Slay the Spire (2017) [Early Access]

Note: This game is in ‘Early Access’ on Steam for US $15.99. Early Access games are unpublished and currently in development. If you choose to purchase the game, your contribution will support the game’s development. When it comes to transparency, the developers have explained their take on Early Access found here and have shared their development road-map here. I went ahead and asked when the developers plan to release the full version and they said they are aiming for the Summer/Fall time of 2018.

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“Set patterns, incapable of adaptability, of pliability, only offer a better cage. Truth is outside of all patterns.”
-Bruce Lee

 

 

ff3-nes-sage2 “The following is a contributor post by Tony Brave aka the Evergreen Sage Mage.”

Slay the Spire, created by Seattle-based indie studio Mega Crit Games, is an addictive genre mash-up and is clearly more than the sum of its parts. It has deck-building and roguelike elements, dungeon exploration, and turn-based JRPG-style battles. Although these are all easily recognizable components of the game, it feels surprisingly fresh. It’s a relatively bite-sized (it takes only an hour or two to complete) but challenging experience with your goal being to ascend to the top of, and, Slay the Spire. You could say it’s a bit of a cult phenomenon, being popularized partially through online streaming. If that and it being in ‘Early Access’ deters you, I will say upfront right now: the TL;DR of this post is Slay the Spire is actually a solid game and is worth every penny of it’s modest $15.99 price tag.

…if time were a metal, its melting point would be Slay the Spire.

It first released in Early Access on Steam in November of 2017 and has been getting weekly patch updates ever since. It’s a great example of ‘Early Access’ done right. Part of the fun of being an early adopter is you are participating in how the game grows and develops on its way to being published. As a note of caution, if time were a metal, its melting point would be Slay the Spire. I’ve opened the game only to find an hour and half completely disappear without a trace. Be warned because I had no idea what I was getting into when I first came across it.

A few weeks back, I crossed paths with Slay the Spire during a heavy bout of procrastination. Absolutely nothing was keeping my attention and in a moment of desperation I went to Twitch to see what others were playing. Amongst the live thumbnails of games being played on the front page, one game stood out. It piqued my curiosity as it had a cool aesthetic, being somewhat dark and moody, and I could also make out that it was turn-based. I clicked and watched a streamer play what turned out to be Slay the Spire. After about three minutes, I knew I had to experience it for myself. I picked it up and haven’t been able to put it down since, despite the fact that I’ve beaten it several times and I have since purchased other games!

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What could #3 be?!

At this point in development you can choose between two characters. There is another mysterious character in the works, but for now you have the Irconclad, a knight-type character that starts with a healing ability and the Silent, starting with a bonus to card draw, allowing you to draw more cards on your first turn. Each character has their own unique set of cards to acquire as you play along. The Silent feels a bit more difficult and the Ironclad is the quicker route to getting your feel for the game and how the card-based gameplay works.

Speaking of cards, you do not have to purchase any cards with real money, in-game, as cards are unlockable through play only. Every time I mention this game to someone, this seems to be their first concern. All of the game’s content is in one purchase.

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Me about to get crushed in an act one Elite battle 😦

On your quest to the top of the spire you have to navigate your way through three randomly generated maps called acts, each act starts at the bottom of a network of interconnected nodes with various paths to choose from as you go up and up to the final boss. Each node represents normal enemy fights, mini-boss (elite) battles, resting camps, merchants and mystery nodes. Every game is a new adventure, but choose your path wisely because there can be some pretty tough consequences depending on which route you go up. There’s no turning back.

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I scream, you scream, we all scream for…

An early strategy to consider is trying to get into as many of the somewhat tough elite battles as early on as possible. This is because after each elite battle you get a random relic which usually has a powerful positive effect on your character. For example the Ice Cream relic allows you to conserve ‘energy’ (card casting cost) that you don’t spend in a turn and add it onto your next turn so you can play that many more cards. Like roll-over minutes on your early 2000’s cell-phone plan. As you collect more relics, their effects stack, so collecting them is one simple way to getting powerful enough to get you through to the grueling third act.

