Ascension

As you may have heard, I continue to play Slay the Spire.

I have beaten the “normal” game dozens of times with all three default characters, and have unlocked all the cards and relics. When you defeat everything with all three characters, you can unlock a fourth stage with a super-secret boss, and you also unlock Ascension Mode. Each character has their own Ascension Mode tracker, and defeating the standard final boss will increment the Ascension Mode up one digit, to a maximum of 20. What happens on each level is the following:

  1. Elites spawn more often.
  2. Normal enemies are deadlier.
  3. Elites are deadlier.
  4. Bosses are deadlier.
  5. Heal less after Boss battles (75% of missing health)
  6. Start each run damaged (-10% health)
  7. Normal enemies are tougher.
  8. Elites are tougher.
  9. Bosses are tougher.
  10. Ascender’s Bane
  11. Start each run with 1 less potion slot.
  12. Upgraded cards appear less often. (50% less)
  13. Bosses drop less gold. (25% less)
  14. Lower max HP. (-5 for Ironclad, -4 for Silent and Defect)
  15. Unfavorable events.
  16. Shops are more costly. (10% more)
  17. Normal enemies have more challenging movesets and abilities.
  18. Elite enemies have more challenging movesets and abilities.
  19. Boss enemies have more challenging movesets and abilities.
  20. Fight 2 bosses at the end of Act 3.

I have been focusing on playing the Silent, the 2nd character, and achieved Ascension 15.

Also, I am so done with this game.

This particular Ascension mode design is rather brilliant in a lot of ways. Many games have harder difficulties, including roguelikes, but most of them are not as granular as this. The first “downside” of more Elites, for example, is not technically a downside for someone skilled with the game – each Elite enemy killed will result in a Relic, which can substantially improve the rest of a run. It’s often advised to target as many Elites as possible in the first Stage, to either wash out a weak deck early, or load up on goodies when the risk to your time is low.

Plus, there is the more mundane benefit to the fact that even if you are a super pro player from the start, you still need to play through and beat the game 20 times before you reach the hardest difficulty. Per character! That’s a lot of gameplay. Or grinding, depending.

I lasted way longer than I thought I would at the beginning (Ascension 15, remember), but the fundamental truth is that each time I succeeded, each subsequent game became less fun. By design. Well, presumably I am supposed to become more and more proud of my ability to overcome challenges, but that doesn’t really happen in practice. Especially in Slay the Spire’s case, where after a while things become more and more RNG-based as the margin for success shrinks.

This is probably for the best. I prefer the discrete finality of a rolling credits screen to the ashes of burning out, but an ending is an ending. Now maybe I can move on to something else.

Posted on February 4, 2019, in Commentary and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. I’ve seen a few videos (glanced, not watching the whole thing) of people being able to fairly consistently beat A20, which is pretty insane. I think right now I’m around A10 on most of the characters, but like you, I’m finding it grindy vs really enjoyable.

    That said, I’m sure I’ll come back to the game over and over for more runs, as it really is one of those “take it for a spin” games that is fun when you return to it.

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    • I’ve watched some Twitch streams of A20 runs, and I agree that they seem rather consistent for how ridiculous the game gets. They also take what I would deem absurd risks, like upgrading a card instead of Resting when they have < 35 HP. Maybe that is the true skill on display, I dunno.

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      • Early game you have to take risks. If it doesn’t pan out, faster restart. If you don’t take the risk, you have a higher chance losing later on anyway, so I see the logic. Specifically in this example, I try to basically never rest, as each rest is -1 card upgrade (or worse if you have something like the shovel).

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      • Totally get it… but to me that’s basically indistinguishable from restarting dozens of times until you get a perfect set of starting relics/card choices/etc.

        It is true that the pros almost never rest, and always ride the line to the bitter end; they would rather end on 1 HP than 37 HP. I did it that way until A15, but the stress of having to do things that way, never actually being confident about a particular run, and facing the same Act 1 shit over and over and over again is too much. Or rather, not enough… fun. I outright quit playing Defect at A3 because I faced the Awakened One like 99% of the time. What fun is Defect without spamming Powers?

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  2. I’ve beat A20 on all characters. The only levels that really felt painful were the last four. The RNG of “did I get the cards I need” goes through the roof. Yeah I’m sure I could just play better and make it easier, but I really don’t want to tryhard StS. Once I beat A20 I basically never touched it again. The nonascension game is much more fun because you can do some stupid things and actually win.

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    • Absolutely. My favorite run happened in A13 or so, when my very first relic was Dead Branch and I already had a few Shiv cards. Decided to say “screw it” and just went hardcore Shiv. And… I actually won. I was dead on board on the final boss (Donu or Awakened One) but managed to Dead Branch an Adrenaline followed by two random cards followed by a Leg Sweep that allowed me to survive the turn and kill the boss with poison the following one. It was a win I didn’t deserve, especially on higher Ascension, but it was fun to play.

      Everything after that was just constantly banging my head against nonsense, praying for Poison cards and/or good relics.

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