Slay the Spire

After a week of hell, I’m mostly done with my school projects. Just got one final to worry about and it is a take home, so I’m feeling pretty good about things. I thought that I should buy something as an end-of-semester gift for myself.

My friends have been playing a bunch of Slay the Spire lately, which has had me thinking, “dang, maybe I should hop on this.” However, what finally pushed me into getting it was watching Northernlion play from the beginning and witnessing his amazing misplays. I mean, he’s probably amazing at the game now, but his early Slay the Spire videos was the stuff of madness to me and had me thinking “jeez, I should get this and see if I can actually do better instead of being a backseat gamer.”

I started playing Slay the Spire when I remembered, “oh right, I have a blog for this kind of stuff.” I failed to update last week because of a bunch of school junk and this place was long due for an update, so I decided that I should write something up about Slay the Spire as soon as I finally win a run. And I did – 24 hours later – which is a good enough time to make judgement, if you ask me.

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To those that are not in the know, Slay the Spire is one of those hot roguelikes on Steam Early Access. I know that combination of words is terrifying for gamer reactionaries, but hear me out. Slay the Spire distinguishes itself through being a card game, with combat being played out through cards, your deck slowly getting built up as you ascend toward the Spire. I’m currently at the 36 hour mark of playtime, so I can easily say it is an addictive ascension.

At the time when I played it, there were two characters to use: the Ironclad and the Silent, with their choice of cards providing different play styles. The Ironclad is more of a straight forward attacker, with some styles granting attack buffs. There’s organized recklessness involved with some methods of playing him, like through exhausting your cards (removing them from play until the end of battle) or sacrificing HP for energy and passive benefits. The Silent is presented as an assassin type character, fighting not through raw strength, but through shivving and poisoning enemies a whole bunch, relying more on card draw and dexterity builds than the Ironclad. While I find Ironclad easier to use, I actually like using the Silent more. It takes a bit of cards to build her up into something good, but when you finally settle into a build, she’s really satisfying to play.

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So, the combat. You start out with three Energy to play all your cards, though you can get more with Relics (more on that later) and certain card abilities. Cards are divided into attacks, skills and powers. The second usually deals with defense, though they can have other effects like card draw. The power cards typically create a passive effect and usually guide deck archetypes, so they’re nice to watch out for. There are also curse cards that are forced on you by enemies and certain events that take up space or harm you, though, depending on what you have, it may not entirely be a bad thing. There are a whole bunch of other mechanics, but the game does a good job at explaining all of it, with mouse over text explaining what a side effect is or reminding you what a Relic does, in case you forget.

Your actions may depend on the luck of the draw, but skillful card playing is still important. You can get a Relic that doubles the damage of every 10th attack, so you can play around with your card use to make sure your strongest attack card gets to be the 10th attack. It’s also important to be mindful of the effects of your cards – pro-tip: if you have cards that discards others as a side-effect, make sure you use the ones you need before you accidentally throw them out.

After a fight, you get to choose a card to add to your deck. On my first few playthroughs, I just picked whatever seemed useful. It is mighty tempting to stack your deck with everything you think sounds cool… until you find yourself unable to use cards when the situation actually calls for them because you stuffed your deck with so many cards that you can’t draw them. Whoops, you’ve stuffed your deck with too many attack cards and you’re getting attacked for huge damage but you did not draw any of the very few defense cards in your deck. And so, you come to a realization that balance is an important thing when building your deck, because what good is having that power card if you’re never going to draw it? You need to have an archetype in mind when building up your deck so that you can have a smaller, quality deck instead of having a huge one full of half-baked strategies that you will never even draw. A large part of playing this game over and over is just sort of piecing together what cards work together and what doesn’t, so that you can reject adding cards that are just needless filler.

I never really fancied myself as a card game playing person, for two reasons. One is that I’m easily overwhelmed by choices, to the point that I either don’t make choices at all or make bad decisions. The other being that you have to buy card packs to maintain a deck and man, that is an expensive hobby. However, Slay the Spire limits your choices, either through card rewards being limited to 3 and 4 choices and strict shop inventory with huge prices. It’s through these limitations that I ‘m forced to think what kinda cards I actually want, because absolute freedom would just make everything a mess. It’s for this reason that I got really into Slay the Spire‘s deck building. If I knew anything about spreadsheets, I’d probably make spreadsheets for my ideal decks.

Aside from cards, you also pick up Relics, which gives grants passive benefits like buffing you after playing a set amount of attack cards or giving extra energy for a price. They’re your incentive for fighting the minibosses, who drop guaranteed Relics, so while you could take the safe route toward the boss and avoid fighting them, you’ll end up being weaker for it. The Relics can synergize with your character builds and if you weren’t gunning for a particular deck build, getting certain relics can help point you in a good direction. A Relic that’s a must-have for the Silent is the Ice Cream, which lets you conserve energy between turns. Combine that with her energy cards and card drawing nonsense and she becomes a fucking nightmare. It’s pretty much a guaranteed buy if it shows up in the shop for her.

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As soon as I understood what I was doing and the strategies to go for, I got really into Slay the Spire. As I’ve said, my playtime currently sits at 36 hours. I’ve only had this game for a little over a week and games that pulls this sort of attention from me is rare. The game sessions are kinda long, but the game itself is not too demanding for attention. It’s the perfect game to play while watching/listening to something in the background and as somebody with a huge backlog of stuff to go through, Slay the Spire feels just right for me.

Another thing that can keep you playing is the daily, because what kind of roguelike nowadays doesn’t have one? What makes the dailies fun is that they aren’t just straightforward runs that everyone can play, but they get these modifiers slapped onto them that makes things absurd. Like, say, a modifier that gives you and enemies extra strength at the start of fights or a modifier that gives extra copies of a card when you pick a new one up (which doesn’t sound bad, but unless you’re getting card draw, it becomes hell). I wish that the leaderboards were improved though, so that I could easily check the scores of my friends. From what I’ve seen though, the developers have a great relationship with the community and are on the ball about addressing problems, so who knows, a friend leaderboard may be up for a future update.

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my first real win, against the bastard of time

My first technical win was from one of the dailies, but for the sake of writing this, I kept playing for a proper win in the main game. My first win was with the Ironclad. Whenever I bought Relics, I got the ones that could give me more control over the stuff I draw and get. After I got an energy upgrade, I invested more in 2 and 3 energy cards, which ultimately paid off when I got the Necronomicon, which lets me play those cards twice; the Shuriken (which buffs strength every time you play three attacks) was just sort of icing on the cake. I then ended up getting a win with the Silent, which involved that baller synergy with the Ice Cream I mentioned earlier. Just keep doing those backflips for blocks and card draw and you will ascend.

And the most incredible thing about the game is that it is only two-thirds done. There is a third character, who, at the time of writing, can be played in the beta. I haven’t tried it out yet, but I’m excited for when it’s put out for public release with balancing problems worked out. And who knows, maybe they got more content planned for the game in the future. Regardless, I’m satisfied with what’s already here, so more content feels like a gift.

Slay the Spire is $15.99 for its duration in Early Access and it is absolutely worth that price for the game’s quality and the time that you can take away from it. It’s a great take on the roguelike formula that’s welcoming for roguelike and card game fans alike and I can see myself playing this for months or years to come.

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