I like Early Access a lot. It’s not always a perfect solution, but it works incredibly well for some genres of game, and none more so than roguelikes. I usually get involved with roguelikes I like the look when they hit Early Access, but it turns out there are so many nowadays that some will inevitably slip by.
Trials of Fire is definitely one of those games. It originally hit Early Access all the way back in May 2019, which feels like it was several decades ago at this point. Having not played it at the outset, I can’t speak to how much it’s changed or improved during this period, but I can tell you as of right now that Trials of Fire is a pretty impressive game. The short sell for it is that it’s a tactical deckbuilding roguelike, but to be honest, that description sells a lot of what it does rather short.
Set in the wake of a cataclysm, you’re tasked with helping three heroes find their way across the world to try and save what they can. The game itself looks a bit like a TTRPG, everything is a little bit cardboard, and your 2D figures bounce around the map to get from place to place. Things remain equally low-tech when you get into battle, with each character being represented by a small checkers piece with some numbers on it. Basically, graphics aren’t the point here, because Trials of Fire is very much a digital board game, or at least aims to evoke the same feelings as one.
As you journey around the map, you’ll come across settlements, shops, camps, ruins, and all manner of random encounters. Many of these will offer you a chance to replenish your food stocks so that you can rest and recover, or give you special sidequests with exciting potential rewards. However, you’re working with limited resources, and if you try and solve every problem in the world, you’ll end up dying to something needlessly or simply run out of time to do the main quest. Instead, you have to be kind of selfish, and it’s quite a cool take on being a hero.
Of course, as you’re adventuring around, you’ll end up in fights, and that’s where the tactical side of the game comes in. Well, some of it. Most matches will have your heroes on the left-hand side, and the enemies on the right.
At the start of each turn, each hero draws a batch of cards, and you can then use these in a variety of different ways. Most cards cost Willpower, but you’ll have to sacrifice other cards to gain Willpower. However, you can also sacrifice cards to allow you to move, or even to bolster your defences. This gives even useless cards a use, and it makes strategising incredibly in-depth because you might want to sacrifice the cards of one hero to power another.
You’ve then got a variety of attacks, spells, and effects you can use to make combat as easy as possible, but you can expect the immediate challenges you face to kill you off because, after all, this is a roguelike. Each class has a different role to play and different strengths too, and you can unlock new ones by playing through some of the many adventures available to you. You can even set the length of adventures when you start a new one, which is a really nice touch.
All of your attacks come from each of the heroes’ decks. These can be updated and edited upon levelling up, but you also get new cards via the equipment you find on your runs, with legendary bits of equipment giving incredibly powerful cards. It’s a really, really good system that gives you so many different things to manage that, while it can be a little overwhelming, gives you far more control than your average deckbuilding game.