Maid of Sker is a first-person survival horror game brought to Steam by the creative minds at Wales Interactive. Filled to the brim with beautiful scenery and cultish intrigue, Maid of Sker aims to welcome you to its macabre hotel and sink its claws into you with narrative so enticing that you never want to leave. But, is a gripping story enough to warrant a five-star review? Join us on our journey to the grim Sker Hotel in our review of Maid of Sker.
Train to Nowhere
Maid of Sker begins with an ominous train ride. As the beautiful Welsh forests pass by your window, Thomas, the main character, reads through a note his beloved Elisabeth has written. Urging Thomas to come to the Sker Hotel, a family establishment and her home growing up, Elisabeth also requests that he composes and brings along a countersong to the one contained within her mother’s locket with him as well. It seems like a strange request, but Thomas obliges nonetheless. Things have gone awry at the Sker Hotel, and he doesn’t quite know what has happened, but Elisabeth seems distressed.
From the Page, to the Screen
Maid of Sker excels in recreating the eerie, late 1800s period ambiance through stunning visuals and specific details meant to immerse the player in their environment. It’s not just the name “Elisabeth” that gave me serious Bioshock vibes, but perhaps the constant feeling of something just being slightly off; a glimpse into what could have been a thriving hotel, twisted into a dark vision of fanaticism and greed for power. This same theme reminded me of our recent Someday You’ll Return playthrough, as well. But, Maid of Sker succeeded in many places where I felt Someday You’ll Return fell a little short.
Though the name may seem a bit on the nose (sker/scare), combined with what feels like a nod to Bioshock’s Elizabeth, Maid of Sker is honestly just a victim of coincidence. The Sker house, as it happens, is an actual historical place in Wales that the original Maid of Sker mystery novels by R. D. Blackmore was based on. Naturally, the video game is loosely based upon these stories that feature a character by the name of Elizabeth Williams.
In the story, Elizabeth was locked in her room and died of a broken heart when her father wouldn’t let her marry the love of her life. Similarly in the game, we see Elisabeth make reference to her father having caught on to the idea of their “plans” as a couple, and it’s left up to the player to interpret what that means. Drawing a parallel between the two mediums, I think it’s safe to assume that they were planning to elope. As we progress through the game, we learn that Elisabeth’s father refuses to let her leave the hotel and has other plans for his daughter to follow in her mother’s footsteps and become the Maid of Sker.
Arriving at the Sker Hotel reveals that the grounds are overgrown and decrepit. A stagecoach outside is torn apart, and the gates are ajar. A mesmerizing siren-like song drifts through the air from a window high above the ground floor of the hotel. Assuming it’s Elisabeth, you push through the doors and emerge into the cold darkness on the other side of the manor.
The atmosphere created just in the few minutes of walking is breathtaking. Maid of Sker is truly a beautiful game, with just about everywhere you turn being worthy of a screenshot. The gorgeous chapels, statues, and period architecture do wonders for creating the mysterious, dark atmosphere of Sker Hotel. It’s an interesting testament to Maid of Sker’s storytelling as well, to note that it’s daylight when you first arrive, and nighttime throughout the rest of the game.
From here on out, Maid of Sker shifts gears to find the love of your life. The manor is crawling with the Quiet Ones, family, and friends of the hotel that have self-mutilated in the devout worship of an unknown entity. They react strictly to movement, because their eyes have been gouged out, and a burlap sack placed over their heads. One wrong move, and you’ll be captured and killed, sent back to your previous save point. Instead, you’ll have to crouch and maneuver as silently as possible, holding your breath whenever you come too close or pass by dust or fire.
Silence is Golden
The pacing of Maid of Sker is interesting, as it seems to be entirely player-based. You could sprint through the manor and attract all kinds of attention, or, you could prolong the story and tension by crouching and crawling through every room. Because of how sensitive I initially thought the AI was, I opted for the latter which could be frustrating at times. Having to move so slowly increased the tension and sense of unease as you moved from room to room, but it also increased my feelings of impatience. The Quiet Ones patrolled the hallways and grounds of Sker Hotel, wandering aimlessly until given further purpose.
