STAFF REVIEW of Skautfold: Usurper (Xbox One)

Friday, July 21, 2023.
by Adam Dileva

Skautfold: Usurper Box art Sometimes I enjoy going into a new game to review completely blind, as I’ve been surprised many times before, finding gems that I would have otherwise not even ever noticed. While I don’t normally gravitate towards Castlevania-like games often, it’s hard to not take notice when it’s also got a Lovecraftian aesthetic. Also a Metroidvania, Skautfold: Usurper combines some solid action, exploration and unique mechanics that I enjoyed more than I initially expected.

A sequel to Skautfold: Shrouded, Usurper doesn’t require you to have played the first, as it’s a self-contained adventure, though obviously series fans will most likely get more out of the experience. Having never even heard of the previous title, I didn’t feel like I was missing anything in my quest to rid London of demons and defeat the Navigator.

Set in an alternative timeline in 1898, the Lovecraftian setting suits the era quite well. You play as Waltham, a monstrous being that was defeated in battle, but manages to fall into a pit of dead bodies, able to resurrect himself by taking over the corpse of Saragat, a dead knight. Much like Venom, the two must work together if they want to be victorious, as Waltham aims to destroy the Navigator so that he can seize the power of The Citadel for himself. The whole body snatcher premise hooked me from the beginning, though the writing later is mediocre at best and the relationship between the two wasn’t as enthralling as other stories of similar setup.

Being a Metroidvania, the Citadel is one massive interconnected map, though like any good game in the genre, many areas will only be accessible once you have a new traversal ability like wall climbing, teleportation and even flying. The other main focus is its Soulslike combat where it’s meant to be slow and deliberate, where spamming attacks will get you killed quickly if you’re not careful. Fall in combat and you’ll lose the experience you’re currently holding and haven’t spent, so you can see where it starts to feel a little all too familiar.

What makes Skautfold: Usurper stand out is its Guard mechanic. You have very little health but you have a mana shield of sorts that’s tied to your stamina, so the majority of your actions use this meter. Get hit by an enemy and your guard meter will be depleted, not your health, that is until you lose all your guard, then your health will start to take hits. Given that your stamina/guard regenerates quite rapidly, you don’t need to parry or dodge every enemy attack, simply ‘guard’ through it, but more on that shortly.

As you make your initial descent into the Citadel, you might feel a little overwhelmed like I did, as there’s no real directions or guidance for the most part. Given that the world is one large 2D interconnected world, you’ll simply have to explore and remember where that area you couldn’t access until you have a specific upgrade. Each area has a different tone and setting and you can expect to do a hefty amount of backtracking until you can find and unlock the shortcuts, generally after a boss battle. The backtracking becomes much more manageable later when travel isn’t as arduous and tedious, but it’s certainly annoying in the beginning.

While there is technically a map included, it’s virtually useless. It doesn’t show you where you currently are, where you’ve been or able to distinctly tell how it’s all connected. You also don’t’ get that typical grid map tracker like in most Metroidvania’s. The map will show where bosses are located, which would be great if I knew the best way to get there or even in relation where I specifically was aside from an area's name. Due to the artwork it can sometimes also be difficult to determine where certain pathways and doorways are, as I accidently found more than one by accident when I was circling trying to figure out where to go next.

The beginning will feel a little overwhelming when you go down a long pathway in an area only to hit a dead end because you don’t have the ability to progress yet, but eventually you’ll start to figure out the path you should be taking by process of elimination. Trying to defeat bosses quick as possible will make this a much better overall process. The best part is that the enemies you kill stay dead, so when I came back to an area later after being able to smash ice blocks, everything I killed previously wasn’t waiting there once again for me magically.

Being heavy on the 2D platforming and exploration, I did find the controls to be a little stiff at first. Numerous times I would miss ledges with my double jumps for whatever reason. Sure I got used to it eventually, but it wasn’t without some trial and error. For those that want to tweak their experience, you also have options for No-Guard, 1 HP, Permanent Death and a Speedrunning mode as well.

The Guard system is really what makes combat stand out in Skautfold: Usurper. Taking hits doesn’t initially deplete your health bar, but your regenerating shield bubble instead. This allows you different combat options, like negating attacks or trying to be a little more risky instead. If you’re able to not attack or dodge for a few moments, regenerating your Guard points is quite quick. This whole mechanic rewards being accurate rather than button spamming, working quite well in general, even able to reflect projectiles back at enemies.

With the Lovecraftian Castlevania vibe and aesthetic, you can expect a good handful of different demons, aliens with laser guns, possessed book piles and more that will be trying to kill you. The handful of boss fights were the highlight of the combat, figuring out their attack patterns, balancing your Guard with offence and defense. Scour the Citadel and you may even find some pets that will follow and fight alongside you, like a floating brain.

At specific spots and thrones, you’re able to save your game and upgrade your character. You can spend to increase specific stats, able to reallocate if you make a mistake or want to try a different build. With over 90 different weapons to find, you can try a plethora of different builds based on your playstyle. You’ll find swords, axes, katanas, spells, summons, great swords and many more, each suiting a different style of play. While I generally tend to enjoy the weaker but quicker weapons, this meant I had to attack much more than a slower more powerful weapon. The main issue with so many weapons is you might find something you enjoy much later and then need to spend time learning its timing and intricacies, possibly even reassessing your build.

There’s mention of soft and hard caps for those that want to fully min/max their character builds, but I found the stat system a little confusing with not enough information given for me to decide. You will spend your XP (Vitae) to level up, but you also need Yth stones, of which there’s only a finite amount that I’m aware of, so you do have to do a little planning ahead of time to be efficient with upgrades. Simply having a ton of Vitae on its own isn’t good enough.

The pixel art is done quite well, as is the smooth animations and overall aesthetic. While a few doorways can blend together with the background and make it difficult to discern, the Lovecraftian Castlevania setting is done quite well, complete with fitting and moody soundtrack. If you’ve been itching for a new Metroidvania and want to try some unique combat mechanics, Skautfold: Usurper is a perfectly serviceable recommendation under $20.

**Skautfold: Usurper was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 7.7 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.5 / 10
Sound: 7.5 / 10


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