Slay the Spire

One of the video games I’ve played the most in the past year or so is Slay the Spire. Since it’s getting out of early access next week (and getting more expensive 😉 ), I thought it’d be a good moment to write a few words about it.

Slay the Spire is described as “card game meets roguelike“. The exact qualification of “roguelike” is debatable, but oh well 😉 It works as follows: you start with a character with a basic deck of cards. You enter a randomly generated dungeon – with a few constraints in the rooms you can actually encounter. For each room, you either have a fight, a merchant, a resting place, a treasure, or a random encounter that may or may not be to your benefit.

The fights are turn-based combats in which you play cards – either offensive or defensive. To play cards, you need to play their mana cost – you get, by default, 3 mana per turn (and the cards have integer costs 😉 ). At each round, you get at least an idea of what your enemy is going to inflict on you – including an exact number and strength of attacks – which allows you to make decisions on which compromise to make on that turn. Moreover, the enemies themselves are mostly deterministic: with a bit of play, you start knowing what’s in front of you and how you can beat them. The fight is over when either you or your opponent is defeated. If you are defeated, it’s game over: you’ll have to start a new dungeon run. When you win a fight, you get to add a new card (typically chosen between three) to add to your deck. When you win an elite fight, you also get to add a relic, which gives effects that stays between fights.

The game is split into three “acts”, all ending with an act boss, and the acts are getting tougher and tougher – but since you keep improving your deck and getting relics, it’s supposed to balance – if you play well, that is 😉

When you first start playing the game, you’ll need to unlock most of the features: cards, relics, characters. I don’t know if I’m too fond of the approach: on the one hand, it allows to get to know the possible cards and relics with a bit of time, which may help with the learning curve, and unlocking new content is fun; on the other hand, I remember being a bit frustrated by the speed of the unlocking.

The amount of content is pretty impressive. For the normal mode, there are three characters, each with their own cards and abilities. For each of these characters, you can unlock up to 20 “ascension modes”, which make the game harder and harder. And since the game is randomized, every game is a new challenge. (And yes, there’s a way to save a seed and to re-try a run.)

There are also two “special” modes: a “daily climb”, to which modifiers are applied and all the players can compete for the highest score, and a “custom” mode, where you can create your own set of modifiers to have fun with the engine. And I was just made aware of the amount of mods that this games has – including new playable characters – I think I’m doomed.

The annoying thing is that I’m still a fairly bad player. I played, according to the statistics, 200 hours; that gave me 36 victories and 204 deaths 😛 And I’m nowhere near running in the later ascension levels (I think I reached ascension 3 on one of the characters?). It’s a challenging game – and it’s, for me, really not easy to consistently create a reasonable deck, considering the randomness of the cards that can appear. The good thing is that a run is between 40 minutes and an hour, which is a fairly low time commitment (and, more importantly: a bounded one), especially since it can be split easily between rooms.

Overall, it’s a very solid game, and one that I continue playing. The community has some very nice things going on, there’s a lot of fan artwork, a statistics database, speed runs – you name it. The development has been very active during the whole “early access” duration, typically with an update a week, a lot of tweaking, re-balancing, and patch notes to which I looked forward every week. And any game that gives me 200+h of game play is definitely worth the money 🙂 Oh, and it runs on Linux 😀

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