Review: Slay the Spire (Computer)

Reviewed by Garrett Walters, posted Mar 21, 2019, last updated Mar 21, 2019
Mar 21, 2019
  • Release Date (NA): January 23, 2019
  • Publisher: Mega Crit Games
  • Developer: Mega Crit Games
  • Genres: Deckbuilder, RPG, Roguelite
  • ESRB Rating: Everyone 10 and up
  • Also For: Nintendo Switch
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer
    Co-operative
Will the heart of the cards favor me in this roguelite deckbuilder?
Garrett Walters
A Magical Gathering


After a relatively short period in Early Access on Steam, Slay the Spire was deemed ready for its 1.0 release on Steam January 23rd, with an unknown 2019 release date for Switch as of this writing. Fifty hours of spire ascension later, I'm ready to share how I feel about this unique mash-up of genres that's managed to sell over 1.5 million copies.

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The first time playing, your options are fairly straightforward: only standard runs and a single class, The Ironclad, are available. A friendly whale-like creature greets you when you start your first run, and any run. At least, he starts out friendly, but he can get a bit snarky after a failed run or two. Slay the Spire shares the core of its gameplay with other roguelites, in that the player moves from one room to the next, dealing with whatever enemy or event they might encounter there while struggling to keep their HP above zero. What sets Slay the Spire apart, however, is the lack of guesswork. Enemy intentions are telegraphed, from attacks and blocks to buffs and debuffs. Card effects and item/potion descriptions are are short and succinct. Rooms are labeled by type on the map. Thus the game really does a fantastic job of making the player take responsibility for his/her own failures.

What is a deckbuilder without the cards, though? Every battle won presents you with the prize of selecting one of three cards to add to your deck, or you can choose none for those worried about making their deck too unfocused. Elite monsters drop a random passive item in addition to the usual card drop, and bosses let you choose one of three passive items. The further you progress into the spire, the more experience you'll earn on that run toward unlocking a larger card and item pool for your current class. The Ironclad can be considered your typical warrior-type class, with cards that focus on dishing out damage and inflicting weakness upon foes, while also buffing your own strength and building up high block numbers. The Silent takes its cues from the archetypal rogue, dishing out a large variety of debuffs, as well as deadly poisons and low-cost attack combos. Rounding out the crew is my personal favorite, The Defect, who summons passive orbs in battle that can be used for attacking, blocking, or utility. He's essentially the mage and the most esoteric of the group, while also boasting the most flexible card pool.

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Tapping all my Lands


Once you've spent some familiarizing yourself with the game and have everything unlocked, that's when deeper strategies and builds start to become more apparent. Ultimately your goal is to build a deck that combos with itself well enough to take down fifty rooms and three big bosses, one at the top of each encounter set. Of course, to keep the game from getting stale, there are some randomized elements in every run. Merchant stock, battle rewards, room placement, and assigned bosses are always going to change. As a result, repeatedly aiming for one type of deck build with a class can end up being considerably less effective than trying to tailor a unique deck around the options you're given on each individual run.

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There's more than just the single game mode, as well. Once unlocked, you can compete with other players for the top spot on the leaderboard in daily runs which provide a unique challenge. Or, if the game is perhaps too hard or too easy for your liking, you can customize the rules of your own run. All this adds yet more replayability to an already extremely-addictive formula.

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The music has fairly generic RPG feel, and though it's passable for an hour or two of listening, odds are you'll end up listening to your own playlists throughout the game. The aesthetic might be controversial to some, but I absolutely adore it. It's almost like the characters and the monsters are made out of construction paper, while the environments have the close attention to detail you might expect of MTG illustrations.

What keeps me coming back to Slay the Spire, long after I've completed a successful run, is the brilliance in its simplicity that very few other games share. The phrase, "easy to learn, difficult to master" comes to mind. There's little need for a tutorial as a result, and even complete newcomers to the genre should be able to pick up the basics quickly. There's no pressing need to look up online guides or ask someone else what their strategy is. You try and try again until you die and die again. Eventually an epiphany or two will kick in and the flow of your decks will improve drastically. At which point the game will have its hooks deep in you, and you'll become a Spirehead just like me.

:arrow: Slay the Spire Steam homepage
:arrow: Slay the Spire Switch homepage (Europe)

Verdict
Pros
+ Brilliant, deceptively simple core design
+ Tough-but-fair difficulty
+ Addictive with high replay value
+ Unique blend of genres that works well
Cons
- Music is a bit phoned in
8 Presentation
The aesthetic of Slay the Spire is something we haven't seen anywhere else. It evokes the feel of a classic dungeon crawler while still retaining a very unique edge. The music and sound design are less impressive and the quality more middling, but they get the job done. Story elements are sparse, but just common enough to keep the player intrigued.
10 Gameplay
Few turn-based games can keep you on the edge of your seat like Slay the Spire can. What it lacks in fast-paced action it more than makes up for in the brilliantly-designed deckbuilding, enemy AI, and game balance.
9 Lasting Appeal
Being a roguelite game, multiple runs are part of the package. Runs can take slightly more than an hour. When you fail, you're going to want to try again, and before you know it, it's 3 AM.
9.2
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
Equal parts simplicity on the surface and complex, masterful design running all of the numbers underneath, Slay the Spire is a stand-out title among deckbuilders that I'm confident will go down as a cult classic. There's a lot to love here for fans of turn-based RPGs, classic TCGs, and roguelikes, potentially giving the game a very wide appeal. I cannot recommend this game highly enough, and I cannot wait to buy it again on Switch.


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