It’s honestly hard to know just where to start with Inscryption, without risking spoiling the entire game, but I’ll be damned if I don’t give it my best shot. It’s no secret that indies hold a special place in my heart, and I’ll be frank in saying that Inscryption was one of my favorite games of 2021. I get it, that’s an incredibly bold claim, but here are a few reasons why I loved it so much.
Inscryption takes from one of the most popular bits of writing advice I’ve seen when it comes to story-telling: just throw them into it. And it works. You awake within this ominously dark cabin, with a pair of eyes peering at you in the darkness, and a scroll in front of you on a table. What happens next is akin to feeling trapped in a madman’s one-on-one nightmare session of Dungeons & Dragons. Your captor, Leshy, keeps himself hidden in the darkness, away from your eager, prying eyes and describes your journey through the forest on the scroll. Moving your little meeple token down the path, you’re given a set of cards and must choose which one calls to you. This is one of many, many choices you’ll have to make along your journey as you build your card deck and attempt to escape Leshy’s clutches.
The eerie setting in which Leshy holds you captive, a dimly lit cabin in the woods with only a single candle on the table, is your first red flag in a series of flags that wave themselves in your face screaming “get the hell out of dodge.” Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Leshy pits you against a myriad of roguelike card games, but he isn’t a completely unreasonable host. In between games you are allowed to walk around the cabin and fiddle with some of the knickknacks and treasures laying around.
While at first glance it doesn’t look like there’s a way out, it soon becomes very clear that there is a series of escape room-esque puzzles that give you a leg up on his challenges. If you solve these, you might gain another puzzle piece or a card that you can use to build a specific deck. However, nothing comes easy or free. You may gain a key, but you’ll have to figure out how to use it and it’s not always obvious.
To some, the card games may seem repetitive, but this reviewer absolutely loved them. Each of Leshy’s maps had a very distinct theme, and as a lover of D&D, I was on the edge of my seat soaking in every last description he threw at me as he transformed into the very boss fights he described. You may think you’re playing a fun game of cards, but as you progress through the levels you’ll begin to learn that these cards are…alive. Almost.
If you’re familiar with how trading card games work, there are some cards that require a “sacrifice” in order to be summoned. Leshy’s games have the same mechanic, but a bit…darker. The cards definitely feel pain as you come to find out, and it doesn’t feel good. With that being said, knowing that they can in fact feel pain makes it that much harder to sacrifice them, and it forces you to take a step back as the player and really think about your decisions. In addition to this, there are special places on the playing scroll where you can sacrifice cards in order to power up another card. Cards can gain multiple abilities this way, but you’ll never see your other card again unless you find or purchase it from a Trader down the road for teeth. I said what I said, teeth. Stay with me, this game gets pretty weird, and I love it.
As a lover of horror, the dark atmosphere of Inscryption was what initially drew me to the game. Slowly but surely, layer by layer, I just kept finding more things to love about it. I’ve heard some folks lament that they wish there was voice-acting, but I think that would detract from the grimdark aura. Leshy’s low, modular mumble is a perfect choice to me. As we’re not initially sure if he’s a man or monster, his “voice” adds to his ambiguity and is easily tweaked for the more sinister moments in the game. Honestly, Inscryption just has it all for me.
The pacing and sound design is phenomenal, with twists and turns just when you’re getting settled into a sense of normalcy. The art style, mixed with the fun mechanic of deck building, puzzles, and overarching story is just phenomenal. And that my friends, is just Act I, at already 8 hours of playtime. Inscryption has three total acts, with much, much more content waiting for you to uncover. It has been a bit since I finished the game, but I haven’t been able to put out the review because of life things. Even so, months later, I still can’t get Inscryption out of my head. It’s just that good.
You will not find a better bargain for your buck as far as story-rich horror games go. Inscryption is a meager $20 on Steam, and I honestly wish they would have charged more for it. I would have paid far more for it. It hasn’t won several awards for nothing! With that being said, I do appreciate the pricing because it makes the game available to more of their audience that might not have been able to afford it. If you’re at all hesitant, don’t be. Just do it. Take the leap, and play Inscryptionfor yourself.