Early Access Review: Slay The Spire | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Early Access Review: Slay The Spire

Redbrick Gaming's Zack Solomon gives us his impressions/review of the game in early access, Slay the Spire

For the past few years, the roguelike genre has been the ever-bankable indie darling of the games industry. We’ve had roguelike everythings, from platformers to arena fighters and beyond. And yet, it was with great pleasure that last week I found a roguelike game that felt fresh, that surprised me.

That game was Slay the Spire, a new early access game by indie studio MegaCrit. At first this game seems like a regular dungeon crawler,  but this quickly falls away to reveal delightfully horrific monster designs, and unique mechanics that will keep you coming back time after time.

The concept is simple enough. Pick from one of two current heroes (the juggernaut Ironclad or the sneaky Silent, with a third hero promised before release), and struggle your way through a randomly generated dungeon, fighting monsters, triggering events, buying upgrades, and trying to keep enough health around to stand a chance against the area’s boss. Where things start to differ, however, is in the way the dungeon is navigated.

You see, Slay the Spire is actually a PvE card game. Every turn, you must carefully manage your three mana to balance attack and defence, generating enough ‘block’ from cards to resist the enemy assault, whilst finding time to strike back. Enemy patterns are perfectly managed, giving just enough variation to stay interesting, while still allowing you to plan ahead and learn from experience. You draw five cards every turn, and can see enemy tells in advance, meaning every turn is a delightful puzzle where you weigh up how much damage you can block against killing enemies quickly, as buffs and debuffs can quickly make the fight a nightmare.

Or, at least until combat eventually turns into a puzzle. This is because of the other key mechanic of Slay the Spire: the deckbuilding. Your starting deck is a pile of garbage, but every fight holds the promise of earning a new card from a pool of around 75. You can take on powerful elite enemies for the chance of earning a more powerful card, or visit the merchant to buy cards, always-on passive abilities, or one-use potions. This led me to a brilliant first few runs where I grabbed everything I could, eager to try out all the different cards in interesting combinations.

However, as seasoned card-players may already be able to tell, those early few runs didn’t get very far. That’s because the more cards you have, the less consistent your deck gets, meaning better strategies involve: avoiding fights, using the merchant’s card removal service to thin your deck, and choosing a single strategy. These are pretty varied, with both classes having offensive and defensive options, and figuring out what works and if it’s worth making your deck bigger or smaller, has been some of the most interesting time I’ve spent with the game.

Now, all this makes Slay the Spire an incredible game, but it’s not without fault. The classes feel off-balance at first, as the starting deck for the Silent is much stronger than the Ironclad’s. This does eventually even out as you gain experience, but a much greater proportion of my Silent runs have ended up going somewhere. For all the build-up (and the introduction of some excellently done eldritch horror), the enemies of the final area are pretty non-intimidating, as, at this point your deck is usually built to withstand anything.

The random nature of the card choices means some runs are over before they begin, but that’s just the price you pay for randomly generating levels. And although I do think the game is well worth the price, as to be expected of an early access game, there is a slight lack of features, and as a result I stopped playing after a mere 15 hours (after finishing the game 3 times of course). I would have probably played longer if there was an ‘endless’ mode of some sort, as you often felt like you had to part with your carefully-sculpted deck just as it reached its perfection.

Regardless, I’m very pleased with the time I spent with Slay the Spire. Gameplay is quick and addictive, making short sessions more than possible, but longer sessions all the more rewarding. Deck Building provides the perfect wind-down after a fight, giving you enough of a breather to prepare for the next bout. The art is delightfully original, much different from your standard dungeon crawling fare. I’d keep an eye on this one; it has the potential to take the gaming world by storm when it finally leaves early access.


14th February 2018 at 9:00 am

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