dialogue, which seems very obviously translated into English and is quite stilted as a result. While it’s sufficient to convey mechanics, it can certainly feel a little unnatural at times, and it particularly hurts the character conversations. Nevertheless, I’m definitely eager to play more Realm of Ink, and I’ll be keeping a close eye on Steam to see when the full game is available.

Realm of Ink demo - A screenshot from the game's Sanctuary area, where a Fox in a mech suit acts as a training dummy.

The Realm of Ink demo is out now on Steam. You can grab it as a free download and play now, with Red available as a playable character, the first area including two boss fights to encounter, three weapons to choose from, ten Ink Gems to get a feel for the build variety, and a good range of perks available too. You’ll even get to spend some time at the Sanctuary, where you can try out your skills against its adorable Mecha Fox test dummy.

You can also look forward to Hades 2 and more of the best upcoming PC games in 2024, or discover the best free Steam games to keep you busy while we wait.

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