- Turn-based combat
- Procedurally-generated room paths
- 3 separate characters to play as with different deck-building strategies and decks to build
- Beat the game? Turn on Ascension mode to make the game harder!
- Daily challenge modes
That, in short, is Slay the Spire.
Every now and then between bullet-hell runs, platform fails, and survival-adventure deaths you just want a game you can play at your own pace, without the pressure of real-time action. While many turn to the strategy-simulation sub-genre of roguelikes, Slay the Spire is one of those unique Deck-building games designed for fans of RNG, repeated failure, and eventual success.
The Battle (overall review)
The premise is fairly straight forward: You are a character who for unknown reasons, has to try to ascend to the top of a tower or “spire” slaying monsters along the way. You are presented with a path to pick with monster rooms, champion rooms, question mark rooms, chest rooms, and merchant rooms. Each pick takes you to a room where you either fight one or more monsters, uncover relics, trigger an event, or buy cards in a shop. Ascend to the top 3 times (with increasing difficulty) to win. No more spoilers here.
Each time you begin your ascent in the spire you start at beginning baseline. There is no leveling up to make the runs easier the next time. In fact, turn on Ascension mode, and each time you beat the spire it gets more difficult by increasing the difficulty of the fights, increasing the frequency of champion enemies, etc.
After each successful fight, you are given a choice of cards to add to your deck, which you can also choose to skip if you like. Cards are also available in merchant rooms. You also are given random relics which give you status effects and can significantly boost the game, usually in your favor.
Strategy in the game is not only knowing which card combinations work well together for each character, but also adjusting your strategy based upon the cards presented to you. This, and many other places is where RNG plays a significant part in Slay the Spire. Fans of table-top deck-builders like Dominion, Thunderstone or Trains will be familiar with starting out with a regular set of cards and trying to customize your deck based upon the ‘marketplace’ of cards you and other players are faced with as options. With Slay the Spire, you are trying to simply improve your deck in general as you try to survive rooms until you decide upon a strategy and want to focus on that. While many of the fights are predictable once you get to know the game, you do not know which enemies you will face nor which of your cards will come up at which time nor which cards or relics will be offered as a reward. A successful ascent up the spire comes from having the right combinations of strategy, cards, and relics all working together.
So who are these mysterious characters? You start as Ironclad. He’s your typical sword-bearing all-offense-style character. His cards focus on increasing the amount of straight damage to eliminate your enemies as quickly as possible.
After Ironclad, you unlock The Silent. His two man builds focus on either DoT attacks (see: insanely stackable poison cards), or using zero-cost cards called Shivs. He is more cloak and dagger than straight offense.
The final character (at the time of this review) is The Defect. The Defect introduces a concept called Orbs. Cards allow you to channel lightning, frost, darkness, or plasma that either give you more attacks, block, or energy.
Each character has their own specific deck of cards they can acquire, making playing with each character a completely different experience and strategy. A great sense of accomplishment comes from discovering and acquiring the right sequence of cards that either give you an unlimited turn or a DPS stack to take out a boss in a single strike. It’s moments like these that will keep you coming back to the game. Even the achievements give you a good look into the possibilities of the things that game is enticing you to do. Stack an insane amount of poison or block or strength in a single turn. Gamers who seek to 100% complete a game will have enough variety to strive for with each run.
The Booty (what’s great)
Slay the Spire has high replay-ability. Even within a single character (of which there are 3 as of the writing of this review) there are multiple strategies to win. Wanna use a poison or shank build with the Silent? Wanna go for a darkness or blizzard build with the Defect? There is really no way to play the game wrong. A successful ascent to the top was a game played the right way, so to speak.
Also, Slay the Spire, while it can be intense when you’re just trying to hang on to your last few hit points, is a chill game in a crowded stressful roguelike marketplace. You can spend as much time as you like strategizing your moves. Or, you can join the ranks of the speedrunners and beat the whole game in under 10 minutes (which requires more RNG than almost any other game that is speedrun).
The game is very original. I was ready to find all sorts of problems with the balance of the card effects and while the game does allow you to play in the sandbox of card action & relic relationship options, very rarely do these combinations break the game. It takes a great deal of knowledge of the game, the cards, the relics and what is valuable at in a particular deck at a particular time to really create an OP deck so it’s as if the player is earning the ‘game-breaking’ through learning from all of the many losses in past Spire-Climbs.
The Beasts (what’s bad)
There are just a few things where, frankly, the game tends to fall a bit short. While I use the ability to restart a battle anytime before it ends (by quitting the game and restarting it) it is a crutch at times and feels like an exploit. Same with deleting a game file to regain the starting bonus even if you haven’t earned it. These seem to be loose ends that will get corrected at the formal launch, I hope.
It’s just a bit too tough to get the game-winning decks built after Ascension 10 or so without it being a real RNG grind. At a certain point it becomes much less about skill and too much RNG – I’m not exactly sure how to mitigate this for higher-difficulty Ascension levels, but the current way of seems like it has too high of a chance of dooming your run early on and the amount of time it takes before you know you’ll have an effective deck against higher Ascension levels just grows (so the grind does as well).
The Backstab (where do reviewers disagree)
As will always be the case with any review from 2 parties, there will always be instances where there is some disagreement.
For this Backstab, SkipMcLazy finds an issue with the lack of opportunity to remove the cards that you wish. It makes you feel that you are hoping for those card-removal RNG moments that can help you to build a short-enough deck to get to your more powerful cards fast enough. You start with a deck of 12-ish cards where 10 of them are ultimately useless by the end of the game. TNR does not find this a limitation of the game given that there are many ways of adding, removing and transforming cards. While there could be more variations available, the current system does allow even a large deck to win at high ascension levels given cards that allow you to do card draws and get through your whole deck quickly.
The Branding (the final note and d20 scores)
All-in: Slay the Spire is one of the more unique roguelike games to come out in 2018. It is still in Early Access, and I am hopeful that the developers will keep improving the game. I could easily see DLC packs in the future with new characters, rare cards or relics that you could unlock at various points. There is still a lot of potential that this game has yet to uncover, which is amazing considering how complete of a game it is right now.
Overall — 15
Roguelike Permadeath — 19
Slay the Spire only has 2 elements that are impacted by previous gameplay. The first is a starting event, which is only based upon the previous play, and is still relatively random. The other is difficulty mode that makes the game harder when you beat it. When you die, you start over. This is as close to Rogue as most games seem to get these days.
Roguelike Procedural Level Generation — 13
While the paths are random, they are fairly predictable. No way to memorize a path, but easy to anticipate
Battle System — 17
This is a good take on a deck-builder, and certainly one of the best in the roguelike genre
Replayability — 16
Like any roguelike, there is always a sense of doing things over and over again, but the ascension modes and dailies help to break up the monotony of the game and keep you coming back. Also keep in mind that there should be new and different characters/cards/relics as the game nears full release.
Graphics & Artwork — 14
Artwork wasn’t featured elsewhere in this review. The game is polished.
Sound — 7
Turn the music off, keep the sound effects on, and it’s nice. Not a lot of audio sounds are needed and they didn’t overdo it. Score drops here because, frankly …. let’s just say I dare you to tell me the music isn’t ripped off from Star Wars.
Story — 5
This is the weakest part of the game. There really isn’t a story. That said, the game doesn’t need a story, so at least they didn’t try to force a story where none exists.