If there’s a genre that dominated the video game world in 2021, it was rogue-lite. After the resounding success that Hades had in 2021, winning dozens of Game of the Year awards, many studios decided to create adventures in which the player has to start from scratch if he fails in his missions, but is rewarded with something to help him in the next attempt.
Devolver Digital was connected to this trend to the point of having invested in three projects of this type this year alone, the most recent of which we are going to talk about today. But first, I need to briefly run through a name: Daniel Mullins. Many may not know it, but the young Canadian developer has already made a name for himself in the industry through his first two solo titles, Poney Island e The Hex.
The elements that define them are present in their newest game, Inscryption. In it, there is a dark theme, clever puzzles and an extremely intriguing story. Even though the recipe is very similar, the cake is totally different. Check out why in our review below.
Play the right cards or pay for it
There is a lot to talk about Inscryption, more than you can imagine. Let’s start with the most important thing: combat. All confrontations are made from a card game similar to Magic: The Gathering, with creatures featuring a cost, attack and defense points, and special abilities. To summon them, it is necessary to make a payment in blood through sacrifices from other creatures or from bones from other beings who died on the battlefield.
We were really impressed with how balanced the system is, which is not easy to do at all. Of course, some cards stand out, like the Praying Mantis, which does three attacks in three directions per turn — but it’s rare, and it’s not common to find it around. With punctuation working like a scale, weighing you sideways as the plays go, understanding their system is easy, which can appeal to even those who aren’t very familiar with card games.
Finally, in case the confrontations are difficult, there are some items that can be used to give that “helping hand”, being a free squirrel to be sacrificed, a scissors that cuts an opposing creature, a pliers that gives you an extra point and many others available. I guarantee that they were essential at various times in our adventure, as, as is to be expected, sometimes luck is not on our side.
Every squirrel sacrificed is a burden on our conscience.Source: Francesco Casagrande / Voxel
death doesn’t look so bad to me
But where does the rogue-lite fit into all of this? Before, let’s tell a little about the story of Inscryption. We woke up in a strange, dark cabin with a mysterious man in front of us; then, he forces us to play cards on a kind of board, allowing us to choose our path. In every house we walk, something happens, like gaining a new creature or improving one that’s already in our deck. If we have two failures, we die and go back to the beginning, losing all progress.
With that, there are all the deck building mechanics that need to be mastered to choose the best cards and get as far as possible. This part is not easy, as it needs a balance and a strategic sense that will be developed over time. The strongest cards will always attract more attention, but the costs will make life very complicated, especially when there is nothing to sacrifice.
Choose wisely or pay for it.Source: Francesco Casagrande / Voxel
Being a rogue-lite, different from a roguelike, it gives you some kind of reward if death comes, and that’s where one of the best mechanics comes in: before starting a new adventure, the player creates a card using characteristics of others conquered along the way. Thus, it is possible to give life to extremely strong and very cheap creatures, which can be found and chosen in the next attempts.
Therefore, the imbalance of the combat system “goes to the bone” because of the player himself. This tool is extremely powerful, but it still involves some luck. Most of the time, we create important cards for our game; others we wouldn’t even choose if we had to.
This Joselito doesn’t have a clue!Source: Francesco Casagrande / Voxel
Small and large stones in the shoe
While most of the confrontations seemed fair, there was a type that left us extremely frustrated, and we made sure to avoid: the totem challenges. In these battles, a specific tribe of creatures (insects, canis lupus, reptiles, etc.) gain a special ability, but only those of the opponent. And when they gain the ability to fly, my friend, it’s an instant defeat.
After the first failures, we avoid this part whenever possible so as not to stress out needlessly. And, to be clearer, we were more impatient with these moments than with the battles against the bosses, which had their own complications.
No, our cards are not gold… get out of here!Source: Francesco Casagrande / Voxel
Speaking of which, each boss battle is against a different character, has two stages and has unique characteristics that make each one complicated in its own way. The garimpeiro, the first of them, is quite simple, as his difficulty is that he turns his creatures into gold at the beginning of the second part. However, after two attempts, it is already possible to finish him without major problems.
The second, the fisherman, was bothered by filling the board with very strong sharks. Still, it was just learning more about his moves and more intelligently assembling our deck that the problems went to space.
In addition to those mentioned, there are two others that we won’t go into so as not to spoil the experience, but the dynamics with them were the same mentioned, including the complications.
The secret of the cabin
The game is not just about combat. Once outside of them, it is possible to explore the entire dark hut that is filled with secrets. While some give special cards, others continue the story that is told by talking creatures. The movement is very limited, which increases the atmosphere of terror and tension that the title is intended to have.
Even though we’ve solved all such puzzles, we still don’t understand their logic.Source: Francesco Casagrande / Voxel
Some of the puzzles are simple, needing to look in the right place, make associations or even “take the guesswork”; others need a little more insight or even take action within matches — this adds several layers of complexity, which further enriches the history of that place. If the player has not taken all the right steps, defeating the last boss will not continue the campaign, but will force him to go back to the beginning.
You didn’t read it wrong. Defeating the final boss doesn’t end the story, but we won’t give details to avoid spoilers. What we can say is: after the supposed last battle, our head was blown up many times, both with the extremely mysterious plot and the sudden changes in gameplay. It’s the classic “the less you know, the better” type of situation, so if you’re interested, hurry up and play as soon as possible.
What #&@%$ is this?Source: Francesco Casagrande / Voxel
It is worth it?
Inscryption it’s not only Daniel Mullins’ most mature work due to its well-crafted mechanics, complex story and impressive turn of the key, but it’s also one of the best games we could play in 2021.
As a whole, it is an intriguing work that will make you think about new strategies or even try to understand what is happening, even while you sleep — which is a great merit. And, finally, this is further proof that Devolver Digital rarely gets it wrong, so “keep an eye” on everything they publish.
Nota Voxel: 95
Inscryption makes you think and rethink every move, and instigate your curiosity to understand everything that’s going on in that cabin in the middle of nowhere.