SKALD: Against the Black Priory review

by on May 30, 2024
Reviewed On
Release Date

May 30, 2024.


If you are, like me, a person of a “certain age”, for whom the entry point into home computing and video games was via an 8-bit Commodore, the most inescapable feeling when you first clap eyes on SKALD is what a throwback it is visually to the role-playing titles of yore for the humble C64. So much so that it wouldn’t look out of place in the pages of Zzap!, with a proper Ultima vibe and some undeniably beautiful aesthetics that permeate every frame of this retro-tinged treat. Being an old hand with the C64 also tells us that many of the games we grew up enjoying haven’t aged as well as we may have thought, with a certain degree of rose-tinted specs being spied through.

Thankfully, SKALD: Against the Black Priory is a modern, complex dark fantasy epic, that retains its old-school feel, whilst featuring content and a level of sophistication that feels more Baldur’s Gate than Bard’s Tale. I am an absolute sucker for anything that has a whiff of Lovecraft about it, and this has more Cthulhu related tomfoolery than you can shake a Yog-Sothoth at, whilst still retaining its own sense of originality.

SKALD: Against the Black Priory

Essentially a classic top-down role playing game with certain rules regarding movement and actions, and turn based combat, you begin by creating your starting pawn with a surprisingly deep number of role-playing variables. As well as selecting the specific class of your avatar, you can also alter parameters that do not just affect performance in battle, spellcasting, healing and so on; you can award some of the limited amount of points granted to build your fantasy loadout to determine the character’s familiarity with the lore of the game-world and therefore a greater understanding of the increasingly more perilous series of events that consume it.

You can build a party of adventurers that complement one another with the surprisingly diverse skillsets available. There are almost endless possibilities and combinations. The grid based battle system is fun and intuitive, with a wonderful menagerie of flora and fauna to battle, not to mention a rogues gallery of often-monstrous humans. My only combat criticism comes from a slight repetition that can creep in, and the fact that you often find yourself relying on whichever is the most powerful physical strikes in your arsenal rather than the plethora of spells and arcane skills on offer. Also: don’t make the mistake I initially made and try to do everything on a Steam Deck – this is a game best experienced with a mouse and, while playable, is better if you plug one in if Deck is your only way to play.

Narratively SKALD is a rich treasure trove of classic fantasy world-buiding, offering up familiar tropes but also underpinned by a cracking tale of Lovecraftian goings-on in a fishing community in which everything has very much gone awry. You begin the tale with your ship having run aground during a mission to locate a missing daughter, and quickly get sucked into the ominous seaside town in which it isn’t just the locals that have gone a bit bonkers.

SKALD: Against the Black Priory

I was taken aback by the story, given that very recently I watched Stuart “Re-Animator” Gordon’s Dagon – a schlocky horror homage to The Shadow Over Innsmouth which shares some striking similarities; however both the cult classic flick and this tale strike out on their own. The story is full of mystery and creepy eldritch/folk horror twists and turns which made it a true delight given my investment in the source inspiration, and will make you want to get to the bottom of the horrific fate that has befallen the folk you encounter.

Be prepared to have to read a lot of text, just like the olden days of text adventures. But this is some good stuff, with knowingly gory descriptions of slithering, pallid, creeping grotesquery, and cracking conversation between the well-formed denizens of your adventure. Having these chats is done via a series of multiple-choice dialogue trees, with your choices and decisions driving the plot in myriad different directions. It is very possible to survive certain scenarios on your wits alone, being a talker rather than a fighter – drawing once again on your Lore stats to carefully avoid combat. There is also – in another nod to all things Baldur’s – dice rolling, which adds another warm enveloping hug of RPG familiarity.

SKALD: Against the Black Priory

Every character has their own backstory that is in itself defined by how you choose to create them in the first place. There is the Feats system, which allows you to give a character a special buff or characteristic which affects the way they play. For the uninitiated, there is a lot of information, statistics, and role-playing goodness to get to grips with.

During the game you get drawn into all kinds of additional side-quests, and have to juggle these but also consider what is actually going on in the main plot. If this was 30-odd years ago, then I would probably be jotting things down in a notepad and cursing the lack of an auto save facility that I didn’t even know would one day exist. Thankfully whilst being CRPG at heart, the quality of life stuff here like a handy journal and the aforementioned ability to save where you stand, makes this a much more modern experience.

You will struggle to find a better homage to this very specific genre of classic gaming, handled with such care and artistry. Every inch of the pixel-art and chime of the knowingly constructed interface takes you back to a time where VHS was king and a packet of Panini stickers was still under a quid. If you really want to go the whole hog there is even an option to run the thing with an authentic C64 colour palette, which blew my old mind somewhat. The unique challenge, innate toughness and idiosyncratic eldritch setting may not be for everyone, but anybody who has enjoyed a turn-based role-player at any stage and fancies a trip down memory lane will find themselves delighted with SKALD: Against the Black Priory.


Great story and overarching narrative
Lots of stylistic choices for customising your party
Looks and sounds gorgeous


Battle can be repetitive
Some will find the game tough and impenetrable

Editor Rating
Our Score


In Short

Anybody who has ever enjoyed a turn-based RPG and fancies a trip down memory lane will find themselves delighted with SKALD: Against the Black Priory.