Real quick, who exactly who do you think you are Mega Crit Games?
I had already planned for Monster Hunter World to completely ruin my life. Then a certain Calliope (fully aware I am a weak and will pounce on good games) decides to get me addicted to another game, a CARD GAME no less. Could have at least got me a motorcycle to go with this addiction man. I had to find someway to turn this addiction into productivity because the government clearly ain’t getting me out of this systemic poverty. So to that end I step outside my comfortable and correct Shonen bubble to review Slay the Spire.
What makes Slay The Spire a double dosage of hell for me is that it’s a combination of all the things I naturally get addicted to in addiction to being an early access game. For context, I don’t buy early access games on principal cause if daddy capitalism is going to repeatedly beat me over the head for everything I at least want a finished product. So to have to bend a knee in front of business practices I inherently disagree adds to injury.
But, Slay the Spire is soooo worth it.
In its current state it might as well be considered complete (with a few exceptions) and to know more content is coming only has me more excited. However, I get a head of myself. Slay the Spire is a single player deck-building roguelike card games on Steam. The premise is that you are a [warrior/assassin/sentient robot now coping with horrors of reality in an unforgiving void] on a journey to something called the Spire. A giant tower into the center of a city that’s worshipped by cults and uh… has a heart?
Okay so the game isn’t really concerned with explain itself narrative-wise. Truth be told I can’t tell if this is just excuse just get the player into the game. Or just something common of roguelike games as they pray to the God of RNG and thus telling a coherent narrative when your success is determined by chance isn’t easy. Personally speaking I’m not familiar with the roguelike genre as the only other one I’ve played has been FTL: Faster Than Light. FTL however did manage to manage to have some pretty gripping and telling moments about its world as you played it and realized what a bastard you kinda are. Assuming you made it that far because FTL was a ball crushingly hard. Slay the Spire less so but that’s because this is a card game and easier to break than a Kit-Kat bar.
I wouldn’t call Slay the Spire’s weakness of offering little background context a weakness but I would like to see it improved upon. There are some really interesting events that happen as you traverse your way to the Spire. Such as that one time I stumbled into a cultist rally and got so freaked out I followed in line to an altar eventually walking away confused after I shouted some gibberish to avoid getting dirty looks. Brought up some fond memories of attending private schools as a childhood and only deepened the realization that I have no idea what the hell is going here. The triggerable events eventually become something of concern only for functionality rather than flavor.
On the one hand that sense of confusion as you traverse the deadly and diseased looking settings narrowly dodging death while looking for a rest sight is quite aesthetic. But would it kill you to add like a flavor compendium or something? Individual entries could be unlockable too. Just an idea. Part of the reason for my fixation of this is that when it comes to narrative and card games I was completely spoiled by Android: Netrunner. The concept of a card story dates to way-back-when. It’s when the artwork on the cards combined with flavor text tell a you about a small localized part of the either the world, character, or story going on within the world of the story. Done well you can get vivid pictures of the card and their uses by combining card functionality, art, and flavor text.
Now I’ve played quite a few different card games as it’s been a long time hobby of mine since childhood. Yugioh, Chaotic, Netrunner, Legend of the Five Rings, a brief moonlight tryst with Magic the Gathering, Hearthstone. And my point of fascination with all of them was there lore with the exception of Hearthstone. Card stories allow the chance to bond deeper with the game and cultivate investment in fans. So the almost popcorn nature emerging in online card games to disappointing to see. Without any flavor they feel like they exist to be consumed. Flavor text is something I wish online card games would consider integrating more often.
To those souls that remember how heart-rending this card was at release, I salute you
That diatribe over: Slay the Spire’s card art is really good. It’s all incredibly memeable like the card Shrug Off and Hologram which have their character’s smugly shrugging. Makes me giggle every time. Special shout out to that All For One card which has the one heck of clever My Hero Academia reference even if it’s potentially on accident.
I should probably move onto the actual game play at this point. First things first you begin by picking the character for your run, Ironclad, Silent, or Defect. Each with their own respective starting relics and mechanics. The Ironclad has the most health a the Fire Heart Relic which restores HP. The Silent comes equipped with the Ring of the Serpent which adds 2 to your initial draw and can poison enemies. Finally the Defect has its own unique mechanic in its orbs. Starting with three orb slots (max of 10) each has a Passive and Evoke ability. Lighting deals damage, Ice gives block, Plasma gives you more energy to use per turn and Darkness builds damage each turn for big hits. For those with a creative imagination your instincts are not wrong, the Defect is obviously broken (figuratively and literally) but more on that in a second.
As you traverse each floor you’ll encounter enemies that range from acid spitting caterpillars to scythe wielding embodiments of death incarnate. A standard encounter yields gold for the shopkeeper, one of three cards for your deck and maybe a potion. Elite fights are also possible being much harder to win but yield a guaranteed Relic. Planning your route carefully is essential as it pits resource conservation against capitalizing on your gains to appease RNGesus. Whether you throw yourself headlong into fights to get the best loot or conserve your health the bosses of each floor pull no punches.
You begin each standard run with a deck of 15 cards. 7 Defends, 7 attacks, 1 complete throw away card I wish they would change. Actually, perhaps following in line with tradition, the starter decks for all characters are just awful. They serve their function as introductions to the idea you have to attack and defend at the same time while also hinting at the characters mechanics. However, beyond that unless you hit an event to upgrade them all (still not worth it imo), become a wraith, or become a vampire they quickly become dead weight in a deck. Only exception potentially being the Ironclad depending on your build. While the Vampire and Wraith events are totally worth it they only feel particularly viable with certain classes. Wraith Silent is a blast and Vampire Defect compliments well with the Defects myriad of health options. But neither work well with the Ironclad as he’s frequently sacrificing HP to fight and Wraith and Vampire transformations come with a 50% and 30% HP reduction respectively.
