On its surface SKALD: Against the Black Priory combines some of my favorite characteristics found in video games. It promises tactical party-based combat, RPG systems, a unique dark fantasy world, and a healthy dose of Lovecraftian horror. So, when the game appeared in Steam’s newest Next Fest, I was excited to try it out for myself.
The demo begins with players selecting the quick start option from the main menu, as the game’s character creator is not included. Players are then quickly dropped into the narrative as they wake up below deck on a ship. The game then briefly explains that players are on the ship with a group of mercenaries to travel to a far-off island and find somebody.
It takes a while for the particulars of the narrative to be completely revealed, but the demo does a solid job of introducing SKALD’s main mechanics and teases its tone. The game features very retro graphics that look really great and stylized. The low-bit visuals, however, still feel great because of solid animations and detailing work that keeps it looking great. The only issues that I found with the visuals were that the text could be hard on the eyes after a short while and that sometimes objects or enemies would get lost in the background if their colors were too similar.
The demo also provides a small look at what to expect from SKALD’s combat, although it only shows its uppermost layer. Combat is played out on grid arenas with players building a squad of warriors that each have their own spells, feats, and weapons to choose from. The combat in the demo was solid enough, but it offered very limited options and was clearly intended to serve as a tutorial. It is easy to see the groundwork that the demo lays for a more deep and engaging combat experience, but only the game’s full release will see how well realized that potential is.
Throughout the demo players also have various opportunities to make skill checks. The full breadth of these checks is not shown in the demo, but it has the potential to lead to fun character building. This is especially true because of the player’s ability to make checks with any member of their party, potentially allowing you to have one character specialize in picking locks, another in persuasion checks, and another in being physically strong.
While playing through the demo players are also presented with a choice of whether to sneak and attempt to avoid combat or willingly attack potentially innocent soldiers. The full consequences of the player’s choice are not seen in the demo, but if SKALD features similar choices throughout its playtime, it could help add another welcome layer of player choice to its mechanics and narrative.
The demo for SKALD definitely doesn’t reveal the game’s full hand, but it does give a decent peek at what it could potentially be. I found the most revealing part of the demo, however, to be how it revealed the game’s dark tone, ominous storytelling, and dangerous setting. It provides a great look at the game’s universe, which I expect will win and lose more fans than any of its other singular components.
SKALD: Against the Black Priory releases on PC in 2023.