Now just because relics’ powers are stackable doesn’t mean they have synergy. Synergy here just means whether certain relics’ (and cards’) effects work well together. They could very well clash or have little effect on each other. There’s no point in having a card that doubles your strength, if you don’t have any strength to begin with. This happened to me in an earlier run and was a waste of a card for my deck. Some relics allow you to have more energy per turn (you start with only three energy) meaning cards with higher casting cost won’t be much trouble for you, but if you don’t have extra energy and a bunch of high casting cost cards, you’re gonna find yourself face down in the dirt pretty fast.

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In this case, I didn’t have any poison cards and only one card that inflicted ‘weak’ so I went with Dagger Spray

After each creature fight you can choose a new card from three random options to add to your basic starting 10-card deck. As you survive from node to node you slowly build up your collection and must choose which card (or relic) is going to work best with your ever-evolving build. Each character has a repertoire of cards with a variety of potential emergent strategies you can work with. But regardless, you will literally have to play with the cards you’ve been dealt, as there is no other way of adding cards to your deck other than by beating enemies and choosing one from a randomized set of three cards.

In a sense, the meta-skill of the game is all about how best to roll along with the RNG (Random Number Generator) Gods…

Unlike other deck-building games, you can’t pre-design your deck, you have to build it as you go along, adding to your basic 10-card deck. In a sense, the meta-skill of the game is all about how best to roll along with the RNG (Random Number Generator) Gods, hence the Bruce Lee quote. The joy is in experimenting and finding new emergent ways to play, and each playthrough is different because of Slay the Spire’s roguelike randomly-generated charm.

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This is the merchant peddling his wares. These relics are super cheap, must have been an earlier version.

If you like deck-building, roguelikes and turn-based strategy games, you will likely enjoy this game quite a bit, but I also suggest to those who are new to these genres to give it a try because it really does stand apart from other heavily genre-defined titles. It’s just something a bit different. It also has depth to it, as it’s easy to play and hard to master. And once you learn to play, it’s fun to watch as well.

As I said, I discovered it on Twitch, and apparently it’s a big hit for streaming. This is all while the game is in Early Access and still being developed, but an Early Access game becoming a hit shouldn’t surprise anybody due to the PUBG phenomenon. For those who might not know, Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds became one of the most concurrently played online games ever in 2017, even while in Early Access on Steam. Welcome to the wild wild west of alternative game funding and development! So while there might be some Early Access duds out there, I’m here to share one that has passed my test. The developers have proven their integrity by sticking with their plan of creating weekly updates, and beyond that, the game just stands on its own.

 

 

The 8-bit Review
gameplay1.png Gameplay: 8/10

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The map is pretty sparse, but it gets the job done. 

The gameplay comprises mainly of choosing among limited options, over and over again. It sounds boring, but in practice is actually quite engaging. You will first have to choose among many paths to begin your ascent up the spire. After you choose a path you will have to go into turn-based enemy battles playing in a fashion pretty common to deck-building games. After you survive an enemy battle, you will be given the opportunity to choose one among three random cards to add to your deck. Then you are back in the map to choose your next node. Sometimes the paths branch and you have to figure out which one you might go to. Do you go to the mystery node where you might have any number scenarios go down, good or bad? Or do you go for the campfire, where you can either rest or upgrade a card. Perhaps you jump right back into another fight to add more cards to your library. It’s up to you.

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Here’s a relatively benign choice scenario from a mystery node. I chose the upgrade, although it can be beneficial to get rid of cards and keep your deck lean and mean

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Not too long after I had upgraded all my strikes (my basic attacks) did a vampire(?) try to persuade me to trade them all away (along with losing 30% of my Max HP). Refused.

