First impressions of Slay the Spire

Buying a game in Early Access is always a somewhat tricky decision: it has the advantage that – generally – the price paid is a little lower than that which will be later on release, and the ability to enjoy the title ahead of time. But there is also a certain risk, as you are investing in a product that is not finished and that, most likely, has a more or less noticeable amount of bugs and errors to reconsider before ending development. In titles such as Nuclear Throne, Dead Cells and Darkest Dungeon, the Early Access format served to give a special packaging to the games that, feeding on the feedback of the players, were able to improve some general and specific aspects, both mechanics and balance, that They ended up making the overall experience more satisfying.

There is a common pattern in these titles that I mention: all of them fall, more or less, within the roguelite genre, that is, games that rely on the random generation of levels and objects, with permanent death and high difficulty levels that require the player spend many hours to master them completely. Slay the Spire also works like this: more similar to Darkest Dungeon in structure and in the mechanics that derive from the RPG, in the end the crumb, the difficulty, is in the randomness that impacts all its elements. And although in reality, and especially if we compare it with the aforementioned titles, it does not seem at first glance like a game with a large amount of content – it has far fewer enemies, characters and unlockables – it is precisely the interaction between all these factors that gives rise to to a greater number of strategies than a single player could experiment in a reasonable amount of time. There are so many possibilities that it is not uncommon to find a synergy between objects that had never occurred to us when we have already played many tens of hours behind our backs, and it is precisely this wealth that makes Early Access, the constant testing of the limits of the game by the players, it feels like a glove.

Perhaps due to having been subjected to a constant trial and error process over the last few months, the experience feels so polished from the first approach. Even being a game with so many variables to take into account at all times, the concepts are intuitive and easy to understand and it does not take much to learn to move with agility between the interfaces. The premise of Slay the Spire is that it is a turn-based RPG, but based on a card system – inevitably reminiscent of Magic the Gathering – and a map structured in three levels through which we will have to advance, dungeon crawler style, choosing the paths that are most convenient for us until we reach the final boss of each floor. Slay the Spire, however, has nothing to do with Hearthstone or Elder Scrolls Legends, which are perhaps the first titles that come to mind if we think of card-based RPGs. Not only for being a title that is played totally offline, of course; is that despite the fact that the cards and the construction of the deck are a fundamental aspect in the development of each session, the aspect related to collecting is totally absent here.

This means that we will build a deck during our game and when we finish it, we will lose it and have to start from scratch: there is no pretense of getting or unlocking new cards, of spending hours managing the ones we already have to achieve the optimal combinations. At the beginning of each campaign we will be able to choose between three characters, each one with an initial deck made up of a predetermined number of cards and a relic – objects with special powers that are activated automatically – different. From there, the rest is in our power, but with obvious limitations. The fundamental way to obtain more powerful cards is to overcome confrontations with the enemies: at the end of each combat, we will be able to do the equivalent of Slay the Spire to what in any other similar title would be to “open an envelope”. This means that we will randomly generate three cards from among all the possible ones, of which we can only choose one to add to our deck. This is where the plot gets complicated, because choosing the most powerful cards will not always be the most convenient, and to be successful in battles and especially in bosses we will need, above all, to have a deck with thematic coherence with cards that have good synergy between them.

The truth is that I personally have a predilection for cards that deal poison damage; but more than once I find myself letting one of my favorite cards pass because the game has led me to create a fundamentally aggressive deck in which slow attrition strategies don’t have much room. Other times I want an aggressive deck and decide to radically change my approach to my playstyle mid-game because one of the enemies looted me a card or item that makes a different approach worth trying. In general, even if you start the game with the intention of creating a deck with certain characteristics, achieving it is a difficult task, and requires more luck than skill. That is why, although the opportunity cost factor is still present, as in all roguelikes, the fundamental element that determines the dynamics of Slay the Spire is not so much the relationship between risk and reward as the need for adaptability: a good player It is not necessarily someone who is very skillful or very fast fighting but who knows how to adapt to what the game offers, maximize the possibilities with those elements that are offered and react quickly and sensibly to adversity. As we move forward, we play more hours and we learn how the systems work, the feeling that prevails is not so much that of being smarter or better strategists, but of better understanding the ins and outs of the system and being able to be more versatile and use our tools – whatever good, bad or worse – to get out of difficult situations.

In any case, perhaps with a view to the final launch of the game, there are some other aspects to be polished in this field: on specific occasions, especially when we have already finished the game on one occasion and are faced with higher difficulties, there are games that seem to support each other. a bit more in the random element, and sometimes we will find situations that seem difficult to solve with the resources that the game has given us up to that moment. If Slay the Spire is absolutely solid in the first hours of play, the more advanced phases – which, contextually, coincide with the moments in which the player is most involved – sometimes suffer from being a little more uncertain, not just more complicated. but also a little more arbitrary, and perhaps that can serve as a disincentive to continue playing for a part of the players. Even so, the balance of the game is at the moment in constant questioning, and it is not a problem that cannot be solved relatively easily in the coming months; For now, the gaming experience is polished at perhaps unexpected scales for such a development, and more importantly, it’s addictive, it’s fun, and sometimes devilishly complex and intelligent.