You wake up in a dark hut, chained to a worn table. A mysterious man sits on the other side of the room. You can’t see the details of his face through the darkness, but his insane eyes pierce the shadows. Something swings under your stomach when he invites you to play a card game. The rules seem simple; you summon creatures to attack your opponent’s army of enemies, and you easily win the first few hands. Still, you can’t shake the fear of what might happen if—no—when you lose. You play on, the eyes on the other side of the table slowly burning a hole in your stomach.
Inscryption is an incredible show that taps into horror themes while telling a captivating and ever-evolving mystery. While those horror elements are important to the story, they are also just a backdrop to this adventure. I liked the moody atmosphere of Inscryption, but I also appreciate that it doesn’t scare the player, making it a fairly approachable horror experience.
At the heart of the adventure is a robust card battle system that lets you summon creatures in lanes on a battlefield. Your creatures deal damage to the critters on the other side of their lanes and, ultimately, directly to your opponent. The basic setup should be familiar to fans of games like Hearthstone and Magic: The Gathering, but Inscryption gives several fun twists to the formula that kept me coming back for more. For starters, some creatures require a sacrifice to enter battle. This means that if you want to summon a powerful creature like a bear, you have to kill several beasts that you have already placed on the field. I loved the push/pull to try and get your strongest creatures into battle without thinning out your ranks too much.
Inscryption’s deck building system is also much deeper than it first appears. For example, some creatures can only be summoned into battle if you have obtained a certain number of bones from fallen allies. This allowed me to turn my defeats into victories; even when all my creatures were wiped off the board, I often felt like I had an ace up my sleeve or could tap into some other strategy to turn the tide in my favor.
As you continue to take down opponents, you move along a game board and encounter random events such as titles like Slay The Spire. Some encounters give you new cards, improve existing cards, or give you extra tools to use in battle, such as a fan that lets your creatures fly over their opponent’s heads. You also have the chance to paste characters onto your cards that offer unique powers, such as the ability to transform into stronger creatures over time or attack multiple lanes at once. These elements give Inscryption’s card system a unique flavor, and I loved experimenting with my deck to find new card synergies or create brand new cards that felt almost overpowered.
In between card battles, you can get up from the table and explore your hut. This room is full of locked drawers and other puzzle boxes. Solving these adventure game-style mysteries will earn you new cards and bring you one step closer to unraveling the greater mysteries of Inscryption. Eventually you reach some surprising revelations about who you are and why you are trapped in this cabin, but the less I say about those revelations, the better. However, Inscryption successfully flipped my expectations several times before the journey was over, and I couldn’t wait to see the satisfying narrative conclusion.
Encryption is an oddity of the best order. It’s a horror game that doesn’t try to scare you aggressively. It’s also a clever card system around a compelling mystery that plays with the conventions of video games. Like a bat from hell, Inscryption came out of nowhere and quickly became one of my favorite games of the year.