Bottom line is unless you’re looking for the challenge of Ascension mode, the glory of the Leaderboard, the memory of Achievements, or to feel like a pack mule, a standard run doesn’t offer the same enjoyment as just opening Custom mode and playing Draft. Custom mode is truly a shining point. It pulls no punches in allowing you to craft whatever run you want. The staggering options to choose from easily double the play time and longevity of Slay the Spire.
Moving right along though let’s talk about the playable characters currently available.
First on the cutting board (pun mandatory) the starting character of the Ironclad. With a blank face mask and overly long sword which he holds horizontally his attacks deal the most damage and block cards provide the most defense of the three classes. Ignoring the fact that he’s a thinly veiled Hakumen reference the Ironclad is a polarizing character. He’s either incredibly good or the worst option. Despite having the most options for attacking, best defense skills, a starting healing relic and the ability to gain more strength as the battle continues, the Ironclad’s card combos are the least abusable and he does the least amount of residual damage. Without the poison of the Silent or the orbs of the Defect, the Ironclad deals damage too slowly without a specific build of cards.
Perhaps the Ironclad has the thematic underpinnings of a demon he’s the most at the mercy of RNGesus. The only good way to build an Ironclad I’ve found it to an Exhaust build. Exhaust is a mechanic on some of the cards where the card is removed from play. Ironclad is the only class to take advantage of this mechanic and turn it into something usable but it’s a bit one-sided. You need several cards for the combo to work or less you’ll end up dead by the time you hit the second boss. Those cards being Dark Embrace, Corruption, several copies of Rage, Anger and Feel No Pain and if you’re looking to really stomp bosses in Demon Form.
Corruption turns all your skills into 0 cost cards but Exhausts them after use. Feel No Pain gives 3 block for each card exhausted. Anger is a 0 cost attack which adds more copies of Anger to your deck and Rage gives 3 block for each attack used. Demon Form boosts strength each turn. However, the real magic happens with Dark Embrace which allows you to draw more cards every time a card is Exhausted. It’s a pretty impressive draw engine. It’s also the Ironclad’s ONLY draw engine with any viable steam output. What’s worse is that Dark Embrace is a rare card so better shine RNGesus’ shoes before your run. Without Dark Embrace the deck slowly outpaces its card use. That aside that’s a lot of moving parts to get the deck off the ground minimum. That doesn’t include what order you draw the cards either.
In the end, playing the Ironclad is playing with fire (more puns). It only has one viable build but pull it off and you’ll be slashing your way through floors.
Also Fiend Fire is the coolest thing just saying.
So apparently the Silent is a woman. Didn’t know that. Cool.
The Silent takes the #2 spot on my personal tier list. What’s fun about the Silent is that she’s flexible to be built offensively or defensively. The Silent revolves around gaining more energy to use the next turn, poisoning her enemies, getting lots of attacks in with low-cost cards and shivs and gaining advantages from discarding cards and draw control.
Really it’s her poison that steals the cake and makes her so viable. In video games 2 types of poison exist, “man this cold sucks” and “I am literally watching the flesh melt off your body”. The Silent’s brand of poison is one where the duration and the effect are the same number. If you have 3 poison you take 3 damage and then next turn it goes down to 2 and so on. In other words it belongs to the latter “flesh melting category”. Does the boss have 300 HP left and 30 poison? Why stop there just keep pouring on the pain. It ensures damage no matter what so your free it branch out adding more defensive skills like Caltrops to ensure survival and do more damage the more they attack. Or alternatively spam shivs and go for a “Death By A Thousand Cuts” build till their Riddled With Holes.
And really if you get the card Envemon during your run it perfectly bridges the gap between offense and defense. It gives each attack a minimum 1 poison effect so just go nuts. Not much to say about the Silent ironically enough. She’s good.
The Defect is something else. It’s no exaggeration to say he completely outclasses the other two by miles. This is because in a card game where your amount of moves per turn is limited you want to setup “economy engines”. In effect this means if you don’t have to spend an action doing it, it’s objectively good. This is why card designers have to tread VERY lightly when designing cards with a 0 cost, cards that recur others, cards that give you more actions (in terms of cost or more energy) and cards that let you draw. The more actions you can do per turn the more chances you gain time to setup, the more damage you can deal, the more chances you have to pull off almost infinite loops. A smart card game developer understands this and balances the card pool appropriately.
The Defect looks at the concept of balance and then dabs on its deceased bloated corpse.
And that’s the brilliant thing about Slay The Spire. The joy of playing card games is when you discover these exploits and huge combos which are blatantly unfair in your favor. Because Slay The Spire is a single player online card game no one is around to complain when you snap that game in half when you get 38 energy in one turn then play Tempest dealing 190 damage in a single move (in addition to the passive ability remaining lighting orbs. It’s enough to OHKO some bosses almost twice over).
The Defect has tons of cards that allow it to draw more and gain energy. Upgrading cards turns many into 0 cost cards which become recursion targets for All For One. Cycling through orbs is fluid with the use of Power cards which give you draw and even more benefits. And many of the Defects best setup cards can be made Innate through upgrade which means you get them first turn.
The Defect is the height of spammable abusable card game combos and it will never be not fun playing as him.
To wrap up Slay the Spire is fun. Need polish in some areas, like an expanded cast of enemies and more options for the Ironclad. But with it seeing rave reviews on Steam, weekly patch notes, and more content on the way Slay the Spire is an experience to go to pass up. A definite buy from me.
Now I’m going to go tank my productivity and play another run. Until next time.