Deckbuilding Roguelikes is not a genre I would have thought would interest me. I loved shooters, RPGs, driving games, and so on. Thanks to Game Pass though a little title I had heard about called Slay the Spire was there for me to try. I was immediately struck by the “just one more run” nature of the game. Fantastic music was matched with well-balanced gameplay mechanics and simple but effective artwork. With the release of Xbox Game Streaming, this turn-based battler seemed perfect for my phone as well as my console. Let us see what makes this game so damned good.
What A Name
Earlier this year I reviewed another deckbuilding roguelike titled Monster Train. While I genuinely do love the extra strategy layered into the gameplay there its name is absolute junk compared to this one. Slay The Spire, what a fantastic name for a game. It immediately tells you what your goal is. You start by choosing one of four characters to play as. They are The Ironclad, The Silent, The Defect, and The Watcher.
The game works on a turn-based system where you will pull 3-5 cards from your deck at the start of each turn, though this is constantly changing due to various items we’ll get into in a bit. Progression is tied to unlocking more cards and relics for each character individually as well as a pool of “colorless cards” that can be used by anyone. The Ironclad for instance uses red cards that are all tied together in helping you build each run. You start with standard attack and block cards as well as various buffs, debuffs, or various other types in your hand. Progression is slow but rewarding, allowing you time to understand just how fights work and how unbelievably important blocking and healing are.
Each run takes place as you ascend floors in a randomly generated set of paths. You are shown dotted lines connecting each floor and must choose wisely on how you want to proceed. Skulls will be fights against basic enemies, ?’s can potentially be enemy fights, relic chests, or their own specific types of encounters. Treasure chests denote the item shop where you can buy cards, relics, and potions with the gold you earn during your run. None of these carry over in-between runs though, so learning how and where to use your consumables becomes key. Larger skulls denote Elites who will gift you with a relic after beating them but have higher health pools and damage output. Finally at the top of each area is a boss who will beat the heck out of you until you know what you’re doing and have unlocked enough with your character of choice.
Respecting Your Time
At first, runs may last a few minutes, but by the time you’re beating all three floors they can get up to an hour if you’re taking your time. Thankfully (like almost all other games of this genre) you can save and quit in between floors at any time. Without this the game would become quite frustrating on longer runs, and thankfully it does support Quick Resume on the Series X|S consoles too.
The characters you’ll take on these runs fit into their own archetypes with the Ironclad focusing on a mix of burst damage, blocking skills, and constant healing. The Silent focuses on excellent defense, and a mix of low energy cost moves and poisons. I’ll get to the energy system in a minute. The Defect has a set of 3 or more channeled spells that activate at the end of each turn and puts an emphasis on empowering these orbs which can do damage, give him armor, give energy, or slowly build up a mix of both damage and armor. The Watcher focuses on multiplier modifiers. She can switch between stances and gain large amounts of block or deal massive damage and is one of the tougher characters to master.
To do anything though requires energy. You’ll start each run with three energy per turn though this like many other things can be raised higher through various relics or card abilities. The relics are run-long modifiers that are randomly pulled from a pool per character and open to everyone’s items. They are the key to building up what you’re doing and they can help turn a losing run into a victory if you have a little luck to go with your good choices.
Not Beautiful but the Music is Great
Graphically the game is very basic. Characters barely animate, and the art style is nothing great. In the end though for what the game is I found it to be fine. The music is where it really shines though, which is good because you’ll be hearing it non-stop as you play. Each area, boss fight, item shop, and whatnot has its own song and I found myself not playing and instead just enjoying listening to the music.
A game like this lives and dies on things like this as there is no voice acting, sound effects are minimal, and the music is constant. You can turn it down if you find it to be a bit much, but I never did. Another key for this genre is how varied your runs can be. Thankfully both due to the differences in how each character plays and the variety within each of them in turn, Slay The Spire has some of the best run variety in the genre. Looking at The Silent you can focus on building up poison stacks while playing defensively or go full-on 0 energy attack offense and try to kill everything before it can ever hit you. Mix in various relics that guide what you can and can’t do each run and it is a satisfying and deep system.
There are occasions where the random loot will screw you over, with either cards or relics that just don’t mesh well being handed to you through no mistakes of your own. It’s the nature of the genre though, and the quick time for each runs makes it a small nuisance overall.
The Perfect Streaming Game
Xbox Game Streaming released not too long after Slay The Spire hit Game Pass and they are a match made in heaven. With a controller or touch controls, this is one of the best experiences you can have with game streaming. The turn-based nature of it means no matter how mediocre a connection you have it will never screw you over. You’ve got 15 minutes to kill at lunch? Start up a game or resume one you played on your console last night, and when break time is over just quickly save your run and come back to it later. Many a night in my bed have been wasted streaming to my console while playing the game, and it is the main reason I got a clip for my Series X controller.
For either $25 or played through Game Pass on PC, Console, and Mobile this one is a no-brainer for almost anyone. If you have any family member that likes to mobile game and has access to this through any means tell them to give it a try. It’s deep, fun, fair, and I absolutely love it.