Review: Inscryption

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This has been a really difficult review for me to finish, and not just for the obvious reason. You probably know by now that Inscryption is one of those games that’s best gone into blind, so any kind of crunchy details in a review are going to spoil that. But it’s also a game that I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about, owing to its incredibly complex structure and positioning as part of a greater story. I’m usually a huge sucker for mystery pieces like this, though in this case some of the choices made to fit it into the rest of the puzzle are a bit questionable. Still, that doesn’t stop it from being a great game (on several levels) and one that I can heartily recommend if it sounds at all interesting to you.

Usually this is the part where I give a brief overview of the story, but clearly I can’t do that for Inscryption. What I can tell you is that Inscryption is a card game, a game mostly (but not completely) about collecting cards and assembling decks to beat opponents who have done similarly. There are a number of interesting mechanics to uncover about this card combat, as you progress through a series of battles and encounters drawn out on a simple map. You’ll have the chance to upgrade and modify your cards as well, and add other interesting items to the mix. All of these efforts build to some very clever fights and unexpected shifts, but you’ll have to uncover those for yourself.

There’s a lot to say about the deck-builder aspect of this game that, again, I can’t really get into because of how it gets rolled out to you. It’s a well-constructed card game, and excels at presenting challenges that may seem impossible at first, but are always beatable with some clever adjustments in strategy. The basic structure sees you placing cards into five slots on your side of the table as you opponent does the same. If an opposing card has been placed opposite yours, your card will attack that one. Otherwise, it will do direct damage to the other player in a tug-of-war points system. Overwhelm your enemy’s defenses, and you win. The best parts of this system are the different synergies you can discover and build towards with your deck, which become more complex the further in you get.

Inscryption is certainly a solid foundation for card battling, but (and this is a huge BUT) I wouldn’t try to sell it to anyone as just a card game. It’s the foundation upon which a bewildering tale is built, featuring some surprising breaks in the card game structure and quite a bit of gameplay away from the card table itself. I mean that literally, it’s no spoiler to tell you that you can get up from the table you’re playing at whenever you like and explore your surroundings, and what you find there is sometimes more important to the story than the cards themselves. This is ultimately a game about unraveling a mystery, a very deep and meta mystery, with card battles the medium for moving the whole thing along.

That’s probably where a lot of my uncertainty about this game springs from, the mystery element. I knew what I was getting into before starting the game, having played the developer’s previous meta-mystery The Hex and thoroughly enjoying it. But while The Hex was a very satisfying, mostly self-contained tale, Inscryption leaves a lot of loose ends that are apparently either left to be tied up later, or are tied up in other places outside the game entirely. I’ll warn you now that there’s not so much an end to this game as there is a sudden stop, so if you’re not the kind of person who values the journey over the destination, this one might not hit right for you. It’s extremely interesting the whole way through, mind you, but you might not get all the answers you’re looking for.

Regardless, the artistry on display in Inscryption cannot be denied. It’s a fantastic-looking game in all its forms, the sound design is sharp in all the places it needs to be, and it uses atmosphere extremely well to make even laying cards on a table an ominous, unsettling experience. Whatever you might think about the mystery aspect by the end, it’s absolutely worth seeing through for how the game uses an unorthodox structure to tell its tale. And the card game it’s all built around is certainly solid enough to keep everything rolling, though the fact that it’s not really the focus of the game really should be noted before diving in. Dive in you should, though, because brilliant, unexpected experiences like this are few and far between.

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