Inscryption (PC) Review

By Joel DeWitte

I sat at my desk, and booted up the recently found old floppy disc on my PC.  A dull grey screen with the word “Inscryption” appeared, curiously only giving the option to continue someone else’s save.  Suddenly, I’m transported to a tiny cabin with a game table, suffocated by trinkets, clocks, and taxidermy.  A shadowy figure with piercing eyes handed me a deck of cards, sprawled out a map with waypoints and a figurine, and offered to play a game.

Inscryption is presented as a trading card game a la Magic the Gathering mixed with a board game, played out on a 4 x 4 field.  The core mechanic is sacrifice – basic character cards (squirrels) cost nothing to cast, and to summon more powerful ones, creatures must be culled so their blood can fuel them.  You both take turns playing and attacking, each successful hit laying a token on a scale, with the first to weigh it to the table winning.  In between matches play out on the board, with branching paths to choose from.  These sequences dole out snippets of storytelling, and the means to gather items or card enhancements that alter the matches.  Sections are endcapped with special boss battles with further changes in how matches play out.

The joy is in learning how items and skills interplay with each other, how abilities can stack, and setting up that satisfying run where you can obliterate the opponent in the space of two or three turns.  Another battle where the scales tip back and forth but getting the right card just as you need it lets you edge out a victory.  When defeated, you’re forced back to the beginning losing those items and buffs, but instead of being a pain, it becomes an opportunity to try something new and refine your strategy for the next run.  All of it challenging, all of it more rewarding for being so.  Inscryption knows there’s joy in struggle, each hard earned victory giving a brief moment of celebration before going back to the grind.

As robust as the card game itself is, Inscryption uses it largely as a storytelling device.  The dialogue on those map sequences is just window dressing to that card game.  The true story starts with jumping between matches by getting off the table and exploring this tiny cabin for clues as to why you’re there, what’s keeping you stuck there, and how to get out.  Almost like an escape room, little snippets of dialogue can be a lead, or picking away at items scattered about can open new avenues to peel away layers and get to the core of what’s really happening.

Even then, this is just the start of Inscryption.  A launching point to a wild story that expands beyond this cabin and the game itself.  Somehow turning into both a smaller personal story of a card game YouTube personality and a grand scale adventure filled with mystery, confusion, and what is or isn’t real.  It’s the kind of story that begs experiencing firsthand and with as little knowledge as possible as not to spoil the twists, turns, and more shocking moments.

Inscryption is a perfect example of using an interactive medium like video games to tell a story.  Being a part of driving the action invests you in the outcome like nothing else because you, the player, are part of the story.  The little morsels of story bread-crumbed with each win are dropped sparingly enough to make finding each one a victory in and of itself.  All of this married to a trading card game that feels cohesive on its own makes Inscryption one of the most complete experiences this year.

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