The main task is to hoard a collection of relics and craft a deck that synergizes well, otherwise the game with quickly chew you up and spit you out. Your character doesn’t heal between battles, excepting boss battles and the meager 6HP starting power of the Ironclad. When it comes to your card choices you might think you are getting pretty crummy luck, but don’t get too cocky though, thinking you know everything there is to know about the game, there might be potential for strategies you didn’t expect. For example, I had one playthrough where I kept getting curse cards (unplayable cards that fill up your hand and prevent you from drawing useful cards). I was getting pretty frustrated, but later I got a couple relics that turned those curses into pretty useful cards. I ended up beating the game with that deck feeling a rather special kind of serendipitous joy.

With all these choices and potential synergies, the game’s complexity might get out of hand quickly, but one thing I have to say is it feels like there was a phenomenal amount of work done concerning balance. This was one of my main concerns in purchasing it, but the gamble paid off. The game feels hard and fair, not something easily done in a game with so many possibilities.

Visuals icon Visuals: 7/10

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The game isn’t founded on cutting-edge graphics, but it still has a certain aesthetic appeal. So if you are the kind of person who wants a game with the highest graphical fidelity the market has to offer then you might give this one a pass, but if you’re like me and you’re all about the meat and potatoes of gameplay then this one may just be for you. It has a dark fantasy kinda feel, filled with unique monsters and twisted random scenarios putting you in some pretty tough dilemmas. The visuals may be considered somewhat simplistic, but it makes up for that in creativity and tone.

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You haven’t really lived until you’ve JAXXED!!

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As you can see, this game definitely has its own unique style. Kinda soft airbrushy, but dark and, umm colorful. Not sure the concept worked well in theory, but in practice, it’s smooth as butter. Yep!

Audio icon Audio: 6/10

 I’m ~40 hours deep in this game, I have no idea if this is good music anymore

The music has a Gothic type of feel to it. Think old crumbly churches or an updated OST for Symphony of the Night. It’s well done, but I find myself getting a bit bored after awhile. I know this isn’t true, but it feels like there are only two songs in the game. The songs are not too memorable for me and often times I just play a podcast or listen to a YouTube video while playing the game. It might be my personal taste so I encourage you to check out the the video to see if it suits you.

On the other hand, the sound design is really crisp . There isn’t one thing that seemed out of place or awkward the whole way through. I’m pretty enamored by it. I don’t know much about sound design, but I enjoyed it from the little pencil scribble sound when you choose your next node to the sound of armoring up and blocking. Overall it’s well-done.

Replayability icon Replayability: 9/10

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Don’t mind if I do… Mr. Demon Land-whale creature, sir,… ma’am?

Slay the Spire shines brightest in its replayability.

As soon as I finish, win or lose, I want to jump back in. For each character, depending on how far you get up the spire, you are awarded points that you use to unlock new cards or relics to potentially play the next time around. Remember you can’t choose which cards or relics you will get beforehand, but as you unlock more goodies by playing you will have more options to choose from.

Every single time I play I am playing a different game and am still yet to be able to acquire certain relics or cards, or have certain scenarios play out at the mystery nodes. You can make the game as wacky as you want too, if you ever feel you are playing a run that feels a little familiar. So far I haven’t had this issue and I have a somewhat embarrassing 40-something hours logged in. With around 200 different cards and more than a hundred unique relics, the combinations of play are probably more than even the developers are able to test out on their own. You can join their Discord by the way and give them lots of feedback.

There is also an ‘Ascention Mode’, added in the ninth and most recent update, but I’ll leave it unspoiled for now as the devs have it under a spoiler block. Suffice it to say, there is quite a bit of play to be had in this little fireball of a game.

Accessibility icon Accessibility: 9/10

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The only thing you need to play is a mouse for pointing and clicking. No controller support just yet. For you busy folks, you don’t even have to worry about being interrupted as you can just stop playing and the game will wait for you to come back. You can also save whenever you want and come back to it. I did notice the saving had a bit of a consistency problem. Hardly a big issue, but it’s something that felt off.

