The creators of Slay the Spire at Mega Crit Games, after putting more than two years of their lives into developing the game, posted this description on their Steam page:
“We fused card games and rogue-likes together to make the best single player deckbuilder we could. Craft a unique deck, encounter bizarre creatures, discover relics of immense power, and Slay the Spire!”
There is a lot of self-confidence in the comment but, even though the game is still in early access and in the process of being polished and perfected, that pride is well earned.
It has all the joy and frustrations you would expect of a deck building roguelike. It is wonderful for anyone who likes the joy of collecting cards and creating different kinds of decks, without having to spend money each time you want some new cards. It is also terribly frustrating to lose your deck every time you die and have to start again with the basic beginning cards. Especially if you were having a good run. This is no surprise to anyone who has played a roguelike before.
However, the advantage of this structure is that you are given a lot of freedom to try new things. Sometimes it forces you right out of your comfort zone.
You start with a basic set of simple offensive and defensive cards and can collect new ones along the way. You travel along a map that takes you into combats, elite combats, shops and mystery encounters. After each battle you can choose one of three random cards to add to your deck. After each battle with an elite, you find a relic that gives you an advantage in combat.
Because you never know what cards or relics you will find, you can’t plan in advance what kind of deck you want to use. You have to find a way to use whatever you come across to your advantage. Although the shops give you a degree of control over what cards you can add to your deck, this means that you can’t establish a strategy you like and lean back on it. You can try, but you’ll almost always get further if you’re prepared to adapt your playing style to the nuances of each run.
Some of the cards that you can find take great advantage of the fact that this is a computer game. You don’t get the kind of deck that you could use in an actual card game. Some moves require you to shuffle wounds or afflictions in your hand. Others allow you to replicate or even summon cards. This utilises the advantages of a video game over a real world card very effectively.
The card options available to you and the random nature by which they appear really makes you think about strategy. You can spend a few runs throwing whatever powerful cards you can find at every enemy you come across, but it will only take you so far. After a while, you get a feel for the difference in combat style between battles and how to take best advantage of the map.
Slay the Spire is currently in open access, with two playable character an a mysterious locked third that is yet to be revealed. The Ironclad is a brute force character that generates a lot of power and had a broadly offensive approach. The Silent is a knife-wielding poison expert which generally benefits from a more offensive strategy but inflicts damage that lingers. Each is capable of having infinitely varied gameplay depending on the cards and relics you find.
The game is easy to play. The basic rules are simple enough to pick up and you soon get an idea of how to approach each combat. Mastering the game so that you make it all the way to final boss, however, is more difficult. The balance of challenge and understanding makes for a very addictive game.
There isn’t much of a story to Slay the Spire, but the glimpses of the world that you get give the game a lot of personality. There are monsters roaming the streets, and thieves, and weird wizards, all of whom are out to get you. You get the impression of a strange, violent existence, that seems to have some kind of functioning structure, or the shops wouldn’t manage to stay in business.
Through brief, text-based interactions, comments dropped by the characters you encounter and your battles, you get enough of a look into the mysterious reality that you can get sucked in.
Despite the very simple narrative, this gives the game a lot of personality and originality, which is only enhanced by the art style.
The backgrounds place you in a clear setting, with some key genre features that ground you squarely into a the gritty underbelly of a fantasy city. Each creature or character you meet has its own distinct look, mannerisms and fighting abilities. You don’t have to know a lot about how they all fit together in the world to be impressed by the efforts that have gone into building each one.
Although it is a rogue-like, the game still gives you goals to work towards. You unlock new cards by playing and gaining experience, as well as having Steam achievements that are more of an interesting challenge to get. By the time that you’ve unlocked all the cards and relics you can play with, you’re probably hooked.
It is a fun and addictive game that has well earned the confidence the creators put into their description. It will be interesting to see what else they add into it as development continues, but is already well worth it’s £11.99 early access price tag.