Inscryption Review: Make Yourself at Home, Traveler

Are you ready to be captured by the forest evil and play cards with a monster?

Popular game Inscryption from Daniel Mullins Games, which many call the “Indie Game of the Year 2021”, there is no waiting for you to gather your courage and answer this question. It simply takes you and throws you right into the epicenter of events. An astonished unprepared player finds themselves right THERE. In a creepy unfamiliar place, in a dimly lit hut, where the wind howls outside and the trees creak. And, of course, the poor gamer won’t just be able to leave from there.

You’ll have to play cards – that’s exactly what the owner of the house, the ominous shaggy Leshy, demands, whom we see as a dark mass of tangled roots, fur, and branches with glowing eyes.

We’re not playing “fool” or “queen of spades”, of course, but a full-fledged card battler. Our cards represent real combat creatures. They oppose the opponent’s monster cards laid out in front of them, they have attack and health numbers. We start with the most basic set, but the deck constantly grows as the game progresses, replenishing with new interesting chimeras and upgrading the old ones.

Mysterious game cards

Almost all the cards we play with require sacrifices – bones or (more often) blood. We obtain blood by removing any of our already standing creatures from the board. Bones are formed on their own – when our creatures die. Scary! And it sounds like some kind of necromancer-cultist deck, doesn’t it?

In reality, it’s not at all like that: our cards perfectly correspond to the theme of a forest house. We fight with a deck of animals. In our hands – wolves, deer, skunks, jackals, cats, beetles… In addition – an infinite number of squirrels. Squirrel is a “basic” creature with zero attack and one life, initially needed only to sacrifice it and get a drop of blood to summon a more powerful beast.

“Initially,” you ask as an attentive reader? Yes. You can’t imagine what you can do with a squirrel if you really torment it. And other animals are not easy either! Many of them have their own additional abilities – and multi-level strategies follow from them. Someone attacks areas, someone allows attacking the opponent “over the head,” a snake kills with one bite, a deer takes a step sideways after an attack.

A bone in a mysterious game

And yet they can still be upgraded! And you can stitch together two identical cards with the help of a mushroom vivisector… A simple set of creatures at first glance becomes a zoo of monstrous claws, fangs, and venomous tentacles in skilled hands after half an hour to an hour. The game becomes more interesting with each passing second.

Technically, we can stop playing at any moment. Stand up from the table, walk around the hut, look around, touch the locked safe, the cuckoo clock, try to solve strange puzzles in the corner… Cross ourselves at the locked door. Who would have doubted, we cannot leave the cottage, the price of the game is life, and the Leshy demands to continue.

A locker in the game

The price of the game is life, but what is life if you can always start over? After all, it’s a roguelite, and every failure brings something new. A strange card into the deck, changes to the images of familiar “trump cards,” necessary items… knowledge. Sometimes it’s simply impossible to progress without them.

Enchanted by the magic of Leshy’s storytelling, the player once again takes up the cards. And the figurine representing the hero travels through the drawn plains, between key points, between dangerous battles. Here we can trade rabbit skins (a skin is also a card!), here we can upgrade our animals, here we can add interesting abilities to them. And here – another battle with a boss, who, as befits a cunning enemy, has many tricks, and tactics will have to be seriously considered.

Prospector character in the game

This part of the game is wonderful, exciting, and simply marvelous. But it only takes a few hours, maybe those same two hours before the Steam refund deadline. But what comes next?

It’s very difficult to talk about the game without spoiling it – for example, it’s absolutely impossible to share screenshots of the second and third acts of the game. From what I see, most reviews only describe the first chapter: the one with the gloomy wooden hut. One could stop here and, with a mysterious grin on their face, say “play the rest yourselves!”

But no. That would be unfair.

An interior scene within the game

Of course, anyone who has even caught a glimpse of Daniel Mullins Games’ previous projects Pony Island and Hex), understands that we are not just playing cards with dirt for no reason. Inscryption is well aware that it is a game, and something very creepy and chillingly real is happening in the background, not with us, but with another person. With a YouTuber-reviewer named Luke, whose video blogs and snippets we suddenly find here and there – in a box among forgotten cards, or as a reward for defeating a boss.

