Roguelikes have been a dime and a dozen over the last decade. While it is an interesting video game genre with a high difficulty level and clever progression mechanics, many of the games that belong to it have flown past the radar for many because they failed to differentiate themselves from kingpins like Rogue Legacy and Spelunky. Not only that, but all too many games seem to be implementing Roguelike elements into their gameplay seemingly at random. But despite the over-saturated market Slay The Spire, which just released on Steam early access, manages to feel fresh and engaging.
I know, I know, it’s heresy to review a game while it’s in early access, but this is one of those games that deserved to be checked out now. You’re not missing out on any story (of which there is none, in typical roguelike fashion) and all mechanics are in place. All to be added is some additional game modes, characters and cards. ‘Cards?’, I hear you ask. Yes, cards. In this game, you defeat your enemy using a deck of cards, each with unique offensive, defensive or skill based powers. You use these cards in turn based fashion to deplete your enemies health pool while saving your own hide. If you are thinking Hearthstone, then you are on the right track.
The gameplay mechanics of Slay The Spire actually aren’t all that unique. You progress through a series of rooms containing combat encounters, shops, rest points and a smattering of other things. While all these rooms are presented on a map and you are allowed to pick your own route, this is still standard fare in the land of Roguelikes. The combat mechanics, while finely tuned, are also fairly reminiscent of games like Hearthstone, and standard trading card games. What makes this game feels fresh is that this combination of game elements hasn’t been done all that many times before. The only other game I can think of that does this is Hand of Fate, and that game has a wholly different approach. It’s a breath of fresh air to play a roguelike that isn’t a top-down hack and slash or a 2D platformer for once. The art style has a hand-drawn feeling to them (probably because the sprites were hand drawn). This style may not appeal to every gamer but it’s good when a game strays away from pixel art for once.
The game plays really smooth in its current state, so there’s good hope for the rest of the journey through early access. You start the game with one of three characters, one of which isn’t out yet. The difference between them is their starting health pool, aesthetics and relic. Relics are items that give you a permanent buff for your playthrough, which could be over in minutes. The Ironclad starts out with a relic that heals him at the end of every combat encounter, for example.
Your starting deck consists of a bunch of duplicate attack and defend cards that you can use to damage your enemy or block incoming damage. At the end of every combat encounter, you are able to choose one of three random cards to add to your deck. There is a surprising amount of depth and strategy in deck building. Will you choose cards with high damage output and boosts your deck with cards that increase your strength? Or perhaps you will focus on debuffs or even a deck where you discard cards and gain special effects. The fun lies in experimenting with these strategies, and overcoming the many powerful enemies with them. Add potions, shops and relics to this and you’ve got yourself a game where roguelike enthusiasts can really sink their teeth in. Highly recommended in its current state, but we will definitely update this post when it comes out of early access.