Are you ready to be captured by the forest evil spirits and fight cards with a monster?
Described by many as “Indie of the Year 2021”, Daniel Mullins Games’ popular game Inscryption doesn’t wait for you to muster up the courage to answer this question. She just picks up and throws you right into the epicenter of events. A crazed player without preparation turns out to be THERE. In an eerie, incomprehensible place, in a semi-dark hut, where the wind whistles outside the windows and the trees creak. And, of course, just like that, the poor fellow gamer will not come out of there.
We’ll have to play cards – this is exactly what the owner of the house, the sinister shaggy Leshy, whom we see as a dark mass of tangled roots, fur and branches with luminous eyes, demands.
We are not playing a “fool” and not a “queen of spades”, of course, but a full-fledged card battler. Our cards are real fighting creatures. They counter enemy monster cards laid out opposite, they have attack and health numbers. We start with the most basic set, but the deck is constantly growing as the game progresses, replenishing with new interesting chimeras and upgrading old ones.
Almost all the cards we play require sacrificial offerings, either bones or (more commonly) blood. We get blood by removing any of our creatures already standing there from the board. Bones form themselves when our beings die. Fearfully! And it sounds like some kind of necromancer-cult deck, right?
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In fact, not at all: our maps quite correspond to the theme of the forest house. We fight with a deck of beasts. In our hands – wolves, deer, skunks, jackals, cats, beetles … In addition – an infinite number of squirrels. A squirrel is a “basic” creature with zero attack and a unit of life, initially needed only in order to sacrifice it and get one drop of blood to summon a more powerful beast.
“Initially,” the attentive reader will ask? Yes. You have no idea what can be done with a squirrel if you make fun of it properly. Yes, and other animals oh how difficult! Many have their own additional opportunities – and multi-level strategies follow from them. Someone hits the squares, someone allows you to attack “over the head” of the enemy, the snake kills with one bite, the deer takes a step to the side after the attack.
But they can still be upgraded! And stitch together two identical cards with the help of a mushroom picker-vivisector … A simple set of animals at first glance in half an hour or an hour in skillful hands becomes a zoo of monstrous claws, fangs and poisonous tentacles. The game is getting more interesting with every second.
Stop playing – technically – we can at any time. Get 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 … Scratch through the locked door.A strange card in the deck, changes in the pictures of already known “trump cards”, the necessary items … knowledge. Sometimes without it it is simply impossible to go further.
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And, fascinated by the magic of Leshy’s storytelling, the player again takes up the cards. And the figurine representing the hero travels across the painted plains, between key points, between dangerous battles. Here we can trade rabbit skins (the skin is also a card!), here we can improve our animals, here we can add interesting abilities to them. And here – again the battle with the boss, which, as befits a cunning enemy, has many tricks, and tactics will have to be seriously considered.
This part of the game is wonderful, exciting and just wonderful. But it only takes a few hours, probably the same two hours that it takes to reach the Steam refund border. And what’s next?
It is very difficult to talk about the game without spreading spoilers – for example, it is completely unrealistic to post screenshots of the second and third acts of the game. As far as I can see, most reviews are limited to descriptions of the first chapter: the one with the gloomy wooden hut. One could stop here and, grinning mysteriously with all eight hundred teeth, say “and then play Saaami!”.
But no. It won’t be fair.
Of course, anyone who has seen, at least out of the corner of his eye, the previous projects of Daniel Mullins Games (Pony Island and Hex), understands that we are throwing cards with evil spirits for a reason. Inscryption is well aware that it is a game, and in the background something very creepy and tremblingly real is happening, not with us, though, but with another person. With a YouTuber-reviewer named Luke, whose vlog snippets we suddenly find here and there – sometimes in a box among forgotten cards, sometimes as a reward for a completed boss.
Luke Carder lived in peace and did not know grief until he accidentally came across (in a very strange way) a floppy disk with an old DOS game. The game was called… that’s right, Inscryption. And, in theory, it should not have existed, because the company that owned this brand produced only paper card games. Intrigued, Luke clicked on the icon, and in one simple act, he was thrown into a wild hodgepodge of intrigue, madness, and other people’s grand schemes.
Do you think I’m revealing secrets here and spoiling interesting things? Never, quite the opposite. These are just seeds, you will find out in a couple of hours of the game yourself, or even see it on the Steam page in the trailer. Spoilers would be – to describe in detail the second and third act. I won’t.
But I will say something so that the players do not have false expectations.
The genre of Inscryption does not change, it does not turn into a gloomy walk along the intricate corridors or into solving puzzles (to be honest, knowing the previous games of the author, I had such a version). No.
It will be the same card game.The third expands on the mechanics of the first, but again removes deckbuilding, focusing on the diversity of the mechanics. Compared to famous card games, the second act is similar to the Pokemon Trading Card Game. The third is on Hearthstone, even more than the first.
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(I’m extremely unlucky here, because I don’t like Hearthstone’s mana pool, and being stuck with it in Act 3…arrgh!)
That being said, of course, Luke’s sudden vlogs continue, getting more and more cryptic. Not only hacks continue, but downright battering rams of the fourth wall up and down, the plot hints at something terrible hidden in the game code, in general, everything is according to the canons. Psychological horror at its finest.
It would seem that everything is perfect, give me two, what did the author of these lines lack, that he is dissatisfied? ..
First, the third act. You can, of course, say that it’s my own fault and I don’t play Hearthstone well (and that’s true). But, unlike Acts 1-2, which are interesting and atmospheric, it is unfairly prolonged and does not please with anything good between the fights. Even from the point of view of the color scheme, the third act brings only melancholy. Imagine the most boring lighting, put a dull blue filter on it, in such an environment we will sit for four hours.
Secondly, glitches. Inscryption is the first game in N years, which, in the same third act, managed not only to crash in the middle of a battle, knocking out a computer in a BSOD, but to crash, killing DirectX drivers along the way. And my own saves, but these are trifles, I had backups.
Third, the final. And this is the biggest disadvantage of the game. He disappointed me the most. Don’t spoil? I won’t spoil. Come in yourself and tell me how you like it, if you want to argue. In my opinion, such endings in games (and in works of fiction in general) betray the inability to properly complete the plot – whether with an open ending, or closed, half-hidden with a subtwist, whatever. This is the finale in the spirit of “so, now we need to figure out how we will end this, because I didn’t come up with a decent ending”, leaving the player with the feeling “well, why did I go through all this”?
Pony Island was and remains a great game – inside and out, a masterpiece, solid, not requiring further development. Inscryption, on the other hand, is more like another unfinished log, dragged by Leshy from a windbreak – it looks interesting, there are beautiful curves, a little sawing, it would have turned out sculptural. But there are some knots sticking out from everywhere, hooks, splinters, crooked roots, a side gnawed by a beaver …
A score of 70% is solely due to the two hours starting the game, and due to Kaycee’s Mod, which is currently being tested, turns these two hours into a theoretically endless roguelike. The rest goes to Inscryption only in the negative. Take it if you want – but only on sale and be prepared that Inscryption will change dramatically just in time for you to get a taste.Nothing more. (Act 2 is good, but it’s too much of a contrast.) No Luke Carder vlogs, no lengthy third act, no dreadful ending, because it all kicks in and destroys the magic. Then Inscryption would be the clear indie game of the year. Sometimes, in order to get a masterpiece, you have to ruthlessly take a scalpel and cut off the excess. The author was clearly sorry to do this – and in vain. He almost held the magic in his hand, but missed it..