Inscryption is a VERY hard game to review, not because it’s a particularly complicated experience but rather because I don’t want to spoil any aspect of it. At first glance, it’s easy to see it as another deck-building rogue-like, but it’s so much more than that. It’s suspenseful, it’s spooky, and it’s full of surprises, but perhaps what’s most important of all is that it’s also bloody brilliant.
With all that in mind, spoilers will be kept to a minimum in this review, so expect little detail of the game’s twists and turns. Just know this: it’s a unique and memorable experience that is easily one of my favourite console releases of the year.
Check out some screenshots down below:
Inscryption sees players waking up at a table in a peculiar shack, with a pair of eyes gleaming at them from a darkened corner. You don’t know who you are and you don’t know why you’re there, but you’re told to play a card game. If you lose? Well… something *bad* happens to you, but don’t worry – you’ll get another chance to play on and win the game.
The core gameplay of Inscryption is easy enough to follow, with players building up a deck of cards that are made up of creatures and the occasional inanimate object. Each creature has a power value and a health value, with the power determining how much damage they can deal per turn and the health how much damage they can take. You’ll place your cards on a four-by-four grid, with your opponent then placing their cards opposite them. The goal is to damage your opponent enough that a scale of health weighs in your favour, with damage dealt by a card when there isn’t an opposing card directly in front of it; this means that your cards aren’t only used to dish out damage, but also to protect the player from taking incoming damage. If a card is damaged beyond their health? They’re withdrawn from the playing field and you’re left vulnerable. It’s up to you to keep your defence solid, inflict enough damage on your opponent’s cards to wipe them out, and then dish out plenty of hurt on your foe to defeat them.
I’ve probably made it sound a little bit more complex than it is, but it’s easy to get to grips with – especially if you’ve played similar card-based games before. However, Inscryption does introduce a few neat concepts to spice up the experience. For one, each card you use has a requirement value to place on the playing field, which either requires a sacrifice or bones: a sacrifice means you’ve got to discard a set amount of cards already placed on the playing field (ranging from one for basic cards to four for the most powerful), whilst bones are earned when one of your cards is defeated or sacrificed. Luckily, you’re given the choice of drawing either a random card from your deck or a Squirrel card (which is perfect for sacrificing) at the start of your turn, so there are plenty of opportunities to play different cards. However, the best players will be those who think strategically and take every aspect of their cards (as well as those that your opponent has played) into consideration.
“Battles are intense and there are elements of luck that can change the tide of the showdown at any given moment, but there’s also plenty of room for strategic play where the smartest players will be able to get the upper hand.”
Cards can also bring with them special abilities (such as being able to inflict instant death with each attack, turn into four bones when defeated, move around the playing field after each turn, and so forth), whilst players also have access to special items that can be game changers. One of the most useful items is the Squirrel in a Jar which allows you to bring a Squirrel card into your hand at any time, but using the likes of the Scissors to cut up an opponent’s card or the Angler’s Hook to take control of an opponent’s card are absolute game-changers.
There are just so many different ways to approach the card battling, and honestly, it makes Inscryption feel brilliant to play. Battles are intense and there are elements of luck that can change the tide of the showdown at any given moment, but there’s also plenty of room for strategic play where the smartest players will be able to get the upper hand. This is especially apparent in the boss encounters, where they’ll use every trick in the book to try and thwart your efforts; you’ll need multiple plans to approach these and will need to be flexible to win. Ultimately though, it’s all about damaging your opponent: it might not matter what cards they play as long as you’re able to inflict damage upon them, and that’s what matters the most in Inscryption.
There’s also a map to work through in-between battles, with different landmarks bringing a variety of bonuses. Sometimes you’ll earn some cards, sometimes you’re able to power-up existing cards, sometimes you’ll find a merchant, whilst other times you might find some hunters that decide to EAT one of your cards… yeah, it’s pretty unpredictable, but it also brings an exciting side to your deck-building where there’s a real element of risk and reward as you progress through the game. Things shift up the longer you play too, with the risks becoming more vicious as you go on (which is something I found out the hard way).
“You’d be doing yourself a favour if you went into Inscryption blind, knowing as little as possible about the gameplay, what the game world consists of, and what *changes* as you progress.”
Everything about the main gameplay of Inscryption is just brilliant and addictive. The card-based gameplay is simple, but there’s enough diversity to the cards available that each showdown becomes an intense and strategic affair – and believe me, there’s nothing more satisfying than unlocking an excellent new card that deals a lot of damage. I’d be happy if Inscryption consisted of the card game alone, which is a testament to just how fun it is to play.
The thing is, Inscryption is a LOT more than just a card game. Players are able to explore the hut, solve puzzles, and even talk to some of their cards to unravel a bigger mystery, with a lot of the core game progression coming outside of playing cards. It’s very clever in its approach and very eerie too, with the interactions with your captor proving to be constantly sinister – especially when you start rummaging through his belongings and unravelling more of the grander mystery. Everything is not as it seems in Inscryption and it’s those mysterious elements that make it so damn good… I just don’t want to talk about them here.
You’d be doing yourself a favour if you went into Inscryption blind, knowing as little as possible about the gameplay, what the game world consists of, and what *changes* as you progress. Again, no spoilers here, but the longer I played, the more engrossed I found myself in the unsettling experience. I had to know MORE about what was going on, who I was, and what the deal was with my captor, and you know what? The payoff was worthwhile.
Check out some screenshots down below:
On a technical side, it looks and runs really well on the PlayStation 5, with the dark and eerie visuals certainly looking the part on the platform. Whilst Inscryption does keep things simple as far as the visuals are concerned, it does so in an atmospheric and frightening way that fits the foreboding tone of the adventure perfectly.
That being said, there were some aspects of the controls that could feel a little fiddly and I found myself pressing the wrong button and accidentally playing my turn or choosing the wrong item on a regular basis. Admittedly, that could be more of a *me* problem as opposed to a game one and it’s something you do get used to, but there’s still no doubting that the game would be better played with a mouse. Don’t get me wrong, the transition to controller has been a successful one, but it would just feel a bit more intuitive on PC.
The unsettling sense of mystery and brilliant card-based gameplay make Inscryption a must-play title that will stick in my memory for a long, long time. Whether building your deck, battling your captor in cards, or simply unravelling the mystery around you, it’s hard not to find yourself utterly engrossed in the eerie escapade. I got hooked in from the moment I started playing and it managed to maintain a sense of frightening tension right until the very end… I loved every minute of it.
Developer: Daniel Mullins Games
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Platform(s): PlayStation 5 (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PC