Monday, February 12, 2024

Microreview [Video Game]: Inscryption by Daniel Mullins Games

Say cheese and die.

A wooden table lies before you, darkness all around. A door creaks, and from the void peer two eyes. “Another Challenger… It has been ages,” reads the text above. The menacing music reverberates through the room and into your very soul. Your generous host helps coach you through the basics in case you’ve forgotten. He reminds you that sacrifices must be made, and though your beasts’ suffering is real, they will make their way back into your deck. Your host will continue to tell your tale through a series of maps. You have to win battles to advance further toward your destination. If you fail, you die. But don’t worry, your gracious host will stuff you in a room and take a picture for posterity. A lesson to those in the future.

Inscryption is a hybrid roguelite/deck builder/puzzler. Its unique mix evokes elements from Slay the Spire, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and the Zero Escape series. Though not quite as deep on the puzzle segments or as complex as Yu-Gi-Oh!, the game still creates a deep, accessible, and addictive gameplay loop that makes time become a trivial thing. Who needs sleep when one more run might be all you need to get to the next part of the game?

The music isn’t the only menacing part of the game. The atmosphere is top-notch. Leshy’s cabin creates an odd mix of comfort and foreboding. The lingering sense of potential dread is the cherry on top. Seeing Leshy’s eyes follow you around the cabin is nightmare fuel. Thankfully Inscryption isn’t a horror game, it’s just atmospheric and well-thought-out. The atmosphere has a lot to thank the design team for. The graphics are fantastic and serve the narrative and tone of the game in a precise fashion. Daniel Mullins Games achieved what many developers can only dream of, by tying all their gameplay elements together with their art, story, and music, Inscryption does everything it sets out to do and nails just about every aspect.

The embedded narrative trope plays out well here and keeps the player guessing throughout Inscryption’s dozen hours of main story gameplay. As a service to the reader who may not have played this game and may potentially want to try Inscryption, I will avoid mentioning much of anything regarding the story to save the sanctity of the first run for the player. That said, the game handles its flow and pacing with expertise, making the hours melt away as you try to solve what’s going on. Two specific moments in this game are memorable for reasons I won’t mention, but when something can both be brilliant and subvert my expectations, I’m all in. There are tonal shifts that may turn some people off, and certainly, some parts of the game were more enjoyable than others, but this didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story.

The card gameplay is pretty straightforward, getting more complex as more is revealed. You have creatures that you want to summon to the board and do damage directly to your enemy. The first person to tip their enemy’s scale (by having a five-point lead) wins the round. The problem is that your enemy will also try to summon creatures to defeat you, and each creature has different effects and types. These can be used to create combos that can devastate a board (going against an Ant deck in Kaycee’s Mod is a nightmare). Choices must be made, cards can be fused to create more powerful cards, and some cards must be sacrificed. These are some of my favorite parts of each run.

Once you beat the main story, you unlock an extra mode called Kaycee's Mod. This allows the player to truly test their mettle as a rogue-lite strategy card game player. With each difficulty you unlock, you can add modifiers to each run to increase the challenge. While I enjoyed the initial struggle, it eventually became a ridiculous game of luck. It stopped being about which cards you chose and the strategy you played and became a game of whether or not you got offered very few specific cards and beneficial maps. Unlike many other deck-builder roguelites, Inscryption doesn’t give you many opportunities to narrow your deck. Sometimes you’ll find your deck bloated with nothing to do about it. But this a problem for someone playing with a ton of modifiers on, trying to test their skill to the max, so it may not be an everyone problem.

Out of respect for the developer and for the potential player, I’ve been taciturn in regards to the story. If any of the elements of this game seem appealing to you, the reader, and you enjoy a story in your games, do yourself a favor and pick up Inscryption. I’ve played tons of games, and this is a memorable one. Just try to set a reminder to check a clock once in a while, the game can get… distracting.

The Math

Objective Assessment: 9/10

Bonus: +1 for atmosphere and story. +.5 for addicting gameplay. +.5 for REDACTED.

Penalties: -1 for focusing on luck in later challenges. -1 for REDACTED.

Nerd Coefficient: 9/10

Posted by: Joe DelFranco - Fiction writer and lover of most things video games. On most days you can find him writing at his favorite spot in the little state of Rhode Island.