Available On: PC (Windows, Mac, Linux) , PlayStation 4, Switch
Card battlers are fashionably popular right now (see our review on the excellent SteamWorld Quest), and Slay the Spire checks just about every box for popular indie genres. Deck-building. Dungeon Crawling. Random Encounters. Roguelike. Even more than most in the genre, Slay the Spire is a purely mechanics-driven game, with very little storytelling. But those systems work beautifully together to create a memorable, deep, and easy-to-play experience that rivals many physical card games.
Climb Ev’ry Mountain
After being given a starting relic by a talking blue whale, my masked, blade-wielding fighter known as The Ironclad begins their journey through three acts of increasingly difficult randomized challenges. Each act consists of several branching paths I can take as I make my way to the top, culminating in a big boss battle.
Before I can reach the boss I’ll need to battle enemies, purchase potions and cards from merchants, and loot treasure chests. Random events are scattered throughout each act that offer a tiny slice of storytelling in the form of making simple choices that bring both positive and negative effects, such as gaining a powerful relic at the cost of health.
I’m given the chance to choose my path at certain intervals, working towards a campsite if I’m low on health, or a merchant if my pockets are bursting. I’ll need all the help I can get for the incredibly satisfying, deeply strategic combat.
I start with only a handful of cards that represent basic offensive attacks and defensive blocks. Every turn I draw a hand of cards that cost between zero and three energy, along with three energy to use each turn. The game smartly telegraphs exactly what each enemy is going to do each turn, including how much damage they will do if they attack. This allows me to plan out my turn by playing Shield cards to Block against nasty attacks, or chain together a powerhouse offensive when the opportunity arises. Either way I still have to work with the cards I draw.
Thankfully I have some control over how my deck comes together. After each successful battle, and again in treasure chests and at merchants, I’m given an opportunity to add new cards to my deck. With new cards comes new strategies and synergies. Having a bunch of Block cards is handy, but when I’m staring down the barrel of a huge barrage of attacks and no Block cards in my hand, I’m thankful I grabbed that Warcry card that lets me draw two more cards.
It wasn’t until my third run with The Ironclad that the exciting possibility of card combos reached a memorable height. One of my first rare cards I found was Barricade, which prevents Block from decaying at the end of my turn. Instead of a temporary reprieve, I could build a solid bulwark to outlast my opponents. This new strategy changed the way I built my deck throughout the nearly three hour run-through, ultimately leading to a satisfying victory.
And yet I’d only scratched the surface. The other two unlocked classes, The Silent and The Defect, represent different philosophies (rogue and mage), and feature their own decks, cards, synergies, and strategies. On top of that, finishing runs (whether successfully or unsuccessfully) unlocks new cards and relics that appear in future runs, building upon the successful “just one more run” formula found in other roguelikes such as Risk of Rain and Dead Cells.
Slay the Spire has been rated T for Teen for Violence and Blood. Actual depictions of violence are minimal. Animations are extremely limited, and mostly regulated to simply playing cards as effects poof and enemies disappear, though there’s definitely some blood spurts.
Slay the Spire combines the best features of deck-building card battlers with roguelike dungeon crawlers. The perfectly balanced card-based gameplay elevates its simplistic animations and minimal writing. Through a rewarding build-up of decks and card synergy it creates countless hours of satisfying run-throughs, while remaining easy to pick up and play (and making it a particularly excellent game for the Switch). Slay the Spire is easily one of the best indie games of the year.