If you’re a fan of the RPGs from yesteryear such as Ultima or Gold Box, you’re going to love SKALD: Against the Black Priory. And if you didn’t play those? It still offers an engrossing RPG experience that’ll give newbies a satisfying taste of the old-school stylings from back in the day.

Check out some screenshots down below:

SKALD: Against the Black Priory puts players in the role of a mercenary who has been tasked with rescuing a nobleman’s daughter (named Embla) from the mysterious island of Idra. Unfortunately, the journey there takes a disastrous turn when you find yourself shipwrecked, and whilst you’re lucky enough to survive and awaken on the shores of Idra, you are bereft of your gear. This leads you on a journey to equip yourself, liaise with those who’ll join you on your adventure, and continue your quest to rescue Embla, all whilst uncovering the dark secrets of Idra along the way.

The storytelling of SKALD: Against the Black Priory is top notch, with the tale spinning off in plenty of dark and intriguing ways as you progress further through the game. Whilst it begins with your typical ‘rescue the maiden’ fantasy narrative, it doesn’t take too long before it takes a dark, cosmic-horror turn that makes every little detail you uncover add more suspense to the plot. There are a lot of smaller story threads to unravel across the world too, so I’d highly recommend players fully explore their surroundings and interact with every character they encounter in order to make the most of the fascinating adventure.

It is VERY text-heavy though, with the game’s old-school approach having players read through a lot of text boxes (which are joined with some impressive but equally old-school illustrations). If you’re used to playing modern RPGs with full voice-acting or cinematic sequences pushing the story forward, you’re getting something a LOT different here, which is more befitting of the era of the RPGs that inspired the game. It’s actually something that I was really fond of after playing so many similar titles back in my younger years, whilst the brilliant writing ensures its easy to get completely engrossed in every narrative-driven moment of the game. And hey, you’ll be making a lot of your own choices as to how you want to respond to certain situations, which doesn’t only allow you to add your own mark to the storytelling but also makes the tale even easier to get completely absorbed in.

“The storytelling of SKALD: Against the Black Priory is top notch, with the tale spinning off in plenty of dark and intriguing ways as you progress further through the game.”

The game kicks things off by having players make their own character, with the likes of their appearance, class, feats, and background all fine-tuned to suit you. There’s a surprising amount of depth on offer here, but if you’re familiar with the genre, it isn’t too tough to figure things out and decide what would best suit your playstyle. It is worth noting that there are multiple difficulty settings available though, and you know what? I’m not ashamed to admit that I played on the easy difficulty setting – whilst I’ve played a lot of old-school RPGs, it’s been SO long that I felt better knocking the difficulty down after a lot of early deaths.

It’s a good job I did too, because SKALD: Against the Black Priory can be pretty tough, especially with the abundance of enemy encounters that you’ll face during your adventure. Everything takes a turn-based approach, with each battle utilising a grid-based system that’ll see you moving between tiles and performing actions against your enemies. Whilst things will start off with simple attacks that’ll be complemented by your positioning in-combat, you’ll eventually unlock more powerful and specialised abilities or have allies with more diverse skillsets join you in battle, making for a more complex and tactile experience that’ll require some clever thinking and careful planning if you hope to survive. You’ll be buffing allies and de-buffing enemies, using magic to deal hefty damage, or carefully positioning yourself across the battlefield to keep clear of hazards, all whilst dealing with the ever-evolving enemy threat that can prove overwhelming if you aren’t too careful.

Whilst it might look fairly simple on first glance, there’s a lot of depth and intricacy to be found in combat that can take some getting used to. If I’m being honest, I wasn’t too hot on it to begin with, but as I started to figure things out, found better equipment, and unlocked more powerful and versatile abilities, I got completely hooked in – especially when I started to put together battle plans that effectively came to fruition. It’s versatile in design to allow players to approach each encounter how they please too, with the mixture of skillsets within your party making for showdowns where there’s always more than one way to find success. And hey, it’s even possible to take a stealthy approach and avoid encounters altogether if you’re sneaky enough, with SKALD: Against the Black Priory letting players approach the adventure in their own way.

Check out some screenshots down below:

The satisfyingly strategic combat is complemented by a world that’s a joy to explore, with plenty of interesting locales to scour through and an abundance of secrets to discover if you’ve got a keen enough eye. A lot of your interactions within the world are determined by dice rolls too, which adds a sense of risk-and-reward to exploration that I’ll always love. And, of course, the 8-bit aesthetic? It’s glorious and perfectly captures the classic styles of the RPGs of yesteryear that inspired SKALD: Against the Black Priory.

That being said, it was during exploration that a few frustrations crept in. For one, the 8-bit aesthetic can make it hard to notice small details in the world, with some items or interactive objects easy to miss if you aren’t looking carefully. Whilst I was a fan of the visual style, it could make some areas feel overly busy too, especially during combat when facing lots of enemies. It was also too easy to teleport out of a map when exploring it, which might not sound like a big issue, except it meant being teleported back to the start when re-entering which was a bit tedious. It’s something you kind of learn to stop doing yourself when playing, but it happened regularly enough to force out more than a few groans when playing.

Still, these are minor issues in what is otherwise a very enjoyable experience, whilst the fact that I played on the Steam Deck with its smaller screen probably didn’t help. It should be noted that you will have to fine-tune the game’s settings and controls when playing on the Steam Deck, especially since it’s designed around playing with a mouse and keyboard. Don’t get me wrong, it works great, but a bit of tinkering will make the controls and presentation better suited for a handheld experience.

SKALD: Against the Black Priory Review

SKALD: Against the Black Priory offers a deep, strategic, and nostalgic RPG experience that’s a lot of fun to play through. Don’t get me wrong, it has got a bit of a learning curve and its old-school stylings won’t be for everyone, but exploring its intriguing world, battling enemies in tactical showdowns, and rolling dice to determine your success never stops being satisfying as you uncover the secrets of the island of Idra. And hey, if you’re not too familiar with the genre, you can play on the easy difficulty setting to settle yourself in, with the game offering plenty of accessibility options to fine-tune the experience to suit you.

It does have some flaws, but SKALD: Against the Black Priory delivers an old-school RPG experience that’s simply oozing in quality and charm.

Developer: High North Studios
Publisher: Raw Fury
Platform(s): PC (Reviewed)
Website: https://store.steampowered.com/app/1069160/SKALD_Against_the_Black_Priory/