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Sker Ritual Review (PS5) – A Half-Baked Shooter That Does COD: Zombies Better Than COD: Zombies

Sker Ritual Review (PS5) – Ever wish you could just change one or two things about your favourite game or game mode to make it just the way you want it?

That’s essentially the starting point that Wales Interactive had when it came to creating Sker Ritual. A game that was born out of FPS fans who had a particular passion for round-based horde shooters like COD: Zombies wanting to do things slightly differently.

And very much to their credit, the Wales Interactive team had some great ideas as to how they could evolve the genre and gameplay they had come to love.

Unfortunately the overall execution leaves the casual co-op horde shooter fan mostly unsatisfied, and even alienates hardcore players to some degree.

Still, it’s clear there is a solid co-op shooter here, and if you’ll forgive a few bumps and rough edges, it’s possible it could be a co-op shooter you would grow to love.

Sker Ritual Review (PS5) – A Half-Baked Shooter That Does COD: Zombies Better Than COD: Zombies

It’s Not Just About The Horde

Most round-based horde shooters are all about everything I just listed. Shooting hordes of something, (mostly zombies), and surviving for as many rounds as possible. Mixed in with all that is a variety of gunplay and upgrading mechanics that shake things up each time you start anew with round one.

Sker Ritual has all that. It’s a round-based horde shooter where you’re killing these monstrous creations that basically act like zombies in that they all charge at you, but they also each have a weapon of some sort beyond their bare fists and mouths.

What sets Sker Ritual apart from other round-based horde shooters such as COD: Zombies is that Wales Interactive has put more than just a solid shooter in here. There’s a huge narrative component to each of the maps, one where you complete objectives to progress the story further.

It’s the biggest difference you’ll find with Sker Ritual and it’s also what makes me appreciate it more. When you have a goal beyond just surviving, there’s a lot more tension in-between rounds, as you prepare to try and figure out the next puzzle or find another clue within the short time you have before more creatures come barreling down on you.

The story itself won’t win any awards, but its presence is enough to showcase a more interesting avenue for round-based horde shooters that I’ve not seen before.

Rather than have the story be discovered through small, very miss-able Easter Eggs, putting a narrative front-and-center along with everything else people play round-based horde shooters for, works much to Sker Ritual’s advantage.

Watch Yourself, Solo Dolo

There’s this back and forth with Sker Ritual I keep having however, that’s put a bit of a strain on my enjoyment of it. I’m by nature a solo player, and Sker includes a mode where you can play solo just fine.

The problem you don’t realize until you get into these solo matches is the fact that this does make the game more difficult on yourself, even if you were to choose easier difficulty settings.

When you have to complete every story objective yourself, while dealing with the horde, there’s very quickly a lot of pressure on you to figure out how to complete you next objective, and keep moving as fast as you can.

This might seem obvious, and it is. It’s not like I hopped into my first solo game not expecting to do everything myself. I just didn’t realize (until it was too late) how Sker Ritual compounds in difficulty when you go solo.

You have to do everything yourself, on top of enemies that get more difficult to defeat each round, so while you’re trying to progress you’re also trying to survive, but survive too well and you’ll be in high numbered rounds likely before you’ve figured out what to do in the story.

Which means every brand new game you start is just a race to get through the story without getting through too many rounds, because after a certain point it’s not in your interest to spend the experience points you earn from surviving on story unlocks, but weapon upgrades.

Weapon upgrades are also great, but they get so expensive by tier 3 that to upgrade your weapon further means having to focus on killing and surviving, which only puts you into higher rounds where each enemy becomes an even greater bullet sponge.

All this to say there’s an imbalance with how solo players are meant to survive and progress the story in each map, and what it takes to really accomplish that.

Of course this pressure is alleviated somewhat when playing with others, which is also where, like most horde shooters, Sker Ritual thrives even more. But co-op doesn’t stop the issue of weapon upgrades being too expensive and the horde becoming far too sponge-y too quickly.

There’s a lot about how this system of Sker Ritual works that makes it a much more compelling round-based horde shooter compared to anything else on the market, it just needs to be tweaked further to make it more fun to play.

It’ll Take Nothing Short Of A Miracle

Speaking of weapon and progression upgrades, Sker Ritual has some mostly-solid systems as to how things work. I’ve already mentioned you spend the same experience points you get from surviving and killing enemies on weapon upgrades that get too expensive rather quickly, but that’s not the only way you’ll get stronger.

