First Impressions: SKALD: Against the Black Priory (Alpha Demo)

Screenshot from SKALD: Against the Black Priory
SKALD: Against the Black Priory melds oldschool RPG charm with more modern RPG gameplay

Recently I was made aware of an oldschool RPG in development called SKALD: Against the Black Priory and the imminent release of an alpha demo by one of its developers. The alpha demo was released a couple of weeks ago and I dabbled around a bit with it and I like what I see so far. That's not to say SKALD is going to be a game for everyone, it very much tries to emulate the CRPGs of the 1980s such as the Gold Box, The Bard's Tale and Ultima series which are very dated games nowadays: 30 years is a long time in the world of computer games to the point that if you asked someone what a classic, oldschool RPG looks like to them, you're probably going to get "Skyrim" as a response.

However, despite the relative obscurity of the genre to gamers nowadays, I was impressed to hear there were enough fans to help fund the game on Kickstarter; in fact, it was fully funded (70,000 NOK or over $11,000 AUD) on the very first day and it ultimately raised 183,746 NOK (over $29,000 AUD) by the end of the campaign thanks to 450 backers. So, that's at least 450 old CRPG fans that are willing to put money where their mouths are ;).

The development team behind SKALD called Scape-IT have set a tentative release date of June 2020 for Windows and Mac, and has said that their "upcoming classic turn-based RPG" would be set in a "dark, gritty fantasy universe, full of tragic heroes, violent deaths and eldritch horror". Okay, sounds pretty cool so far, but not exactly anything you haven't heard before when it comes to RPGs, right?

Well, besides mimicking some elements from oldschool RPGs such as a party-based system (apparently up to six in SKALD although you only start off with four in the alpha demo) and a combat system inspired by games like the first Wasteland and The Bard's Tale, Scape-IT have gone forward in time by almost 10 years and have decided to incorporate gameplay elements from CRPGs of the late 1990s to deliver a more accessible and unique experience for the player.

Screenshot from SKALD: Against the Black Priory
Conversation is conducted using dialogue trees like above

For example, unlike the cumbersome interfaces used back in the 1980s, "book-keeping" is reduced in SKALD as you have a journal system that automatically keeps track of quests, auto-mapping and a forgiving save system that allows you to save anywhere. Many of these features we take for granted nowadays but they were often absent in CRPGs from the 1980s: It seems that Scape-IT are trying to bring the best of both worlds so it will allow modern audiences to still experience all the good parts of these classic RPGs without any of their pitfalls.

The game is accessible and more forgiving in other ways too such as characters not dying in combat encounters unless the whole party perishes which will hopefully reduce the need for save-scumming (since that's actually one of my pet peeves).

Another way SKALD aims to bring more modern CRPG ideas to an oldschool one is by making every experience a unique one with respect to the narrative: there will be multiple solutions to a problem with some not even requiring combat! Scape-IT also wants what class you play to have an impact on the narrative and that's not even going into the Feats system (similar to the Perks system in Fallout) or character backgrounds.

Screenshot from SKALD: Against the Black Priory
Exploring the sewers underneath the city of Horryn

As mentioned, I've already dabbled a bit with the alpha demo and while my experience isn't as extensive as some when it comes to CRPGs of the 80s and 90s, I do have vivid memories of playing two of them by Origin: 1988's 2400 A.D. as well as 1990's Ultima VI. When compared to these two games I've played, Scape-IT has definitely nailed the look and feel of games of the era (I especially love the MIDI-like soundtrack composed by Surt Romanus which is actually available free here).

What I've seen so far is promising so I can't wait to play the final product once it's finally released sometime next year. If you like oldschool CRPGs or are curious to see what all the fuss is about, this should be one game to keep on your radar.

[ Official SKALD Website ]