Slay the Spire Early Access Review

Slay the Spire.
Slay the Spire.

You enter the next room with half HP, a regeneration potion along with one that gives you armor. The last monster damaged you plenty, but it proved too weak for your discard deck. This enemy, unlike the last one, is Elite, something like a mid-level boss that really packs a punch and can be very nasty if you’re not careful.

Luckily, you have half HP along with two excellent potions, no worries. The battle starts, and you discover that the enemy is a nasty Gremlin Nob that increases strength each time you use a skill card. And the problem is that you have lots of skill cards, many of them (like Well Prepared) being essential for your discard build.

As the fight advances, you realize that playing without many skill cards is possible, but the problem is that the enemy already attacks you with more than 30 damage. Doesn’t matter because you took the risk and used a discard card for making a potent combo that leaves the enemy with only 8 HP, enough for most of your attack cards. And then you draw all blocks with one Acrobatics, which is used to pull three and discard one card.

 Damn, you get one attack along with another acrobatics. The attack card is used, and the enemy is at 2 HP, and it is time for the second Acrobatics. And then RNG shows its ugly face with Acrobatics giving you three attacks, which would be great if not the fact that you used your last energy point in the hope that Acrobatics would pull one Underhanded Strike that damages enemy when discarded. Oh well, Gremlin Nob hits you for 40 damage, with your armor potion being useless, and another of your Spire adventures ends. You immediately embark on another one in hopes you will get better cards this time.

Slay the Spire entered Steam Early Access near the end of November 2017 but the game just exploded a couple of weeks ago when it became the next viral hit on Twitch. A few notable streamers played the game, opening the floodgates and giving the game deserved attention. It’s a shame that Steam became an algorithm mess swarmed with asset swap titles cluttering small indie gems that can’t promote on the same level as AAA games because Slay the Spire would probably stay under the radar if it wasn’t for its Twitch explosion.

The premise is very simple. Slay the Spire is a mix between a card and roguelike game where you must, well, Slay the Spire, a living construction that is home to numerous horrors. You do this by relying on your card deck, containing all your skills, attacks, powers and other stuff, which must be combined in order to defeat regular, Elite, and Boss enemies and reach the top of the said Spire.

There are two player characters to choose from before embarking on the journey. The Ironclad is a warrior with strong attacks that rely on wounding enemies in order to land more powerful blows. The Silent is a rogue with lots of poison cards along with a few interesting other card types, who weakens enemies in order to survive the encounter before poison starts working. Once you pick your favorite character you are given a starter deck with around dozen of cards and you must build your deck from cards left behind enemies in hopes that your current deck will be enough to reach the end.

Slay the Spire.
Slay the Spire.

There are 76 cards for each of the two characters along with 36 colorless cards available for both characters to use. While 76 cards don’t seem like much, especially for us who like card games, there are plenty of different builds and combos within each build for both characters, and since the game is in Early Access, we believe developers will continue adding new cards. At the moment, they focus on balancing existing combos and builds, and once they achieve balanced gameplay, we are sure they will add more cards.

Slay the Spire.
Slay the Spire.

Now, the game takes place inside a Spire that is different during each journey. Floors are randomly generated each time featuring a different layout. The player has a choice between a couple of routes, and each one has different enemies, random encounters, some have Elites, and others have traders. There are also crossroads so you can switch to a different route if you find it better. The key is to find a balance between the number of regular and Elite enemies, to pick a route that has the biggest number of rest spots, and to pick one with a trader so you can spend your hard earned money on new cards, potions, and relics.

Once you embark on a journey, you will notice an enchanting art style with detailed, hand-drawn models of characters, simplified animations along with beautiful but static backgrounds. Just to be clear, Slay the Spire isn’t a game where having top of the line graphics is essential for immersion. Its current art style and quality of characters and environments are more than enough for this type of game. When talking about its looks, just imagine Darkest Dungeon with slightly less detailed backgrounds and characters along with a brighter color palette, and you will have a general idea about what Slay the Spire offers regarding visuals.

We mentioned simple animations, which also can be compared with Darkest Dungeon. You and enemies are static sprites with simple, South Park like static movements when attacking and taking damage. Since the game is in Early Access, some enemies don’t even have animations, but that’s okay because you will spend the biggest amount of times looking at your hand and thinking which cards to play.

There are plenty of different random encounters, even in the game’s current state. Which is great. Some will give you bonuses, some will make you regret you clicked on the question mark, and some contain battles with monsters or a hidden trader. At the moment there is enough variability concerning random encounters, and the game will receive new ones, so we can’t say anything bad about this part of the game. Since Slay, the Spire is a card game in its roots.

Slay the Spire.
Slay the Spire.

Now, the combat is turn-based, with you and enemies taking turns in dealing damage to each other. You also can use buffs and armor, and you can hit enemies with crippling statutes, such as weak, vulnerable and poison. Cards have their energy cost with the player having three energy points by default, but there are cards and relics that give you more energy points. At the start of each turn, your hand (if you have leftover cards) is discarded, and you draw a new one. Once you draw all of you deck, your discard pile is shuffled, and it becomes your new draw pile. You can’t run out of cards, except playing a hyper-thin exhaust deck.