Miracles are a system of weapon and skill perks that give you damage buffs or add status damage like poison to your attacks, and if you get the right ones it can make all the difference. You can also upgrade your weapons to make them really stand out, even if it still only goes so far when it comes to how sponge-y enemies get.

Still, that doesn’t change the fact that you’ll be having a good time when shooting those sponges. The weapons in Sker Ritual feel really good, I’m especially a fan of the Hunting Rifle, which just feels so tactile and fun to use. My preferred assault rifle is the MP18A, though the game’s basic AK-47-like assault rifle doesn’t feel too bad.

Shotguns and heavy pistols, same with the rifles, all feel powerful to use – until they don’t, which admittedly takes more out of the gunplay than I would like by the time you’re deep into a run. Alongside some pick-up power-ups though like infinite ammo for a short time or one-shot-kill damage output, sudden refills up to max ammo, shields – these can all be the deciding factor on whether or not you make it through a particularly tough fight or not.

With the miracles, the power-ups, and (much more slowly) the weapon upgrades, things get shaken up a bit in Sker Ritual from one run to the next, even when doing the same story objectives. At its core, Sker Ritual is still a strong shooter, with good systems, even if there’s more happening around all that which brings the game down.

Not Just Balance, But Tech Issues Galore

I’ve already spoken about how Sker Ritual has balance issues in terms of its slow progression, and the balancing act of speed-running objectives before it becomes too impossible to complete.

But that’s not where issues end for Sker Ritual. Particularly because these balancing issues have rippling effects, like how the weapons start to feel more and more useless.

There’s also a heaping of technical issues. I’ve never had a session with Sker Ritual where I didn’t face consistent frame-rate issues, if not full freezes from time to time.

Sker Ritual also crashed on me deep into a run, when I was one objective away from beating it. Losing that much progress hurt, and made me want to put the game down for a while before I went back to it.

At the very least the team is aware of the staggering issues on PS5, and is working to fix them. Still, it doesn’t change the experience I’ve had pre-and-post launch.

Also, if there’s any advice I can impart to someone picking up Sker Ritual for the first time, it would be to go into the audio settings and turn down the SFX volume from it’s default of being maxed out.

The overall sound design and final mix just does not sound good – it would almost be better played without sound, if that wasn’t also detrimental to how the weapons felt.

Lowering the SFX volume helps make the sound design tolerable, but it was near painful before I’d done that. And it still didn’t fix the core problem.

Good Game, Half-Baked

There’s a lot to love about Sker Ritual, and the easiest parts of it to love are at the core. Solid, tense gameplay with weapons that feel good to use, a system of upgrades that provides a good amount of variety and a narrative-focus that sets it apart from other round-based horde shooters.

It’s technical issues however don’t do it any favours, and contribute to it feeling half-baked. As do its balancing issues, sound issues, and other aspects that I wouldn’t call issues, more just parts of the game that don’t impress, such as enemy design and variety.

Another seemingly half-baked aspect is a live service seasonal element, where the experience points earned from a run progress you through earning a variety of cosmetics.

At no point did Sker push this aspect of the game on me, but even if it did, the rewards don’t go far enough to make me feel like they’re worth grinding for.

It almost feels like it’s there because the developers believed it needed to be there, in the same way that every publisher in the 2010’s thought every game, single-player focused or not, needed to have a multiplayer aspect to it.

On the things that are foundational to a shooter, particularly a round-based horde shooter, Sker Ritual gets it right a lot of the time.

The bones of the game are strong, it’s just unfortunate that player Sker Ritual doesn’t stay fun for long enough to enjoy them, without pushing through a lot of rough, slow hours of progression and improvement.

Still, credit is due to Wales Interactive, who have essentially created a structurally better COD: Zombies game than the COD franchise ever did.

Sker Ritual is now available on PS5.

Review code generously provided by publisher.



The Final Word

Sker Ritual has a lot of good, strong bones as a round-based horde shooter, it's very easy to be having fun while playing and to recognize the things that it does well. Despite that it still feels half-baked, due to balancing issues, sound issues, technical issues, and an overall lack of polish. But if you can see past those rough edges, and you've been a COD: Zombies fan for years, then Sker Ritual is something you shouldn't miss out on.