Moonscars | PS5 Review
Moonscars, developed by Black Mermaid and published by Humble Games, is a Metroidvania Souls-like game. It was recently released on Windows PC, PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo Switch, and the purpose of my review I was playing the PlayStation 5 version.
Moonscars puts you in a world where creatures are being reanimated and brought back to life from clay. You play as Grey Irma, who is on a journey of discovery - discovering who she is and why she exists. To do so, she is on the hunt to find her sculptor and the answers that they possess. As you move through the game, you will find yourself traversing through worlds that are interconnected with each other through mirrors, hacking and slashing your way through monstrous enemies. Along the way, you are cursed with something called “Ravenous Moon” - this moon phase makes the game more difficult with every death. Throughout your lives you collect bone powder, essentially this game's equivalent of souls, and when you die, they’ll drop, and you’ll have to get back there to collect them again. Alongside this, there are bonuses that you unlock throughout your runs as well that will boost your character such as reducing the cost of casting spells or higher critical hit chances, however these boosts also reset upon death.
There are too many games brandished with the “Souls-like” tag that just about have a few scarce similarities to the Souls games, but I’d say Moonscars really took the Souls-like definition in so many different ways. As well as dropping your bone dust (“souls”) on death, there are other similarities that I noticed straight away. One of these is the way the dialogue and lore is presented to us, which felt very similar to a Souls game. This aspect is one of the few things that I genuinely dislike about the Souls games, because it doesn’t feel like I’m respecting the game with the lore. The reason for this, is that I’m not paying it any attention, because I simply don’t understand what's going on at the best of times. Story-wise, this is very much how I felt with Moonscars. I was meandering around and there was dialogue, but I couldn’t truly connect the dots and make sense of it. There are also quests throughout the game that are similar to Souls games in the sense that they aren’t tracked or necessary to progress, but they're threads that you need to track and work out on your own. These have always been my two biggest issues with the Souls games. It's abundantly clear to me that a lot of hard work goes into creating these worlds and the stories that all intertwine and give gentle nods to things, but I’m just too oblivious to be able to track them.
Whilst Moonscars ticks many boxes in terms of being a Souls-like, there are also areas where it has its own spin on the ideas. One of these is the health system - instead of having a set amount of flasks or potions to heal from, you have something known as the Ichor gauge. This gauge fills up when you do damage to enemies, and you use that to heal yourself. On top of this, Ichor is also used for magic attacks, so you’re always deciding whether you’re better off healing or using magic to get through a situation. This is quite reminiscent of the Hollow Knight soul system. Again, this isn’t the only similarity between Hollow Knight and Moonscars - alongside the soul system there is also no stamina bar in the game, which leaves the combat to be taken at your own pace and also very much encourages quite an aggressive playstyle, because the quicker you deal damage, the quicker you can use spells or heal yourself. The time between mirrors (think bonfires or benches) is quite long, and it can become quite challenging to make it all the way through an area without dying, which was quite frustrating for me early game whilst getting to grips with the game. I really liked the level design though, which balanced out the difficulty nicely for me because I was enjoying meandering through the levels and exploring all the little avenues that were laid out for us. There were long and difficult runs where I found it quite difficult to level up, but once I slowed myself down and focused on levelling rather than progressing story wise, I was fine.
On the subject of levelling, the skill tree in Moonscars is huge and offers tons of opportunities to build Grey Irma however you like, and also leaves scope for other playthroughs to experiment with other kinds of builds. I found the experimenting process to feel quite rewarding as well, and I didn’t feel I had to sacrifice much to do so. One of my favourite things was the idea of a doppelgänger appearing. You essentially are given a special skill that uses magic, and sometimes you will come across a version of yourself that takes your ability, and you must defeat them. After you defeat them, you’ll be able to choose a new special ability to experiment with. I loved this idea, but my only frustration was that these fights always happen beside a mirror, and if you die to it, you respawn with the doppelgänger right on top of you, basically which can leave you feeling trapped. Minor gripe, possibly more of a skill issue on my part.
Overall, I feel like Moonscars had a lot to offer, and I’m really enjoying my time with it. Fans of games like Blasphemous will feel really nicely at home with Moonscars and Souls fans will similarly feel welcomed in. I’m still battling my way through my first playthrough, but can already see a second playthrough incoming to experiment with a new build. If you’re looking for something that will really challenge you, then this is definitely worth checking out and with it being on Game Pass already there is a prime opportunity to give it a bash. The difficulty is definitely tough in terms of the learning curve, but once the combat clicks, it becomes really fun. It very much reminded me of Salt and Sacrifice combined with Hollow Knight and Blasphemous.
Lj’s Rating: 4 out of 5.
For more information on Moonscars please use the following links...
Black Mermaid - Developer | Twitter
Many thanks to Plan of Attack for the Review Key.