Capsule Review: Inscryption

A game that starts as a creepy roguelike deck-builder but which turns out to have a lot of surprises and tricks up its sleeve.

Like Daniel Mullins' previous works, this is a sort of “haunted game” mystery that tells its story via a game-within-a-game. As before, there are sentient game characters, fourth-wall breaks involving you-the-player, metatextual surprises, and extra lore outside the game in an ARG-like fashion. Discussion of the themes and gameplay changes all constitute spoilers, so I won’t be specific here, but I do think it’s important to know that this isn’t just a roguelike deck-builder. It starts there but cleverly remixes its systems and mechanics to create several other kinds of gameplay.

Unfortunately, not all the gameplay is equally deep and compelling, and the pacing of the narrative changes along the way as well. I had a good time for roughly the first five hours, though I personally could have done with slightly less deck-builder during this portion. The atmosphere was great and the story was compelling, introducing mysteries and gradually making me feel like I was seeing more and more of the big picture. Then for the remaining five hours, the atmosphere was much less interesting, the narrative slammed to a halt, and the gameplay became much more of a slog. The end sequence had some great atmosphere and finally brought the narrative to its conclusion, but in a rapid-fire way that left many important questions unanswered and the overall plot in an unsatisfying state with little closure.

While it is in some ways the most polished Mullins game yet, to me it feels like a step back in terms of making use of the formula’s strengths and falling into its weaknesses. The game-within-a-game is deeper and lengthier than before, to the point where it’s a bit of a slog if you’re just here for the story and surprises, but not deep enough to satisfy deck-builder enthusiasts. The story conflicts with the fourth-wall breaks even worse than it did in Pony Island. The ending is even more confusing and unsatisfying than The Hex. And rather than the in-game secrets and out-of-game lore just being extra context that you can safely ignore, here it seems to be required reading in order to understand important events in the game’s core plot.

I Stopped Playing When: I finished the game, though I missed some secrets and optional puzzles. I found the ending particularly unsatisfying and had really only enjoyed about half the gameplay.

Docprof's Rating:

Two Stars: Meh. The game has some merit - it probably held my attention for at least an hour or I came back to it for more than one play session. But there wasn't enough draw for me to stick with it for the long haul.

You can get it or learn more here.