Inscryption | Developer: Daniel Mullins Games | Publisher: Devolver Digital | Platform: PC | Year: 2021
One part experimental card battler, one part metaphysical adventure. Catching the mysteries of Inscryption will demand patience, but there’s hella fun to be had in the chase.

Inscryption Logo

Inscryption

Although Inscryption is a weird and wonderful experience that’s easy to gush about, the potential for spoilers is just as strong, so articulating what makes it so special is difficult to say the least.

This is a genre-bending adventure where a collectible card game mentality reigns and nothing is as it seems. It begins with players arriving at a dark cabin whereupon they’re thrust into a deck-building roguelike similar to genre king, Slay the Spire.

In a nod to Magic: the Gathering and perhaps a niche card game called Sylvion, players begin drafting an army of animals into a personal deck. These critters have their own unique statistics and sigils which confer special abilities, and players will summon them to the battlefield through sacrifice. The stronger an animal is, the more blood it needs to be summoned, and players collect blood by sacrificing weaker creatures like squirrels and goats to eventually summon stronger wolves, bears, and even sharks to open attack lanes.

It sounds grisly, but Inscryption’s brand of horror is — with perhaps a few notable exceptions — more psychological in nature. Players will often watch as their cards get permanently torn up or burned on a campfire; like some kind of twisted legacy game.

The gameplay is easy to learn at first, with advanced mechanics and currencies creeping in once players are comfortable with the basics. The gameplay shines thanks to its speed and open-ended design space that affords wild opportunities to splice cards together and inscribe — or perhaps “inscrybe” — new sigils onto existing creatures. Loading up a multi-hit Mantis with poisonous barbs or evasive wings for example, are fantastic moments of creativity that leave players eager to start a new run mere moments after finishing their previous one.

Not content with just being an addictive card game, Inscryption also has players uncovering the mystery of why they’re here to begin with. Away from the gaming table, players explore a 3D cabin for clues to overcome several wacky and occasionally unfair boss battles, and it’s all narrated by a cast of memorable characters who have agendas of their own.

Rarely does Inscryption present a stable status quo. The gameplay is a shifting meta where new cards and strategies appear with every compelling new chapter, and the robust mechanics are laudable considering how narrative is the primary focus.

So much so that I was disappointed with the achievements list of all things. The card play is varied enough for fun challenges to exist and yet the achievements are mostly for story completion and hidden goals that are hard to discover without a guide handy.

Inscryption screenshot showing a shadowy figure looking over mantis cards on a gaming table

Kaycee’s mod is a free official expansion that introduces an endless mode to tests players’ advanced knowledge of the card pool and roguelike systems. Whilst only in beta at the time of writing, it all looks very promising.

Inscryption puts its story first. Cards and backpack items that shatter the balance of play aren’t uncommon, and players can spend a long time theorycrafting, only for the rules of engagement to suddenly flip like one of the host’s wooden masks. If you come to this game wanting a story, it will certainly help manage expectations when the developers throw yet another curve ball.

It’s an uneven experience because of that though. There’s a wonderful sense of unease in the early going. After beating the cabin’s sinister host for the first time, I remember looking around the table pensively:

“Why do not I not feel like a winner?”, was all I could ask!

However, like many mysteries, Inscryption is stronger at the beginning. Later segments drag on for too long meaning some mechanics don’t have enough time to be impactful. There’s a point where the captivating card play seems to peak and the plot comes into sharper focus, leaving players less with a sense they’re playing a video game, and more with the feeling they’re just surviving an elaborate escape room.

It does out what a creative and passionate production Inscryption is at its core. Its story reaches deeper than you’d expect and the script is dotted with references and CCG lingo that adds all the amusement and authenticity Daniel Mullins fans would expect from another one of his remarkable works.

Banner art by Carpet-Crawler

Inscryption on Steam »