By Tomas Palmieri
Back in 2021, one of the biggest names in indie-game publishing, Devolver Digital, published developer Daniel Mullins’ newest game, “Inscryption.” I decided to pick up the critically acclaimed indie game a couple of months after it came out, but dropped the game after only reaching the second of three acts. Over spring break, I decided to give the game another try with some encouragement from a friend, and quickly realized that this game was both mechanically spectacular, as well as rich in story and lore elements.
In “Inscryption,” you play as a person named Luke Carder, a guy who discovers a floppy disk out in the woods containing the game “Inscryption.”
“Inscryption” is an alternate reality game (ARG). This means that the game utilizes the real world as a platform for its interactive narrative, which can be altered by the player’s choices and actions in the game. It is a roguelike deck-building game.
The game consists of three individual acts. In the first, you attempt to progress through a whole lot of escape room-esque puzzles. You are essentially trying to continuously improve your deck, failing as little as possible since the roguelike elements cause you to restart whatever section you are on when failure occurs.
As you progress through the first act, you begin to realize that you can stand up from the old creaky table you are playing the game at, allowing you to solve puzzles in the cabin-like environment around you. Upon successfully solving these puzzles and completing the first act, the game undergoes a complete graphical change, shifting to a two dimensional trading card game.
With less roguelike elements and a more casual feel, you progress through the second act building a deck, opening packs to get cards, and battling all four of the “Scrybes,” powerful beings that have the ability to create cards. Back in 2021, this was the stage in the game where I initially dropped it as I felt that the shift from three dimensional to two dimensional and an almost complete drop of the psychological horror elements left me bored.
What I didn’t know was that upon completing the second act, the game transported you to the third act, returning to the three dimensional psychological horror card battler, just with more of a science fiction tone. So, when I came back to the game during this year’s spring break, I was pleasantly surprised that I was both enjoying the second act, likely due to my reigniting passion for trading card games in general, but also heavily immersed in the lore of the game by the third act.
In an attempt to discover the deeper lore of the game, community members scoured every ounce of the game, eventually discovering that in order to unlock a large chat log of game relevant characters, a numerous amount of puzzles must be solved. These puzzles applied knowledge gained within the game to lead players to alter game files, examine assets from the game, look back at Mullins’ older games, and even digging up a real life item just to name a few.
Just the fact that so many of these puzzles required careful deliberation down to real life treasure hunting really made understanding the true lore of the game so interesting. Obviously since I completed the game recently I wasn’t able to take part in the real life treasure hunt or other timely assignments, but I can sincerely appreciate the careful deliberation Mullins’ puts into his puzzles and overall narrative of “Inscryption.”
What I originally thought was another card battling roguelike quickly turned into a psychological horror filled puzzle game, causing the community to go outside of the game due to its alternate reality style to truly solve the mysteries behind “Inscryption.” Overall, I find this game to be a must play for anyone who appreciates card-based games with meaningful puzzles and extremely satisfying narrative arcs.