The spooky season is upon us, and what better way to celebrate than getting stuck into a world described as “marred by despair and desperation”. No? Just me then.

Moonscars tells the story of Grey Irma, a fierce clayborne warrior who is searching for answers to unlock the mysteries of her own existence as well as the gloomy, threatening world she inhabits. On paper, I wouldn’t have said this was a game for me. However, in the end I was glad this one came my way.

moonscars review 1

This is a game that despite not pushing the boundaries of what the Xbox can do graphically, still manages to look pretty good. I say this because the bleak, gothic style is well designed and realised with a near monochrome palette populated by combinations of 3D sprites and layered, hand-drawn 2D backgrounds.

There are many grotesque monsters that will try to take you out, often by method of ambush as you try to navigate the sprawling metroidvania dungeon world of Moonscars. Your handy map, which you will be constantly referring to, will reveal itself in a fog of war fashion as you explore. 

The gameplay consists of a seemingly straightforward combination of platforming and combat. Grey Irma can climb walls, dodge, dash and is pretty agile on the whole, despite being weighty to control. Drawing on these skills is sometimes necessary to avoid a combat situation rather than trying to tackle every enemy head on. Because if you try to, you will most likely die. And dying can be costly.

I say this because you’ll gather two precious resources as you traverse this nightmarish world. Bone powder can be gathered by defeating enemies as well as hidden deposits popping up when exploring. This can then be used to buy runes, learn new skills and more. 

The second commodity to look out for are glands. You heard me right, stop sniggering at the back. These are used again to purchase runes, but are also very handy for reducing moonhunger. This is the phenomenon which happens when you die. The moon will redden and make enemies more powerful but they will drop more bone powder as a reward. However, this does make defending yourself much more difficult, so I would advise keeping a few glands in reserve, so to speak.

moonscars review 2

The combat in Moonscars is apparently simplistic at first sight, but there are hidden depths to be experimented with. Grey Irma wields an impressive sword, so hacking and slashing is the bread and butter here. She can also parry, but pulling this off is a little hit and miss depending on the enemy. A red glint will give away their attack, and then you will have a brief window to successfully parry and avoid taking significant damage. It’s not an exact science to put it lightly.

Alongside the physical stuff is witchery. This is where your skill tree comes in, and you can learn all sorts of moves from simple energy blasts to summoning minions that can lend a hand. You can only equip two of these at a time meaning you’ll need to change them depending on the battle ahead. Thankfully you can do this at your leisure.

To complement your combat skills, three runes can be equipped which will award varying buffs. For example, some of the most useful ones I kept coming back to were those that reduced damage taken, increased the chance of landing a critical hit and offered the ability to dash twice to help dodge more effectively.

Although it sounds a little odd, dying is not the end in Moonscars. In fact, it’s often necessary to die a few times to learn how to overcome your foes, especially boss characters. When you do kick it, your grave will be marked on your map along with your resources for you to nip back and collect. However, if you die again before doing so, all that bone powder you battled to acquire will be lost forever.

On the subject of bosses, the first is very difficult. In fact, if I wasn’t playing Moonscars for review there is the very real possibility I would have stopped right there, and decided it wasn’t for me. However, I soldiered on and in the end I was glad to do so.

moonscars review 3

The issue here is that Moonscars has a punishing difficulty which puts up a rather significant barrier to entry. It’s unapologetically harsh from early on in, and will often leave you stumped as to how you can survive such a hostile environment. The secret lies within the runes.

When I applied these to the knowledge I learned about enemy strengths and weaknesses (and after a good few deaths) everything seemed to click. I went from staggering between screens, praying to survive until the next save point, to fearlessly tearing down the horrific hordes and even heading into boss battles unfazed. Hitting this point meant Moonscars started to flow much more pleasantly and I could happily sit and play it for three or four hours in a sitting.

As a result I enjoyed my time with Moonscars. The story is alright, although to be honest I felt myself skipping through the dialogue at times, but it has been a lot of fun to play and teased an intriguing world to explore. If you can show some grit and stick out the first couple of hours, this metroidvania adventure has a lot more to show you.

Moonscars may look grim, but there’s little horror in allowing your morbid curiosity to get the better of you here. 

Moonscars is available from the Xbox Store

The spooky season is upon us, and what better way to celebrate than getting stuck into a world described as “marred by despair and desperation”. No? Just me then. Moonscars tells the story of Grey Irma, a fierce clayborne warrior who is searching for answers to unlock the mysteries of her own existence as well as the gloomy, threatening world she inhabits. On paper, I wouldn’t have said this was a game for me. However, in the end I was glad this one came my way. This is a game that despite not pushing the boundaries of what the Xbox…

Pros:

  • Surprisingly deep combat
  • Sprawling, interesting world to explore
  • Plenty of runes to experiment with
  • Stylish visuals and enemy design

Cons:

  • Waffle-y story
  • Not immediately accessible

Info:

  • Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - Humble Games
  • Formats - Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PS5, PS4, Switch, PC
  • Version reviewed - Xbox One on Xbox Series X
  • Release date - 27 September 2022
  • Launch price from - £16.74
TXH Score

4/5

Pros:

  • Surprisingly deep combat
  • Sprawling, interesting world to explore
  • Plenty of runes to experiment with
  • Stylish visuals and enemy design

Cons:

  • Waffle-y story
  • Not immediately accessible

Info:

  • Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - Humble Games
  • Formats - Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PS5, PS4, Switch, PC
  • Version reviewed - Xbox One on Xbox Series X
  • Release date - 27 September 2022
  • Launch price from - £16.74

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