Inscryption is a great game that I haven’t finished. This article is a short review of my first impressions of it and nothing more. No spoilers ahead. If you haven’t played the game yet, take my advice and set this article aside until you have. Despite the lack of spoilers, I’m still going to touch on some of the magic that makes this game what it is, or what it has been so far. Perhaps not reading any of it is best if you want to keep the hints out of mind.
Never did I ever expect the gameplay of this rogue-like deck builder to have its narrative so closely tied to its gameplay. Sure, deck building games often build their worlds around the cards they produce, but none that I’ve played have ever had their cards specifically exist in the world that’s in the world or, more to the point, cards that change gameplay that’s within the gameplay.
Confused? Yeah, well, that’s Inscryption. According to the reviews, playing the game blind was the move, so I put my knife up and downloaded it not knowing what I was going to get myself into. The gameplay itself is reminiscent of the classic Magic the Gathering format tied in with Hearthstone-like mechanics: the game board reacts to you and your pieces and the horror atmosphere is knit like a sleeve against the gruesome nature of what you’re doing: playing a card game with trapped souls.
The gameplay feels like Hearthstone more than it does like Magic, despite the format being closer to the latter. Perhaps it’s because of the personality each card has, or maybe it’s the just a matter of habituation for me. In any case, this game plays like a Hearthstone that costs a flat 20 dollars instead of 100 dollars per expansion. And the content within it is far more satisfying to delve into (and far more fun, too, if that matters.) I say this as someone who reached rank 75 Legend in Hearthstone’s competitive ladder, not a casual who played the game for a month or two and left it alone: Inscryption is the better game in almost every objective sense.
Incryption’s Best Magic Trick | Perspective and Scope
Two attributes every game has, and often overlooks. Perspective is the “picture in the picture” to paraphrase. Its the view the player will have while playing, and what a developer crafts from day one. Its a literal perspective on the part of the player’s eyes, but also an idea of what lies ahead, crafted by the player’s brain using the ingredients a developer lays in front of him or her. The perspective a game offers up is encased within a genre, artwork, writing, and audio design. In Dark Souls, this perspective is thrown right in the face of the player as a form of helplessness brought on by a murky aesthetic and overwhelming difficulty. In Inscryption’s case, the perspective of helplessness and curiosity is brought to the player via a horror-like atmosphere and a collection of incomplete tales. Tales that the player is practically begged to follow up on: a suspicious character, a new line of dialogue or book entries, as well as hidden secrets that alter gameplay. They all work together to build what is essentially one big question: What does this game mean to tell me?
It would be so embarrassing, almost crude, to write the following sentence, but by default I am going to do it, and you can’t stop me: Inscyption is a page turner. Oof!
Ignoring the fact that the gameplay itself has an addictive quality to it that I’m going to chalk up to sheer craftsmanship on the part of the developers, this game forces you to continue playing match after match just to try and figure out what the hell is happening and how you can overcome it. I haven’t played a game like this in the last two to three years. In fact, almost every game I have played in recent times feels like a chore just to go back to. And I ain’t talking about League of Addiction, I’m talking about big hitters like Fallout: New Vegas and Skyrim. These are great games that just don’t draw a player into it in the same way Inscryption, somehow, manages to do.
What is Inscryption’s Scope?
Scope is a developer’s ultimate vision and, in this game’s case, is hidden from the player just behind the game’s perspective. And I mean really hidden. I cannot tell you how confused I was to have the main menu be a function of the game’s story telling and plot progression, but once I figured it out after getting through that part of the game, I was completely blown away. To have a cheap game deliver on its promise ten times over only to expand into something completely different… I just have no words, except for all of these ones. It’s been two days since I managed to get through that part of the game and I’m still in awe of how an indie studio can craft something together such as Inscryption, and I’m not even finished with the thing yet. Without ruining anything, I’ll say that the game’s scope hits a point where you think its done enough, and then it takes another step, and then another, and so on. It seems to never end.
Inscryption has wit, incredible writing, a vision, grand scope, and it doesn’t play by contemporary rules. Its the kind of game that is going to be borrowed and stolen from for the next decade, and it will likely only receive a light nudge by a small portion of the gaming community as credit despite being a contender for game of the year.