As we already said each character starts with a starting deck containing regular attacks and blocks along with one (warrior) or two (rogue) special cards that have two actions. It is up to you to build your perfect deck with cards given after defeating enemies. After each encounter that leaves you alive, you pick between three cards. The good thing is that you don’t have to pick a card; just click on skip, and your deck will stay unchanged. This is great because a deck can’t contain too many cards; you want to have a consistent deck built around certain archetype instead of one with a huge number of powerful cards. But this is where the game shows its first major problem.

You see, it is so much easier to build a powerful and consistent deck with rogue than with warrior. Firstly, rogue starts with the ability to draw two additional cards each turn, which is a crazy powerful advantage. Next, this character has many more cards that can draw additional cards, and even if you are constructing a deck based on a different mechanic, draw cards are always useful. Warrior has a choice between a small number of draw cards, but some cannot be used in many archetypes because you just can’t afford to add them.

This leads to the rogue being way more powerful. She can easily reach the final Boss, even if you weren’t lucky and got many weak cards. Warrior, on the other hand, is crippled with the fact that he draws fewer cards in general, and that you basically have to get at least one Battle Trance or Offering (the two useful draw cards) in order to have a chance on higher floors. Add to that the fact that Rogue relies on weak (lowering enemies’ attacks) while warrior relies on vulnerable (making enemies taking more damage from attacks) and the game is a title where block is more important than attack in most deck builds, and you get a title where picking warrior is hard while picking rogue is easy difficulty level. We hope that developers will make some adjustments, allowing the warrior to be more competitive because the rogue is currently way easier to play.

On top of cards players can use potions (each time you have three potions slots) that have various short-term effects and can save your life if played at a perfect moment. The third major piece of combat mechanics are relics that give you permanent bonuses, with some of them coming with extremely powerful buffs but also with some negative effects. And this is the second major piece of the puzzle, along with finding a balanced route. You have to take risks only when rewards are worthy enough because if that’s not the case, you will soon start the game over. Risk and reward system is masterfully implemented, like in best roguelike titles and it really pushes players to take risks in order to make their journey longer, or easier to complete.

Slay the Spire.
Slay the Spire.

Will you rest or upgrade a card once you reach a resting place? Will you decide to buy a powerful card from the trader, or spend money on removing a card, making your deck more consistent? Or will you just attack the enemy without using blocks in order to kill it before they raise their attacks strength or will you take the slow but steady approach that can result in enemy one hitting you to oblivion? The game is filled with these choices, making it a great and rewarding experience filled with moments where you have to think what to do, and will the reward be worth the risk.

The second major strength of Slay the Spire is its addictiveness. Once you die or reach the end, you will want to embark on another journey to try and make a better deck. For all of you who love deck building, we must warn you that the game can become extremely addictive. Each new attempt to Slay the Spire means you can finally build that perfect deck, but chances are you won’t because RNG just won’t let you do that. You see, during each climb the game will give an advantage for certain cards to appear in order to entice the player to go with a certain deck archetype. But, the chances for the game to give you all necessary cards are pretty low, so most of the time you will have to improvise. But that doesn’t hurt the fun factor, which can blow the roof off the spire without any trouble.

Slay the Spire.
Slay the Spire.

Now, let’s talk about the current state of the game, and is Slay the Spire worth buying? The most obvious thing you’ll notice is the lack of content. There are too little different enemy types, and you will soon start to know each one because you will meet each one many, many times. Also, at the moment the spire only has three floors which can be completed in a little over an hour, which is too short for a single climb. Finally, the game has just two characters, limiting its appeal. And there’s also the fact that there are just 112 cards (character-based plus colorless) to pick from.

But, developers are amazing. They keep a regular stream of weekly updates, so we believe the game will receive lots of new content in the coming weeks and months. Developers have plans for the spire to have ten floors in total, which is way better than three and will make a single climb three or more hours long, on average. And until we receive new floors there’s the Ascension mode that makes enemies harder each time you climb to the top of the spire, and which really adds a ton of replayability to the game. Also, there will be new monsters added to the game, and the third character is in the works. It should be a classic mage so all of you who like to play control and to cast spells, wait a bit longer and you will get your fix.

So, Slay the Spire is an excellent Early Access title. It already has enough content so sink more than 20 hours into it, it gets regular updates, it is surprisingly bug-free (another major plus for the game), and its fun as hell. Is it worth its current $16 price? Of course! The price is super low for all the game offers, even in its current state where you have only three floors to climb. Because it is addictive as nothing else and if you like card games you will play Slay the Spire until you build a perfect deck. And then you will play it more in order to see whether you can to build a deck that powerful than your perfect deck.

A psychologist turned freelance writer and reviewer, Goran is a hardcore gamer with more than twenty years of experience, and interested in all kinds of technology. He also likes Sci Fi novels and basketball.
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