To avoid detection, Thomas needs to cover his mouth with his hands to stifle his breathing. Funnily enough, I felt like he created more noise by covering his mouth than if he had just breathed normally. There’s a fine balance between holding your breath and maneuvering around the Quiet Ones, because you don’t have an infinite amount of breath. As there isn’t a timer bar, you just have to keep an eye on the screen to tell when your vision is darkening before you let up. Even though Thomas gasps for breath, it doesn’t seem to attract the enemy’s attention.
What does attract the enemy’s attention, is directly touching them or lapsing into coughing fits when passing by a campfire or dust cloud. The dust clouds I understand, but the campfires confused me a bit. I understand that there needed to be another dangerous mechanic for walking the grounds outside, but it just felt a little out of place. I don’t know many folks that have coughing fits around a bonfire.
To defeat the Quiet Ones, Elisabeth tells you that you need to find all four cylinders or music sheets so she can play the countersong on the harmonium. Hopefully, this will break the strange curse on her family. The cult of Quiet Ones worships the mysterious siren’s song that you hear repeated throughout the hotel and seek to convert more members to their cause. As you progress through the hotel, you find little clues scattered here and there that give you some more insight into what’s really going on.
The phonographs used to save your game can be played to listen to more of these clues. Most of it is dialogue from Elisabeth, documenting her family’s descent into madness and the role they wish her to play. One phonograph in particular towards the end gave me all the information I needed to know about whether or not to trust Elisabeth to play the cylinders. I highly encourage you to explore the manor to its fullest and find all of the save points so that you can make an informed decision when it comes to the ending.
The cylinders are spread throughout the manor, some of which are hidden behind fairly simple puzzles, and some which just need to be picked up. There are also some collectible music dolls that serve as a sort of reward for exploring every nook and cranny of the hotel. As far as I know, the music dolls only give the player an achievement for finding them all, but it’s a nice touch for those of us that enjoy exploring every inch of a game.
The Patriarchs of Sker Hotel
As expected, Thomas was going to have to come face to face with the patriarchs of Elisabeth’s family sooner rather than later. When he does, you can’t hide any longer. There are no shotguns or tasers in Maid of Sker, so you’ll have to be creative along with running for your life. Slamming doors behind you only serves to delay the inevitable, and as the heavy footsteps of a boss fight thud along directly behind you, you’ll most certainly feel your heart stop when they come within an inch of grabbing you. You can absolutely sprint through the manor, fearing for your life, but you’ll probably end up restarting from your save point a few times. The key to successfully outsmarting the boss Quiet Ones is staying calm, and surveying your environment. Look around, and use the things closest to you to silence them once and for all.
It’s incredibly difficult to talk about Maid of Sker without completely giving away the endings. What I can say is that most of the choices you make during the game seem to be an illusion. Throughout your various phone calls with Elisabeth, you can choose to ask her questions, but there is never really any effect of those choices. They simply exist to propel the story forward and provide the player with some exposition and possible reasoning for the events going on. Maid of Sker is an exploration horror game that depends on you to figure out what’s going on to make an informed decision in the end. Pay attention to the little notes and messages you find. What do they tell you? The only choice that matters, is the one you make when you decide to officially check out, and the outcomes are drastically different. There are subtle hints all around you to clue you into the good outcome, you just have to be willing to listen.
Though I fell in love with the entire theme of Maid of Sker, I did feel like the endings left a little to be desired. There were still so many questions-several plot holes that just didn’t make sense, and probably never will, for me to feel at peace with how it ended. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy the bumpy ride, but I felt like there were some things that needed to be addressed that weren’t. In fact, I actually still really enjoyed it despite these shortcomings. It took me around seven hours to complete Maid of Sker, and the final five were accomplished in one sitting because I needed to see how the story ended.
Maid of Sker had a few jump scares here and there, but it was the tension and curiosity of the unknown that kept me invested in moving forward. After the first hour or so of my playthrough, it stopped being quite as scary, and had me hooked into the narrative, struggling to piece together what was real. Like the beautifully haunting siren’s song that persists throughout Maid of Sker, I was lulled into a trance, needing to see Thomas’s journey through to the end. There are few games that have captured my attention as much as Maid of Sker, and I think for any fan of the horror genre, especially those that love to explore, it would be an absolute disservice not to give this game a try if not for the story alone.
If you are interested in taking a trip to the Sker Hotel, Maid of Sker is currently available on Steam for $24.99.
A key was provided for the purpose of this review.