HonorBound ticks a lot of boxes on the role-playing game checklist.
High production values? Check. Lush visuals complemented by a rousing orchestral score? Check. A story about heroes banding together to save the land from chaos? You get the idea.
However, HonorBound lacks a key quality most great RPGs share: a sense of freedom and adventure. Unfortunately, this is a direct result of its free-to-play structure.
Gotta catch 'em all
The aim is to create and lead a squad of warriors to save a fantasy world from backstabbing witches, full-on zombie hordes, and various other forces of darkness. You select one of five powerful elemental heroes at first, but from there how you form the rest of your team is up to you.
You can take the easy way out and just summon an archer, wizard, or some other random overpowered ally right away with your initial allotment of treasure. This makes the early game a breeze, allowing you to stockpile potions and experience points that really come in handy once the challenge ramps up.
However, thriftier players will want to recruit their partners straight from the field. Much like in Pokémon, you can weaken enemy monsters through battle and capture them.
Squad size is very limited, though, and expanding it takes a lot of time and resources, so it's crucial to make sure the squad you do choose is the best it can be. You need to equip warriors with the best gear, teach them new spells, and, if necessary, sacrifice a hero or combine two heroes to create a superior one.
Inside the lines
However, while HonorBound's monster-capturing and team-building systems are fun, they are stifled by the rest of the game's constrictive design choices.
Every area is completely linear save for a few arbitrary forks in the road. There's nothing to explore. You just walk forward, collect some treasure if it's there, and initiate turn-based battles with enemies blocking the way.
The battles themselves are just fine, and occasionally you'll trigger a fight with a random human opponent, but there's no escaping just how claustrophobic the environments feel.
What's worse is that each step you take costs energy, and when that runs out you either wait or pay up. It's a common free-to-play tactic, but here it feels unusually irritating since each area has a pre-determined number of spaces to cover that's usually just over your maximum energy storage.
What a coincidence. Other free-to-play annoyances include painfully slow skill research and item capacity growth, but the movement limitations are by far the most egregious.
HonorBound is tragically saddled with typical, tiresome free-to-play baggage. If you can wade through it though, there are some legitimately cool RPG mechanics to enjoy.