Luke Carter lived peacefully and knew no sorrow until he accidentally stumbled upon (in a very strange way) a floppy disk with an old DOS game. The game was called… you guessed it, Inscryption. And it shouldn’t have existed, because the company that owned this brand only released paper card games. Intrigued, Luke clicked on the icon – and with this simple action, he got involved in a wild mix of intrigue, madness, and someone else’s grand plans.

Luke, a character in the game

Do you think I’m revealing secrets and spoiling the interesting stuff here? Not at all, quite the opposite. These are just breadcrumbs, you will find out for yourself in a couple of hours of gameplay, or even see it in the Steam trailer. It would be spoilers to describe the second and third acts in detail. I won’t do that.

But I will say something so that players don’t have false expectations.

Genre-wise, Inscryption doesn’t change, it doesn’t turn into a dark wandering through tangled corridors or puzzle-solving (honestly, knowing the author’s previous games, I had that version in mind). No.

A map featured in the game

It will be the same card game, except that the second act is more focused on building a harmonious deck from a variety of options (which is why I liked it – I love that kind of thing!). The third act expands on the mechanics of the first, but again removes deckbuilding, focusing on a variety of mechanics. If compared to well-known card games, the second act is similar to Pokemon Trading Card Game. The third act is like Hearthstone, even more so than the first.

(Here I was just unlucky because I don’t like the mana accumulation in Hearthstone, and getting stuck with it in the third act… argh!)

Piles of seemingly useless items

Meanwhile, of course, Luke’s sudden vlogs continue, becoming more and more mysterious. It’s not just hacks, but rather direct breaches of the fourth wall, the plot hints at something terrifying hidden in the game’s code, in general, everything according to the canon. Psychological horror in all its glory.

It seemed perfect, give it a two, what did the author of these lines lack, what is he dissatisfied with?..

Firstly, the third act. You could say that I am to blame myself and play Hearthstone poorly (and that’s true). But unlike acts 1-2, which were interesting and atmospheric, the third act is unfairly drawn out and doesn’t bring any joy between fights. Even from a color perspective, the third act evokes only melancholy. Imagine the most boring lighting, overlay it with a dull blue filter, and in such an environment, we will sit for about four hours.

Secondly, glitches. Inscryption is the first game in N years that managed to not just crash in the middle of a battle, causing a computer to BSOD, but crash, killing DirectX drivers along the way. And its own saves, but those are minor details, I had backups.

Intricate network of pipes

Thirdly, the ending. And this is the biggest downside of the game. It disappointed me to the maximum. Spoiler? I won’t spoil it. Play it yourself and tell me how you feel about it if you want to argue. In my opinion, such endings in games (and in artistic works in general) reveal the inability to properly conclude the plot – whether it’s an open ending, a closed one, a semi-closed one with a twist, anything. It’s a finale in the spirit of “okay, now we have to figure out how to end this because I couldn’t come up with a worthy ending,” leaving the player with the feeling of “why did I go through all of this?”

Pony Island was and remains a wonderful game – from start to finish, a masterpiece, complete and not in need of improvement. Inscryption, on the other hand, is more like another unfinished log dragged out of the forest by Lesha – it looks interesting, has beautiful curves, a little bit of sanding and it would be sculptural. But there are splinters, hooks, thorns, crooked roots sticking out from everywhere, and it’s been gnawed at by a beaver on its side…

A long and winding path

The 70% rating is solely because of the two hours that start the game and because of the currently being tested Kaycee’s Mod, which turns these two hours into an endless theoretical roguelike. The rest is all Inscryption in the negative. Take it if you want – but only on sale and be prepared for Inscryption to change dramatically by the time you get into it. (Or better yet, wait for a stable version of Kaycee’s Mod, then the price will drop to a fair 30%.)

This game should have stayed in the first act – and that’s it. Nothing more. (The second act is good, but it contrasts too much.) Without Luke Carter’s vlogs, without the drawn-out third act, without the terrible ending, because all of that disrupts and destroys the magic. Then Inscryption would have been the indie game of the year without a doubt. Sometimes, in order to get a masterpiece, you have to ruthlessly take a scalpel and cut off the excess. The author clearly didn’t want to do that – and it’s a shame. He almost had magic in his hands, but he let it slip away.

Card Battle
Devolver Digital
Release Date:
Editor's rating:
Is it worth playing? (If the score is more than 70%)



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