You ever finish a game and just kinda sit there for a while… yeah, that basically sums up my experience with this one.
So what exactly is this game? Well, it’s a lot. The core is a deckbuilding card battler, but there are elements of action roguelike, escape room puzzle, full motion video, and of course, psychological horror. Sounds like a mess, but it is by far one of the most unique games I have played this year – perhaps ever, actually.
Starting with the actual deckbuilding though, which is kind of simple on the surface. You get your HP value, your attack value, your cost, and then any number of bonus effects. The bonus effects are where it gets more complex though, as some cards may attack in multiple directions, some may be sent back to your hand on death, and some may be able to attack over others. There are a LOT of these different abilities and the game provides a handy rulebook that can be accessed at any time to get a description of each.
Aiding these cards are your various items, your totem, and permanent upgrades you find along the way. Each battle is its own thing, but the map is this large, connected web of random events and other encounters that add even more layers to the seemingly simple combat. Because that’s the thing here – you’ll find that “simple on the surface” is a recurring theme in the game and the actual gameplay is far, far more complex than that.
Once you start getting into more advanced cards, you’ll find that there are synergies for literally everything. Items, cards, totems, even stuff OUTSIDE of the card battles themselves. Because yes, the card battles are only part of the experience here – you are able to stand up and walk around between battles and mess with stuff scattered about the room. Your goal is ultimately to escape this room, but several items contained within it can help you out in the battles. It is an excellent combo that makes the game more than just “another deckbuilder”.
And if you do die – all is not lost. Your card collection keeps growing and the game has this really cool “custom card” feature, where you get to create your own card after dying. In fact, it was this very mechanic that allowed me to finally defeat the third boss – as I managed to craft a custom card using pieces of my previous deck that had just the right abilities to allow me to wipe most opponents before they were even able to place a single card.
As with other roguelikes, there is a lot of fun to be had in figuring out how to best break the game. Coming up with the most busted card combos and item synergies is easily one of my favorite things about it and there are a ton of tools to aid in this experience. The game knows that breaking it open is the fun part about it and doesn’t throw up as many roadblocks like some other roguelikes tend to do.
All of that said though, that is just a mere sliver of the experience. Because everything I have talked about so far is just PART ONE of the game. I won’t show or go in-depth with what happens afterwards due to spoilers, but let’s just say that once you reach the point of the story where you’re watching an FMV of a guy opening card packs – the game is going places. The kinds of places where I literally made a copy of my save file outside of the installation folder out of fear – that’s all I’ll say about that.
While the gameplay is designed like a roguelike, there is a larger story here connected to the whole escape room aspect and that too is handled brilliantly. Just the right amount of suspense, just the right amount of gameplay-story balance, just the right amount of “what is going on?” – it’s got it all on lock. So much so that I hardly noticed nine hours passing – the amount of time it took me to reach the credits. Even then though, there is plenty of replayability if I wanted to come back and try out different decks and such – that and I only finished with 60% of its achievements.
And of course, I gotta mention the graphics. They are what originally drew me to the game and for good reason – they look fantastic. It’s got this dark, pixel-like aesthetic where you can’t even see the face of your opponent, just his eyes. The game is a psychological horror after all so this does wonders. Combine that with the creepy sound design and music – especially during boss fights – and you got quite the little package here.
Performance-wise I also had no issues. I ran the game capped out at 1440p 144fps with no drops, no stutters, no bugs, it was polished all the way through. Controls are also fine. I mean, it’s kinda hard to mess up point-and-click and WASD to move, but here I am talking about it anyways. It is worth noting that there does not appear to be any control customization, so if you do have problems with how it plays normally, you’ll have to use external tools to fix it.
Inscryption is one of the most unique games of the year and easily one of the best card battlers I have ever played. From the many different layers of card and item synergies to the creepy escape room-style puzzles and story, it is one of the few games where I hardly noticed nine hours passing by. There is a lot to unpack in this little indie experience and I would 100% recommend going into it without doing too much research.
Quote: Inscryption is easily one of the best card battlers I have ever played, with tons of gameplay layers, cool escape-room style puzzles, and a creepy story tying it all together.
Inscryption retails for $20 USD on Steam and is also available on GOG.
I was provided a review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.