Despite card games being in existence for decades, it wasn’t until the success of Hearthstone that the genre really boomed on PC. I acknowledge that Magic: The Gathering fanatics will rightfully point to their beloved game being the reason for the former’s creation. Unfortunately, their developer has never achieved the type of playability or popularity digitally that they enjoy physically.
Early Access: Slay the Spire
I generally hold off from giving a major opinion on early access games. However, I was invited to play the game by its developer. Therefore, I gave it an opportunity. To my absolute delight, I could immediately appreciate why the game has received such a positive response by its player base. As of writing, the game has a 97% positive review response on Steam. In my opinion, the game offers almost everything that a player would hope for from a single player, deck building, card game.
Slay the Spire: Currently Available Classes
At this stage of development, the game offers two core characters to play. Each possesses their own unique cards. Therefore, although the primary gameplay mechanics don’t change the way in which the game is played differs. This difference is similar to picking two different classes within Hearthstone and the like. Your objective in each round remains the same, kill your enemies. However, it’s the way in which each class accomplishes this that is different.
The two classes currently unlocked to the player are the Ironclad and the Silent. I would argue that these two classes play very closely to an archetype warrior or death knight and rogue classes. The Silent uses her daggers and poisons to kill the enemy whereas the Ironclad uses their weapons to attack and shields to defend. The utility cards are designed to support these. For example, the Ironclad has a ‘power’ card that damages the enemy whenever the player gains block (defense). Whereas the Silent has similar powers when poisons are utilized.
Both of the characters appear to be very fleshed out for this part of its development. Thankfully, the developers have focused on polishing and further fleshing out the game before making significant additions. Consequently, they have more playable characters to be released in further updates but not until they’re ready!
Slay the Spire: Cards, Relics. and Potions
I suspect that many players will be disappointed in the variety of cards upon first play. Each card has a given number of basic offensive, defensive and utility cards. However, do not be worried about a lack of depth. As you complete each level of the game you will get an opportunity to choose a new card to unlock. Select wisely as the right choice will make your deck stronger but the wrong choice can make upcoming battles more difficult. Furthermore, there are different curses, hexes and even drugs (Jacked) cards that can penalize you or boost you.
Gaining cards is an inviting challenge. As aforementioned, you get to choose a card at the end of each round if successful. Occasionally, you will gain a potion or a relic after battles. Additionally, you can purchase cards, relics, and potions from merchants. There are also events within the map that enable you to unlock even more. Potions are one use items meanwhile relics generally provide a boost of some kind (whatever their descriptor says) at the start or end of combat.
Presently there are over 200 fully implemented cards in the game. This does not include the 100+ available relics and potions which adds even greater variety to the game.
Slay the Spire: Combat
Combat is played in a turn-based manner. The player takes his turn followed by the AI enemy. Like other card games, the player has a set amount of energy to spend with each card having a different value. The player has several cards in their hand at any given time. The Silent has more at her disposal than does the Ironclad although potions and other cards can draw additional cards.
What I appreciated is the player, against most enemies, is told what the computer will do with their turn. Additionally, the player is notified how hard the enemy will hit them if their plan is to attack. The AI may decide against attacking in favor of casting buffs, healing or playing defensively. This has a benefit of building into the player’s strategy. If you know that an enemy will hit you for a total of 12 damage and you have defensive cards to block it then you should do that. Of course, if you have the opportunity to kill the enemy before he attacks then you should do that.
Ultimately, in many ways, I draw a parallel to the combat to chess. You should play defensively and cautiously. When you play recklessly you’ll quickly find yourself on the receiving end of a beating and pushed to use one of your continues. However, despite the relative lack of pace in chess the gameplay here is thick and fast. Well, as fast as what the player wills it to be. My playing speed is similar to Hearthstone. I take a moment to analyze the cards and what I expect the enemy to do and play at a steady pace.
Unfortunately, the one thing that I hate about the game is that some encounters are impossible to win. This isn’t because you enter the encounter depleted of energy. Rather, some boss characters are just too good for the character you have developed, the deck you have built and the potions and relics acquired. The developers may argue that this is intentional. This is because you are expected to progress further on subsequent runs where you are more powerful. However, I personally do not like this lack of balance. I’d prefer to lose on my own merit which I have done several times now!
Slay the Spire: RPG Elements
After selecting your character your story begins. The player is presented with an overview of the opening level. You can then choose your first encounter. The player has four paths that they can choose. The game plays out between combat like a Choose Your Own Adventure story. If you survive your encounter you get to choose where you will play next. The player will come across standard and epic rounds, question marks which could be anything, merchants, and campfires.
As previously mentioned the merchants enable you to purchase things from them. Campfires are there to allow you to either rest or to upgrade a card, the combat is self-explanatory. Do be careful of selecting an epic round if you are at less than optimum health. Finally, the question marks really do advance the RPG elements of the game.
I would like to see a greater emphasis placed on the overall story in future updates.
Slay the Spire: Final Hype Score
I don’t believe in giving an Early Access game an actual review score. However, I would happily give the game a hype score of 8/10. The gameplay is highly enjoyable and has been fleshed out to a significant degree. Despite a few balancing issues, there are no complaints in the combat. The story needs to be given greater focus if the developers want to persist with the RPG component of the game. This is definitely a game that I see myself dedicating time towards completing when it is released out of early access.