Monster hunting is all the rage these days, as is the card-battling genre, with various games putting their own spin on the latter concept recently. The one-man development team of Nerdook have brought their own attempt at a card-based battle game to consoles in the form of Monster Slayers, after a well-received release on Steam.
Whilst Monster Slayers is a combination of battling with cards and slaying monsters, it’s also more than that, because it’s a rogue-like deck-building RPG adventure where you’ll undoubtedly fail to succeed over and over again due to its tough nature. Nobody really enjoys failure though do they? So it begs the question: will Monster Slayers be able to maintain a difficult experience that manages to still be enjoyable and feel different to anything else on the market?
And the short answer is a definite yes!
The story itself is a simple and uninspiring one, with you joining the Monster Slayers’ Guild and tasked with defeating a whole host of monstrous foes in the Northern Valley, en route to bringing down the ultimate monster, the Harbinger. Nothing more, nothing less. Don’t be expecting an epic tale or anything close to that, however that’s fine when the gameplay delivers instead.
Before doing anything though, you’ll need to pick one of eight starting classes – Rogue, Knight, Wizard, Cleric, Ranger, Barbarian, Dragon and Merchant – and create a character, with a small selection of customisation present involving hair, skin tone, voice and gender. This will be your hero for the upcoming adventure and each class has different benefits, play styles etc. For example, the Barbarian’s starting deck is more geared up for landing serious damage, whilst the Ranger is used to landing critical hits with its cards and is more likely to dodge incoming attacks.
Essentially, the gameplay consists of going one on one with various beasts, such as the undead, trolls, bandits, vampires, skeletons, and many others, trying to best them by playing cards drawn from your deck. You must deplete their health faster than they can kill your hero in order to move on to the next battle. Each combatant has a set amount of Action Points, Mana Points and Health Points, with AP and MP used to play certain cards.
Outwitting the opponent and understanding the cards at your disposal is a key element to winning, especially when trying to overcome the dreaded bosses – of which you’ll face one in each area/level prior to meeting the Harbinger in the final bit. Winning battles earns XP to level-up your chosen character up to a max of level 15, with a selection of reward choices presented to you for ranking up to aid in progressing further.
In terms of card types, there are just the four; attacking, support, magic, and interrupt. It doesn’t sound a lot, but fear not as within each of those types are a plethora of different, creative cards to use, upgrade and new ones to obtain for your decks. Basic attacks aside, some cards allow you to cause elemental damage, force the opponent to discard from their hand, copy their attacks, draw additional cards for yourself and heal, to name just a few. Deck management is a crucial part too, ensuring you trim them down during a run through to remove any cards that aren’t advantageous and adding those that fit your style of play better. It really isn’t convoluted or a chore to do either like it can be in other games of this genre.
There are only three levels – or dungeons if you will – to progress through and these have multiple encounters within, featuring enemies to battle, merchants to spend any earned coin at, healers that rejuvenate your health bar, captains who provide welcome bonuses and more. It doesn’t sound like a lot of levels, but given that the dungeon layouts and encounters are randomly generated, no playthrough ever feels the same. And that’s despite the fact that you’ll be replaying from the very beginning each and every time you die, which will happen very frequently early on.
Once failure occurs, nothing else matters as Decks are reset for the next venture, as are the character levels, but you will earn Fame for your exploits and that’s priceless. You see, Fame can be spent on a whole load of permanent upgrades for specific classes, such as Rogues starting with extra AP, or more general upgrades which increase the starting HP for all classes. The sheer amount of upgrades is impressive and it becomes rather addictive to have another run through, maybe getting a tad closer to the Harbinger and then spending Fame to help your chances for next time.
Any loot found also carries over, with weapons, armour and accessories able to be equipped in the inventory to enhance the stats of your character. There’s not a great range of items, but there’s just about enough to keep you interested in trying to get better pieces to wear. Every little helps in becoming a legend and slaying the Harbinger; a feat that opens up new class types to have a go at and an even tougher Legendary mode to tackle.
Even after completing the Normal mode, the desire to do it with other classes should still be intact, which I think is due to the swift nature of a run-through, with battles usually taking less than a minute each. It’s hard, fast and fun, but not all is positive in the world of Monster Slayers.
The UI is horrible and clunky to navigate – there’s no sugar coating it – with attempts to select certain options almost impossible. It’s tough to explain, but any nodes on-screen that aren’t directly above, below or to the side of the one you’re on will be frustrating to access as the game doesn’t like diagonal directional inputs at all. Then there are the little bugs, where something as innocuous as exiting the inventory with a piece of equipment selected still can lead to a restart being needed as it becomes unresponsive.
My last major gripe is with regards to difficulty spikes. I’m up for a challenge and for the most part, Monster Slayers provides an ample level of toughness, but every so often an enemy will just play a ton of cards and destroy you in a single turn. There’s not a lot you can do about it though unless you’ve got a card that interrupts such a thing and so that’s the luck of the draw I suppose.
Visually, Monster Slayers does a good job in the designs of the heroes and enemies, with the former looking pretty cute and cartoony. Aside from that, I can’t say there’s anything else worth noting on that front, nor the soundtrack, which comes across as generic battle music in truth. You’ll barely notice it after a while.
Considering Monster Slayers lacks a proper story, doesn’t look anything special and has a fair few issues in terms of navigating the menus and such, you’d think I’d be putting you off it. Far from it though, because the card and class variety, decent range of enemies and easy to pick up gameplay are spot on; they are integral parts to an incredibly addictive experience. The challenging adventure is as enjoyable on the 25th playthrough as it is on the first, if not more so due to the rogue-like elements.
If you don’t mind dying a lot and love a good card battle, then Monster Slayers is a very good fit for you.