Maid of Sker (“scare”) was a surprise traditional horror gem from Wales Interactive. Previously focused on FMV games, they took a shocking turn into run-and-hide horror inspired by Lovecraft and Irish mythology. The next entry in the tale of Sker is not quite what anyone expects: a co-op survival shooter. Sker Ritual might be a change of pace, but I’m pleased to report that its first public demo is a bloody good time, whether fighting alone or with a team of four.
IT’S TIME TO FIGHT BACK AGAINST THE QUIET ONES
According to the developers on Discord: “Sker Ritual is after the events of Maid of Sker, around the 1900s but with a little more of a steampunk influence and a few surprises in store.”. Your team is a band akin to the trackers of Hunt: The Showdown. You and up to three friends fight your way through escalating hordes to clear a set of objectives. To spice things up, there’s a pinch of rogue-lite upgrades and equipment for every attempt.
For being Wales Interactive’s first FPS, Sker Ritual takes a variety of co-op horror genre flaws to task with gusto. You can self-revive or revive an ally with a token at chambers, typically away from the fighting to afford some breathing room. No trying to mash the use key over a prone ally in the middle of a horde.
Objectives aren’t esoteric nonsense but clear and intuitive. They still throw you into risky situations, though. For instance, my team had to ignite a furnace. The fastest way was to let enemies with fire attacks hit us while standing next to it, but we also could ignite it more safely by slowly using our Molotov. Either option had its challenges.
Speaking of which – every ability other than your gun is multipurpose and on a recharge timer. You can mutate every aspect of your character with Miracle points. Maybe you grant your knife a chance to drain health from enemies or set them ablaze. Turn your ultimate from an AOE blast to a clutch invincibility for a precious few seconds.
Even your healing flask and reloading your gun can be turned into offensive measures on top of upgrading your guns. Since Miracle options are randomly offered, it’s always a gamble to hold off upgrading an ability for a preferred perk. You’re constantly encouraged to evolve to the situation. That feeling when you finally gain an edge against the Quiet Ones is absolutely fantastic. Pairing this great progression arc with intuitive objectives keeps matches rolling smoothly, whether it’s your first run or tenth.
SKER RITUAL IS MORE THAN JUST EXPLOSIONS
Despite the action-packed shooting, Wales Interactive’s penchant for atmosphere is in top form. The starting map goes from a COD Zombies cathedral to a Resident Evil haunted village. Odd bits of tech strewn about hint at the greater mystery. Next thing you know, you’re delving into an underground bunker full of steampunk machines. Sickly hues of experiments left unattended greet you as you delve through darkened halls. The lighting in Sker Ritual is truly fantastic, making each area stand out brilliantly.
That’s not to say the environmental design is a slouch. The howls of the damned echo off of ceramic tiles in a medical ward, lurking behind a door. When you enter areas touched by the Quiet Ones’ cult, monolithic places of worship tower over you. Enemies are initially easy enough to clear with a headshot, but as more special types enter the fray, that ceases to be the case. Sker Ritual knows it’s as much a horror game as it is a shooter. You might not be running away screaming, but the intensity builds with every wave. Then you quickly realize that the longer you wait to handle an objective, the harder it will be.
A TRUE MONSTER MASH
The creativity of the monster designs is fantastic as well. Teleporting banshees. Nigh-invisible whalers. Exploding butchers who spew fire. Divers who can scorch you with beams of unholy light out of their portholes. This sort of enemy variety is typically saved for bosses, and Wales Interactive has promised more enemies to come in the full release.
That Sker Ritual is so impressive out of the gate is a credit to the dev team’s efforts. However, I won’t sugarcoat that the build needs some optimization – the frame rate tends to dip when first starting a match, especially your first time playing. A few collision errors made a mess of things, like trapping a dead teammate’s soul in a wall preventing them from a self-revive.
A few guns could use a buff as well. The revolver isn’t much better than the starting pistol, and I can’t really give a good reason to use the boomstick over a traditional shotgun. The melee attack could benefit from a shorter recharge timer as well. Thankfully these blemishes are more than reasonable for a game literally at version 0.0.1 of the game’s alpha. The experience even scaled well between my running around on my own as opposed to teaming up with my fellow Boss Level Gamers.
Sker Ritual is targeting a PC launch later this Summer, with consoles to follow later. You can check the game out on Steam here.