There is a bit of depth to the game and the late-game might prove a little challenging. Unless you get its logic, it might feel a bit unforgiving. Understanding how relics and cards synergize is the fundamental key to figuring out how to play, and how to have fun with it too. If you’re having any trouble, my suggestion is to hop over to Twitch or YouTube and watch someone else play. They usually talk though their choices and you can see how they build their decks in certain strategic ways. It’s also cathartic to see more seasoned players lose at it too.

challenge Challenge: 8/10
The game is easy to pick up, but it has a bit of a learning-curve when it comes to it’s late-game (act 3). That being said, with a couple playthroughs under your belt, you will be able to see more patterns and find ways to exploit them. The game continually challenges you no matter how experienced of a player you are. People who have played it quite a lot don’t always come out on top. However as you get your grips on it, it does let up just a bit, and there are some exploitable strategies that work in a relatively consistent manner. You might end up having to avoid these if you want to keep it interesting.

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Of aaaaalll my friends, I am the highest scoring mofo there ever was! Yes, my Steam profile name is ‘Voiding the Puggle’. It’s a Tekken thing, …and my dog is a puggle. 

Update #8 introduced leaderboards that are reset weekly. If the game itself weren’t challenging enough, now you can play against your friends to see who’s the the Slayiest of all Spire-dom. You can now see the highest score, the fastest win, or the longest winstreak of your friends (and the world). Time to warrior up!

Uniqueness icon Uniqueness: 8/10

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Pretty much the most important creature in existence (I secretly updated this)

The world of this game is weird, and I love it. There are all sorts of strange creatures. There are fungus rats, a giant time snail, floating evil donuts, flame weilding crystal entities and even cute wittle fuzzy slugs. Oh! And don’t forget Sneckos. Never forget the Sneckos. I’ve played quite a lot of RPG’s so it’s refreshing to see more creativity being applied to monster design, and not just filling the bestiary with run-of-the-mill baddies like goblins, orcs and such.

Together with it’s unique theme and game feel, it turns out to be somewhat of a Déjà vu type of experience. It’s a totally new game, but you somehow feel like you’ve been there before.

The game’s mechanics aren’t unfamiliar either, but what really makes it different is how it is a special blended synthesis of other genre mechanics combined with solid card game design. Together with its unique theme and feel the game turns out to be somewhat of a Déjà vu type of experience. It’s a totally new game, but you somehow feel like you’ve been there before.

my personal grade My Personal Grade: 8/10

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I’m gonna give it a pretty high grade. I mean, it’s already #5 for most played game on my Steam game list. I don’t care if it’s not done yet. It’s a fun game with incredible replay value. The only downside is I can’t stop playing it. I’m hoping as the game gets updated those two missing points leave enough room for improvement between my personal grade and perfection.

Keep up the amazing work Mega Crit!

Aggregate Score: 7.9

 

The Evergreen Sage Mage is whispered among the forested glades by his other name, Wakalapi, and he’s a veritable cheesypuff of ludology, a teacher, instructor, and all-around excellent and personable fellow. If he can get his time-machine to function properly, his caffeinated work will stand the test of time at wakalapi.wordpress.com.

 

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6 thoughts on “Slay the Spire (2017) [Early Access]

  1. This game looks super rad! The whole time I kept thinking about the 90’s and the MTG and Pokemon card games I used to play. I also kept thinking about the MTG PS1 game called Battlemage. Ever played that? Not as fun as this, I’m absolutely sure! Thanks for the write up! It was a good learning experience as I’d never heard of this game.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Whoah Battlemage is weird! I had to look it up. I played a lot of MTG in my teens and yeah, people who have played card games like these I’m sure will dig it. No PVP though in this one and you pre-design your deck, but that’s the fun of it really. Glad you liked it and thanks for hosting the review!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Someday I’ll have to find my copy of Battlemage and review it. Not at all like a card game. I found the inability to pre-design your deck pretty interesting, having to really on wit in the moment it seems over pre-planning. Yeah, my pleasure hosting and promoting your work!

        Liked by 1 person

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