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For many players, it's a big thing to go into games blind. Surely any game enthusiast who's read a few reviews has seen the phrase "if you haven't played this, just go play it, don't read any further" or something similar. This is usually reserved for games where there's a shocking story twist-you wouldn't usually see it applied to a Super Mario game, for instance-but it's also commonly used in cases of gameplay twist; Inscryption certainly fits the latter. If you've heard of this game, you're likely familiar with the concept of the game-it's a spooky, rouge-lite deck builder which faces you off against a mysterious, ominous foe, while also offering an overarching puzzle to solve, in the form of an explorable escape room. The game begins in medias res-in fact, the "new game" option is blanked out up when Inscryption is loaded for the first time-but you quickly get a sense for what is generally happening, all the while gathering an insight into how the card game is played, and what strategies work best. The reason that players are so to keen recommend a blind playthrough of Inscryption, though, is because there's a lot more going on beneath the surface-not all of it for the best.
Inscryption's trailer certainly focused on this cryptic, candlelit cabin aesthetic, and it's likely what drew a lot of people in to the game. And this cabin, where you're constantly facing the glowing eyes' challenges, looking for hints on how to escape, and trying to unravel why you're here in the first place, is nothing less than excellent. It's incredibly engrossing, mystifying and captivating, and the candlelit eerie glow of the cards really help sell the game's presentation. It's incredibly rich in personality, mechanics of the card game are taught at a consistent and well-defined pace, and nothing feels overwhelming. Such a variety of different deck combinations, card upgrades, and modifications exist in this game that the relatively simple base gameplay is made surprisingly complex, just by virtue of your options.
Each defeat sends you back to the beginning of the board, so to speak, and this is one of the game's great strengths; by allowing you to build your deck one card at a time, and start from scratch when you lose, you can make more informed decisions on second, third, and fourth attempts, once you realize what works and what doesn't. Difficulty is well-balanced throughout, each failure just begs players to come back again, just one more time, to see if they can get past that one boss. There's also just the right amount of an unnerving factor to this section of the game. It's absolutely the total package, and it concludes with a truly epic final boss.
But that's the thing about Inscryption; if you've been paying attention to this review at all, you've probably perused that this dimly lit cabin only amounts for one section of the game. Indeed, once you defeat Lushy and escape his cabin, the game changes dramatically in scope. What seemed like a mysterious, yet relatively simple card game is expanded upon with more mechanics, lore, and meta-commentary. First, you're introduced to the fact that this is actually a found-footage game. Then, the aesthetic and function of the game shifts dramatically; it becomes a 16-bit version of the card game as the full plot of the game is revealed. This is where the game loses a lot of people who were enticed by the first act's aesthetic, and it shows in Steam's global achievements. While 75% of players defeat Lushy and finish Act I, only 56% finish Act II, and only 45% finish the actual game. It returns to the escape room style card game in Act III, but by that point the mechanics feel a little bit lifeless. And it's likely this was intentional, given Act III's final boss, but that doesn't make the gameplay any more interesting. There are a couple of new mechanics that get introduced in Act II, and one of them becomes the core mechanic in Act III, but neither of them feel balanced or fleshed out enough to replace the relatively simple yet addictive gameplay of Act I.
There's a reason all the promotional material for Inscryption is solely comprised of Act I material, and it goes beyond its sucker punch plot revelations. It's because Act I is just so alluring, so magnetizing, so mysterious. Visually, aurally, in every way it's fantastic, and it's by far the most enjoyable part of the game-practically every review on HLTB mentions it specifically as the highlight. But this game's issue is that it just tries to fit too much in for it to be truly great, and none of what it has to offer can stand up to its fantastic first chapter. The game is never bad, even in Act II & III, it's just unbalanced. There's still some fun to be had in the later portions of the game, but it's clear the game is being held back. Is it still a good time, and is it worth experiencing for the first act alone? Absolutely. It just got too ambitious for its own good, which is why Inscryption is only good, not great.