There’s been a glaring absence of card games on console in recent years. As the PC community frequently gets more love in this genre, this absence has only become more apparent. That’s where Slay the Spire comes in to save the day. It’s a deck-builder the likes of which are incredibly rare. Accessible, deep, addictive and full of variety: Slay the Spire is the definitive card game on consoles.
But Slay the Spire’s success isn’t entirely reliant on its deck-building mechanics. It also works because of the fact that it’s a competent roguelike. Every time you die in Slay the Spire, you’re forced to restart, regardless of how far you’ve travelled up the spire. This sounds like it could be incredibly annoying, but it’s the best way to give death weight in a game such as this.
Each run of the game is also procedurally generated, so the placement of merchants, campfires, treasures and traps will be different for every play through. This adds some incredible variety to replaying sections of the game, rather than being repetitive. Although, Slay the Spire’s procedural elements can, at times, be too random. In some runs I’d get so far based on the fact that the enemies I encountered were weaker than usual. Or because of the fact that I randomly acquired one of the best artefacts (power-ups) in the game. It’s not a deal-breaker. If anything, it makes Slay the Spire more addictive; it’s just not the fairest game.
Its roguelike structure also means Slay the Spire has a slightly inconvenient progression system. Upon death, you’ll lose the deck that you’ve been meticulously crafting for the best strategy. Again, it stops things from being repetitive, as you’ll find new cards in a different order because of the game’s procedural structure. On the other hand, Slay the Spire’s permanent progression system doesn’t do enough to offset its random nature.
When you die, everything that you’ve achieved in that run will be accumulated into points. With enough points, you’ll level up and in the next run, new cards and artefacts will become available. While these unlocks are usually more powerful than what came before, the randomness still makes it quite a void progression system. There’s no guarantee that your next play through will go any better than your last.
To be fair, Slay the Spire’s structure does mean that you’ll be wiser with every death. Every time I restarted on the ground floor, I found that I was adjusting faster and faster. I knew how to deal with certain enemies; I could tell what the best card combinations were, and I had enough experience to know which routes were the safest to take.
Of course, Slay the Spire’s true point of ingenuity is its turn-based, card combat. It definitely isn’t revolutionary, but it’s the most accessible and satisfying card game I’ve played on a console.
Each turn you’re supplied with three energy points. The cards in your hand can cost anywhere between zero to three points, so it’s up to you to think economically about what the best strategy is for that turn. This, combined with the fact that only five random cards from your deck are playable every turn, makes each encounter a nail-biting affair.
Choosing whether to be offensive or cautious can make all the difference since your character’s health doesn’t regenerate fully after battles. Playing defensively won’t just save you for one turn, but it’ll be crucial preparation for the game’s brutal bosses.
The actual cards themselves are also a joy to discover. Slay the Spire kept throwing new ideas at me with cards that kept things fresh. Cards that would open up whole new strategies for me to play around with, as well as being so satisfying to use properly and in combination with others.
For example, ‘Body Slam’ is a card that will cause damage equal to the hero’s defence. If my deck was focused on defence, I’d successfully be able to deal massive amounts of damage, while keeping myself out of harm’s way.
Or the card, ‘Anger’, that would create a duplicate in the deck every time I used it to attack. Amassing even a few of these into my deck would mean I’d be able to have countless attack cards that cost no energy, speeding up combat encounters exponentially.
Slay the Spire’s family of cards are as experimental as they are simple. I can’t wait to continue to play around with all of its unique combinations.
Slay the Spire also has incredible variety with three different classes. This may not sound like a lot compared to Hearthstone’s plethora of heroes, but it makes all the difference in a game as replayable as Spire. Each class comes with different decks, passive abilities and base health. This means that the grind to fully level up all three will take longer, but there’s also more to play around with. The rewarding experience of discovering new cards to play around with is only extended this way. Plus, all three characters do feel incredibly different.
Daily challenges further extend Slay the Spire’s playtime potential. Every day a new run of Slay the Spire on Xbox One is available with different modifiers. These modifiers will either be a hinderance or a help but either way, it shakes up the formula. Taking them on and competing in leaderboards is good fun, even if achievements are then disabled. You can still gain experience points to level up the three classes, so if you’re getting bored of grinding in Spire’s regular mode, daily challenges are a good alternative.
Slay the Spire’s tense combat might leave you on edge, but the art is somewhat of a letdown. The monster designs are mostly uninspired and drab, and for foes that are so formidable, I would’ve expected more. As a deck-builder, Slay the Spire isn’t suppose to be a technical showcase, but its art doesn’t add anything to Spire’s atmosphere.
Ultimately, Slay the Spire’s aesthetics and hit-or-miss structure aren’t enough to hold it back from greatness. Its core gameplay loop of discovering and using new cards and combos is unmatched on Xbox. It’s accessible and deep; simple and nuanced. There are a lot of intricacies to the combat but it never gets overwhelming like other games in the genre. If you’re looking for a deck-builder to fill that void in your life, Slay the Spire is a great one.