The gothic series Skautfold makes its first move onto Xbox with Skautfold: Shrouded in Sanity. This is the first of five Skautfold games that can be found on PC, and it’s no spring chicken. This was first released in 2016, and this release doesn’t represent a remaster: it’s purely the first steps onto console.
Playing Skautfold: Shrouded in Sanity, its age doesn’t show. It’s a pixel art game, which makes it hard to carbon-date, and it’s so steeped in a particular style that it feels timeless. Skautfold is set in an imaginary Britannia, circa 1897, where evil roams. It takes place in the grounds of Berelai mansion, which has been encircled by fog, and everything feels oppressive. You can barely move from one room of the mansion to another without fog, blood or bodily gore surrounding you.
You play a nameless warrior, brought back from the dead by an untrustworthy noble and forced into a contract to kill the ‘King’ who has brought madness to the world. The King’s fog has caused everyone in the mansion to go insane, attacking anyone on sight. It means that Skautfold: Shrouded in Sanity’s cast of creatures are mostly maids, butlers and groundspeople, which gives everything an unsettling “should I be doing this?” edge.
Skautfold: Shrouded in Sanity is a bit of a chimeric beast. A horror game set in a mansion, with clearly named rooms and keys to open them, will always invoke the original Resident Evil. But Skautfold plays very differently. It’s got the fashionable Souls approach to death, where your body is left behind alongside all of the vitae (the game’s currency) that you have accumulated, meaning you have to return to recover your loot. But in the moment-to-moment gameplay, Skautfold: Shrouded in Sanity is more like the parry-dodge-attack of some of the best action roguelikes. Think Hades or Dead Cells, but with enemies that can obliterate your health bar with a single hit.
It’s abundantly clear from the start that Skautfold: Shrouded in Sanity is a demanding game. If the grim setting wasn’t enough of a clue, your first encounter will make it obvious. If you don’t die to the first enemy, we take our hats off to you.
There are a few reasons for the difficulty. The first is that the controls – at least initially – are awful. Whoever decided that all the meaningful attacks, dodges and blocks should be on the trigger buttons should get the rough end of the main character’s cane. Luckily, a dive into the Options screen allows you to remap the controls.
The second is a lack of a tutorial. We would have welcomed knowing that the portraits in the opening room of Skautfold: Shrouded in Sanity contain hot tips for combat combos. With that information, we wouldn’t have found the opening moments so unfriendly.
When Skautfold: Shrouded in Sanity gets moving, it has a natty combat loop. Enemies could feasibly have been bosses themselves. They move at high speed, and have counter-measures to whatever you do. The only real break in combat is when they drop to the ground, out of puff, but even that is such a short window that you can easily get caught out.
While that might seem overly brutal, the enemies do not respawn unless you die, so killing one means meaningful progress. And a corpse will net you vitae that can be spent on powerful benefits like additional health injections on the next run. Butler enemies drop Yth stones, which unlock meaningful and permanent benefits to your character like additional strength and health.
How Skautfold: Shrouded in Sanity progresses is actually one of its weaker points, and it leads to the third reason why the difficulty is particularly hard at the beginning. When you start out, your stats are low, leaving you open to attack. Butlers will kill you in a couple of hits. But as you progress, the enemies become less of an issue, which feels like an inverse of the difficulty curve that you’d want. Skautfold: Shrouded in Sanity becomes much easier the longer you play, but it means the opening is an uphill treadmill.
To offset your power in the second half of the game, Skautfold: Shrouded in Sanity has a habit of adding unkillable enemies that dominate the mansion and its grounds. They’re walking traps, and they’re often so big and obstructing that you can be simply standing still, waiting for them to move or stop attacking. A plaguebearer-like character walks around, filling the room with fogs of death-incense, and you can be checking your watch for them to get out of the way. It’s like queuing for a bus, and it’s not the most enthralling mechanic we’ve ever come across.
But for all these niggles, Skautfold: Shrouded in Sanity has quite a bit of merit. It’s a dense and sculpted world, for one, with a complex story that can be seen through various lore drops in the environment. Entering a new room, beyond a locked door, can be exciting, as the designers have a habit of creating truly horrific scenarios, with funny and even BDSM edges to them.
Building a mental map of the mansion and grounds is great too, although we would have taken an actual in-game map. Clearing it in a particular direction feels satisfying, and making real progress by leveling your character or defeating one of the game’s four knight bosses offers a very real sense of achievement. Skautfold: Shrouded in Sanity, once it has its claws in you, is a very moreish action-adventure.
We wondered whether it was wise to go back six years and bring the first game in the five-game series to console, rather than the most modern. But Skautfold: Shrouded in Sanity doesn’t feel old in any way. It’s a grimly stylish action-adventure with Souls-like elements, and it carries that series’ hallmarks by also being incredibly unfriendly. If you are in the habit of dismissing a game based on high challenge and poor tutorialisation, then you might want to avoid.
If you’re a bit more forgiving and up for the challenge, though, Skautfold: Shrouded in Sanity is a rewarding battler. Dodge, block and parry your way to victory, and you will soon find yourself taking down the King.
You can buy Skautfold: Shrouded in Sanity from the Xbox Store
- Grim and gruesome world that is rich with story
- Tight combat controls
- Many different rewarding systems
- Poor controls and tutorial
- Emphasis on annoying unkillable enemies
- May be too challenging for some
- Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - Red Art Games
- Formats - Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC, PS4, PS5, Switch
- Version reviewed - Xbox One on Xbox Series X
- Release date - 11 Feb 2022
- Launch price from - £8.39