We are well and truly into the spooky season now, and while we've already seen a few different horror games, Devolver Digital has yet to get in on the action. This year, the publisher is working with Daniel Mullins Games to serve up a creepy card-battler, called Inscryption, a game that combines deckbuilding, roguelike elements, and even escape room puzzles to make for a psychologically unsettling experience.
Coming from the same developer who created The Hex and Pony Island, Inscryption features a Jumanji sort of design, where the player finds themselves in the shoes of individuals who have become trapped in an old game. It's in this old game, that is called Inscryption, in which the player finds themselves sitting across from an ominous looking creature who asks you to play them at a card game to be able to escape with your life. As Inscryption features roguelike elements (that I'll delve into further soon), the start of the game is weighted against the player, and you'll soon find out that this card game is far deadlier than it first seems.
Inscryption's gameplay is a mash-up of a lot of different genres, and it actually combines incredibly well to create a unique system. To start with is the map you have to follow. This is a plotted journey where the player gets to choose the encounter they face next, which could be a card battle, a way to upgrade a card, or a trip to a card shop to bolster your deck, just as a few examples.
Next is the card battling, which uses a system where cards have a predetermined attack power and defence value, and drawing cards will require drawing blood, which is done by sacrificing other cards already laid out on the board. As you would expect, the more powerful a card, the larger sacrifice it will require. The catch with this system is that you'll have to judge whether its worth sacrificing a card, as it may leave you open to an attack from your opponent's deck, which is crucial to avoid, as each time there isn't a card available to block an attack, the damage that would be dealt will be transferred into gold teeth which will be added to the scales besides you, where once one side of the scale hits the floor, either you or your opponent will lose the battle.
Granted this is just a simple overview of the card battling. There's plenty of other areas that make the system much more unique and exciting, such as; powerful abilities that give cards special bonuses, for example the ability to be returned to your deck when they are defeated, tools that can be used to shift the outcome of a battle, i.e. the pliers can be used to rip one of your own teeth out to place on the scales to give you an edge; and even certain cards that can be drawn by using bones, which are rewarded when a card is sacrificed/defeated.
But, aside from the card battling, there's also the escape room dynamic, which involves a few different elements. You can stand up from the table between card battles to explore the room and to complete miniature puzzles that give clues as to how to defeat the ominous figure, and escape this hellish environment. Not only will exploring this room unlock a variety of new clues, but it'll also reward you with some new gear that can be used in the actual battling, and you'll want to do this because unlike a lot of the game that is affected by the roguelike part, these items will stay with you forever.
And speaking about the roguelike elements, everytime you lose to your opponent (each map gives you two lives), your character will be eliminated and you'll have to start from scratch. As I noted a moment ago, this isn't from square one, you will retain a few items, and you'll even expand your starting deck as you explore the room. But, for the most part, your items and deck will be wiped away as you begin your campaign to freedom once again.
Now you might be thinking this is a lot of different elements to have to keep track of and follow, and while that is right, Inscryption handles and combines everything incredibly well. This is a game with a well thought-out and balanced progression that never makes you feel like you're not advancing the narrative, regardless of how many failures you suffer. As well as this, the card battling is refined and gives you a chance to win an encounter most of the time. As with all card battlers, there are times where the cards you draw are truly-terrible, and you'll struggle to do much of anything, but for the most part, the system has been created to be conquerable, without seeming overly complex, which is refreshing.
I will say that the escape room aspect is a little underwhelming at times. There aren't all that many puzzles to solve, in fact you can probably complete them all in a few minutes if you are fast, and I found myself facing a few different occasions where I would just trial-and-error my way to solve a problem. For example, the solution to the cuckoo clock is given when you manage to acquire a magical eye, although I learnt this long after already solving the cuckoo clock, thanks to just constantly inputting new solutions until the puzzle was completed - and this only took me a minute or two to do.
But despite this minor niggle, I've found Inscryption to be one of the most entertaining games of the year. This is an experience that is addictive and engaging, and not overly complex, which is often an issue card battlers face. As far as a spooky season game goes, Inscryption won't scare you silly anytime soon, but the combination of all of its mysteries and it's haunting soundtrack will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand. So, if you're after something to celebrate Halloween, I'd absolutely suggest you keep in mind this unusual, yet unique title.