What I’m Playing: Slay the Spire

Can Jack Coles overcome the dreaded RNG in this card-based dungeon crawler?

Jack Coles
12th February 2018
Image: IGDB.com

usually don’t buy early access games. Key exceptions include Prison Architect and Kerbal Space Program, but I got those when they were already really popular. Slay the Spire is in the same calibre; hugely popular when not even fully released.

The best way to describe this game is FTL: Faster Than Light with card mechanics from Hearthstone and the setting from Dungeon of the Endless. You ascend this “Spire”, which has a dungeon area, a city area, and a mysterious crystalline attic area. I’m not entirely sure what the story of this game is, as its approach to exposition is told entirely through random encounters and item descriptions, which are somewhat limited at this early stage.

The best way to describe it is FTL: Faster Than Light with card mechanics from Hearthstone

From what content there is, it’s clear that the developers took a look at FTL and found a few improvements they could make to the non-combat sections. In FTL you could take an option that could either benefit you greatly or doom your run, with no indication of the relative risk of each. Slay the Spire says “bollocks to that” and gives you the percentage of success involved, as well as animating the text and providing drawings that make the random events a little more engaging.

The main meat of the game is battles where you use cards as single attacks. You have energy which is used to play most cards (although some don’t even cost energy or can’t even be played directly). What’s more is that some cards are locked off until you play a few runs, so that you’re not completely swarmed by novel card mechanics from the get go. And you will die in those first few runs, mostly because you don’t have these powerful cards, but that’s how roguelikes work apparently.

Image: IGDB.com

Care has been taken to mitigate the RNG sword of Damocles that is a major bugbear to many roguelike players. In each level the map is revealed right from the off, so you don’t need to worry about whether or not you will find a shop or source of loot. You can choose to fight elites to gain relics (permanent utility buffs), or you can avoid them entirely to preserve as much HP as possible.

Whenever you gain cards, you can pick between three instead of the “you’ll only get one item and like it” approach. This gives a much greater sense of autonomy than in other roguelikes; success can be attributed to careful planning rather than Brownian motion.

While the RNG has reduced impact on a run, you can still go an entire game without seeing crucial cards

There are some issues, of course. While the RNG has reduced impact on a run, you can still go an entire game without seeing any of the crucial cards that are practically required for a winning strategy. Also the final bosses represent a real jump in difficulty, so you need to be overpowered to stand a chance against some of them (Donu and Deca in particular have been a major headache for me).

Having said that, neither of those are deal-breaking, and as I’ve already spent an embarrassing amount of time on Slay the Spire, it has my personal recommendation.

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