I still haven’t figured out how to use Steam. I mean, I play games on Steam quite a bit, but scanning the store for new arrivals and Early Access gems isn’t something I’ve acquired a skill for. As such, I have to wait until I see someone tweet or post about a Steam title before I’m aware it exists. Slay the Spire is a recent example. I’ve been playing the Early Access version for a couple days, thinking I stumbled onto something special, only to find that it’s been available for 2 months now and we’re the only damn site that hasn’t written up something about it. So, just ignore the fact that Slay the Spire isn’t a brand new release and play along.
Slay the Spire is a roguelike deck-builder which is a combo that should get your blood pumping because it’s the same magical duo that powers a certain gem with terrible artwork. Yes, I’m talking about Dream Quest, and Slay the Spire has much of the same feel. Luckily, it adds enough new mechanisms that while the thrill remains similar, gameplay feels completely different.
As in most dungeon-crawling roguelikes, you play as a single soldier drawn from one of three available classes. You’re offered a map with multiple starting points that twist, converge, and diverge all on their way to a boss at the top. You get to pick which paths to take, with the map clearly showing if you’ll be battling a monster, an elite, nabbing a chest, or whatever. The map is also filled with question marks which can be anything, but often seem to be choose-your-own adventure style events where you get to pick your own destiny. Everything you do leads to more gold, magic items, and cards. You’ll get to add new cards after just about every encounter, while other encounters will let you upgrade cards you already own or discard fodder from your growing deck.
Combat is a simple affair from a rules perspective, but isn’t something you can wade into just tossing cards from your hand willy-nilly. First of all, you have a small pool of energy to draw from each turn, and each card you play will drain some of it. Your starting cards are either “defense” or “attack” cards, so you’ll have to decide if you want to use your energy this turn to protect you from the enemy’s oncoming attack, or do you go on the offensive? As you earn cards and items, the game’s depth begins to emerge. You’ll be looking for combos with your own cards, but also need to be aware of special abilities that your enemies are throwing at you, making some of your cards less effective than they should be. Each battle is a new puzzle to unravel and it’s great.
A big part of what makes Slay the Spire so damn good is the sheer variety of options offered each encounter. The game has over 200 cards, over 50 unique encounters, over 100 different items to find, and every level is procedurally generated so you’ll never see the exact same sequence of events twice.
Slay the Spire is currently in Early Access on Steam for PC/Mac/Linux. We’re not sure when it will be going into full release, but I’ll say that the EA version is pretty polished as-is. I haven’t encountered any crashes or bugs yet, and I’ve been playing the hell out of it. We’ve put in a call with developer, Megacrit, to see if there’s a chance Slay the Spire would ever appear on mobile. It seems like it would be a perfect fit, particularly for tablets, but we haven’t heard back [Dave sent them an email only a few minutes ago, so it’s not their fault.- ed.]. We’ll keep an ear out, and will most likely be posting an in-depth review when Slay the Spire has its full release.