Sker Ritual key art

Review: Sker Ritual (Sony PlayStation 5)

Call of Sker: Zombies

8 mins read

I do not understand Sker Ritual. At all. It seems that at every opportunity the developers took what was great about Maid of Sker and do the exact opposite to it, and so now, across just two games in the “Sker” property, we’ve got a confused mess across the “franchise” that seems to have no creative idea behind it beyond how the developers think they can best chase consumer money.

The first “Sker” game – The Maid Of Sker – wasn’t necessarily brilliant, but it did offer a unique and narrative-driven experience. In fact, it was so narratively-driven that it was one of those horror games where you couldn’t fight back against the monsters that you’d run into. You needed to make your way around the place, solving puzzles and avoiding “The Quiet Ones” as you looked to undo a curse. It was a cerebral, atmospheric, and interesting concept that could have been easily built on in a sequel and turned into something special.

Sker Ritual is none of those things. I’m not that deeply into this genre, so I don’t really know the origins of it, but it’s a multiplayer co-op horror shooter, more in the vein of Call of Duty Zombies or Killing Floor. It barely even bothers to reference its predecessor, before throwing you into large-ish maps, armed and ready to fend off waves after waves of enemies.

Screenshot from Sker Ritual

To be clear, this does play well and the developers have done their homework for this kind of experience. You can play it solo or in co-operative, but either way, you pick one of a small handful of maps, and get thrown into a small area with the first wave of enemies. Defeating those is quite easy, and then you’ll have a short time to restock on weapons, or potentially open doors to new areas. Then you’ll have to complete simple objectives (“destroy X of this, find Y of that”) while also dealing with the periodic arrival of increasingly potent enemy hordes.

I do like the “campaign” approach to these maps, and the vague sense of a narrative that you’ll get as you explore deeper into the maps and desperately dash around, trying to get things done in the brief time that you’ll get for a breather between enemies. The range of enemies is good and challenging too, starting with basic zombie-things that slowly amble up to you to try to take a swing at you with their claws and whatever ese they’re holding before getting progressively more challenging with faster, stronger, and ranged ugly beasties. Enemies come at you from all directions, too, which is especially fun for quick co-op dynamics, though perhaps a little frustrating for the solo player.

The gunplay feels excellent, too. What I enjoyed most, though, was the nice dynamic between having to use the resources that you collect from enemy waves to improve your weapons and restock on ammo, and the need to use that “loot” to unlock doors and make progress. There’s a fine balance between the two and in multiplayer especially it’s perfectly calibrated to create a taut tension where you’ll never feel comfortable and that you’re racing against time before the really powerful enemies start showing up.

Screenshot from Sker Ritual

I really liked a lot about Sker Ritual, in other words. But then I went and refreshed myself on what I wrote about Maid of Sker, and it was this: “With a heavy dose of the same kind of 19th-century English countryside gothic aesthetic that was instrumental in making Wuthering Heights my favourite book of all time, Maid of Sker hits the ground running,” and “Maid of Sker is still hugely entertaining, especially for people that are aware of the literary traditions that it’s tapping into. As an aesthetic, it’s probably a little nuanced and subtle for its own good (let’s face it, the video game sector isn’t big on rewarding nuance and subtlety), but it’s great and distinctive.”

Sker Ritual could not be further from this. There’s nothing literary, atmospheric, or intelligent about this game. It’s a mindlessly stupid shooter designed to have a laugh with your mates over. There’s nothing wrong with that, but with that being the case, why call it “Sker” at all? Why undermine all the great work that you did with the original by creating a game that is so different that there is no guarantee that people that enjoyed Maid of Sker will like this one?

Sker Ritual comes across as insincere and cynical, in other words. That they’re leveraging the goodwill built from Maid of Sker to grab some quick sales, rather than trying to build a new property around this. In doing so they actually let themselves down. In Sker Ritual, when you’re choosing the map you want to play on, the art that represents them is gloriously B-grade horror in design. Seeing that art converted into levels of American slasher fare would have been so much more entertaining than the Gothic aesthetic that the developers were laboured with in building something out of the existing Sker setting.

Screenshot from Sker Ritual

I wish some game developers would think about their work as more than mere content to cut, splice, shape and reshape as though it’s big bowl of soup that you can keep dipping into every time they need a product to sell. Maid of Sker was a creative vision. It might not have set the world on fire like Silent Hill or Resident Evil, but the developers had every right to stand proud against their work of art.

Sker Ritual would have been easier to get along with if it had its own identity. It plays well and is genuinely entertaining, but if the developers are going to treat their work as a totally transient effort to exploit and leap on the money train, then I’m going to treat the game in-kind. The creative vision behind this game is so shallow and unformed that the game will be forgotten in a few years.

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Matt S. is the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of DDNet. He's been writing about games for over 20 years, including a book, but is perhaps best-known for being the high priest of the Church of Hatsune Miku.

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