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Review: Slay the Spire

The giant whale stares at me with tired eyes. “Hello. Again”, it groans. It is obviously weary to see me, but I do not respond. I simply read my weapon, steeling myself for the challenge that lies ahead of me. I will climb the large tower, the spire that I sit at the bottom of. But it will be dangerous. Horrors lie round every corner. Cultists, thieves and monstrosities await me. I must prepare myself properly. “Choose”, the whale moans. Beneath my helmet I smile. And draw a card…

Slay the Spire is an early access PC game available to purchase on Steam. The game is a roguelike (a turn-based dungeon-crawling genre of role-play game in which the death of your character returns you to the game’s beginning) with some deck-building card game mechanics. The player plays as one of two characters (with a third character on the way), who journeys up the titular spire, using cards to attack foes, buff themselves and create other unique effects. The two characters that are available to play (at the time of writing) are The Ironclad, a sword wielding warrior who sold their soul for dark powers, and The Silent, a stealthy huntress who uses poisons, traps and knives to eradicate her prey. Both characters start off with almost identical decks, with several generic attack and defend cards. From there, however, things get more interesting. As the player journeys up the spire and defeat enemies, they will unlock new cards that they will put into their decks. These cards are randomised, so every attempt to scale the spire is different, and players will have to come up with new strategies for their decks on the fly.

The game plays quite simply. Players look at a map and choose which route they want to take going up the spire. Some of these routes overlap and twist into each other, so players have a lot of agency when it comes to choosing which path to take. There are multiple encounters the player can come across while ascending the spire. Adventures, where the player will have to make choices that can put their health, gold or deck at risk, usually for some fantastic rewards. Merchants, where players can buy new cards, relics and potions. Treasure, which gives, well, treasure. Rests, which allow the player to either rest, which lets them regain health, or upgrade their cards, giving them stronger effects. Finally there are battles against different enemies, which encompass the majority of the game. These battles are relatively simple. The player has a hand of cards and some energy points, and can play as many cards as they have energy points. These cards allow the player to attack, block, or buff themselves to hinder their enemies. These enemies always telegraph their next move, which allows the player to plan out how they want to spend their turn, whether that is blocking against a large, powerful attack or making several hits against a foe that is open without fear of retaliation. When the enemy is defeated, the player gets some rewards, usually gold or potions, and the opportunity to gain a new card.

This game is relatively fun and creative, yet whilst I like it, I cannot help but feel there are some flaws. While the game has a very nice art style, some of the animations are a bit stiff. I can forgive this since the game is still in development, but it still sticks out. Another area that needs some work is in the enemies themselves. While the game has some truly unique designs when it comes to the monsters you have to face, some of them are simply overpowered. With abilities that allow them to half the damage they take, or inflict wounds back onto the player, or ignore the negative status effects the player uses, this can lead to some frustrating encounters that do not feel fair, or fun to play through.

Despite those complaints, I still quite like Slay the Spire. Its fun and almost addictive gameplay is simply a delight, and I have never had a game that has not been entertaining or unique. I am not 100% sure I’d recommend it just yet, however, and still think it needs a few updates before it realises its full potential, but it is still some of the best fun I have had with both a card game and a roguelike in a long time.

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