As a card-based roguelite in which you attempt to overcome the challenges that await your within a dungeon, Slay the Spire sounds more like an arcane offering to the gods of Google’s SEO, but it’s actual much more than the sum of its parts. Well, I think it is, but I’m no mathematician, so don’t quote me on that!
If any of these aspects sound scary to you, then it may be that this game isn’t for you, but it still might be worth a shot. It has a way of making you feel welcome, even while introducing your face to the floor.
Despite the fact that it’s a card game, you don’t have to worry much about deck composition to start with. Instead, you just need to use whatever cards come up and try and learn the basics. You never spend time building a deck before a run, you do it as you go through the dungeon instead.
There are a few things that can cause you to gain new cards, but the most common is to win a fight against a monster. Doing so will allow you to choose one of three cards to add to your deck, which will remain there until the end of your run. To begin with, you can get through a floor or two by choosing whichever one takes your fancy, but as you progress through the game, you’ll begin to see synergies or learn which playstyles you adore.
This becomes more interesting thanks to the different characters you can play as. You start the game with access to The Ironclad, who is your basic warrior, and unlock other characters as you progress. Saying what they are would be spoiling part of the fun, though.
The Ironclad is good at hitting things and good at blocking damage, which is fairly standard stuff, but you can lean into either aspect of this. If you want to build a tank, then you can. The Ironclad can get a card which allows him to deal damage every time he defends, and this can very quickly dish out a lot of damage if you use cards which passively give you extra defence every turn. You can even use a card which deals your defence itself as damage.
If you’d prefer to go on the offensive, then you can lean into their attacks instead. You can build up The Ironclad’s strength and unleash flurries of attacks that destroy your opponents or a single devastating strike. The fun part is, you never really know what cards you’re going to get, so you have to be flexible.
It means every run is different, but it also means you’ll have favourite and least favourite runs that aren’t just decided by their success. Sometimes your favourite run might see you die early on, but you managed to unlock some incredible combos.
The roguelite elements mean that if you die, you start again from scratch, but through successive you can unlock new cards that might drop for your characters as you go. It’s standard stuff on that front. You have the potential to be stronger as you use a character more, but there is no guarantee.
The dungeon itself is easy to navigate. You choose a room to start in, and you always know what’s coming thanks to each room having a symbol that denotes what’s inside, whether that’s a monster, a chest, or a mystery. You can even see which paths lead to what, but you’ll always end up fighting a boss in the end.
The music is great, with each track managing to be both unobtrusive but also very enjoyable – an essential combination for any game that will have you failing more often than succeeding. The graphics might not be mind-blowing, but they have a great style to them, and some of the monster designs are great.
The biggest drawback for many will be the difficulty. By the time you’ve bested the dungeon you’re likely to have died a dozen times, and you’ll have to repeat that same miracle a few more times in order to unlock the games higher difficulty. It’s a harsh ride, but an intensely enjoyable one for roguelite fans.