Short version: Trials of Fire is a deck-building tactical roguelike in which I can’t tell if I’m having fun. After 10 hours, I’m leaning towards Yes. It’s $14.39 on Steam right now, but will be $19.99 next week.
One of the most immediate comparisons of Trial of Fire that pops up from gaming “journalists” is Slay the Spire. This is unfortunate for many reasons. For one, if you really enjoy Slay the Spire like I do, you will be disappointed to learn that this game is, in fact, nothing like Slay the Spire. For two, the actual best comparison is to Card Hunter, which was a criminally underrated and uncopied game from 2013. Seriously, look at the devs (Richard Garfield!) who worked on it. The Flash version of Card Hunter died, but you can still play it on Steam, and it looks like there may be some people taking over the franchise.
Anyway, Trial of Fire. What do you really do? It’s best explained with a picture:
When combat starts, player and enemy tokens alike drop from the sky with a satisfying clink upon a randomize board that rises from the pages of a book. Your characters draw three cards from their deck each turn and can only carry over one between turns. Your deck consists of 9 cards from your class’s default deck, plus any cards that come attached to equipment your party picks up along the way. Sometimes your deck accumulates cards in other ways, such as if your party is Fatigued or Injured (junk cards), or as the result of random encounters. Some cards are free to cast but most require Willpower, which is a temporary resource that dissipates between turns.
The really clever trick Trials pulls though is turning cards themselves into resources. During your turn, you can discard any cards you want from any of your characters to gain 1 Willpower. Have a ranged character in an advantageous spot with a fist full of attacks? Go ahead and dump your other characters’ cards so that your DPS can go ham. Alternatively, discarding a card can allow that specific character to move 2 spaces on the game board. There are already movement cards in every characters’ deck, but sometimes you need just a little bit more distance. Alternatively alternatively, if you discard a card and don’t use the Willpower on something else or move that character, they get 2 Defense (aka Block).
Typing it out makes it seem complicated, but it is surprisingly intuitive as you play.
I also liked what they did with HP. In short, every character has 10 HP baseline. As you equip better armor, you end up with… er, Armor, which is basically bonus HP in battle. As long as no one drops below 10 HP, no actual long-term damage has occurred. Even if some has, your characters regain +2 HP every time they Camp in a sheltered location, which ends up being quite often.
Outside of combat is not like Slay the Spire either. Instead, you move your party around a map while trying to finish the primary quest, periodically stopping at ?s scattered along the wasteland to get some RNG punishment. This part is Trial’s biggest weakness: naked RNG.
Like, I get it, roguelike. I would probably be more annoyed if they didn’t include the percentage chance right on the tin, but it still feels bad somehow. In particular, you can get really screwed early on in such a way that you may as well abandon the run. For example, one of my characters got the Firelung trait, which was a card that is permanently added to the deck that dealt 1 unblockable damage to them and any allies within 1 hex when drawn. That was fun times.
In any case, the out-of-combat part feels the least developed even though it makes up a large portion of the gametime. You can collect crafting material from events and combat sometimes, but you never end up collecting enough to upgrade more than 1-2 items at best. And “upgrading” an item basically means upgraded the cards that it grants, which frequently is of dubious worth. You’re going to want to save mats to upgrade an Epic or higher item, for example, but Epic upgrades take the same mats (plus an epic version) as normal upgrades, so… yeah. It ends up being an Elixir situation wherein you hoard mats the whole game and never use them but you realize you never needed them anyway.
Also, when exploring the map you end up being constrained by two meters. One is “Determination” which only sustains itself while you are moving towards your next quest objective. The other is Fatigue, which decreases while you walk or fight, and requires you to use supplies to Camp to recover. Both meters have to be kept high or else you end up getting penalty cards added to your deck, which again, is a rather harsh kick in the pants. Not that you want to keep exploring for too long though, as there is often a natural inflection point at which you are destroying every enemy in the first 1-2 turns and realize they couldn’t possibly drop anything to improve what you already got going on.
So, yeah. Trials of Fire.
Although the game still feels that it is lacking a certain something, I can absolutely say that the bones are good. The aesthetics and tactile tactical action is something I could play over and over. And have started to do with Combat Run and Boss Rush modes. There is also the higher difficulties, ala Ascension modes. Huh, just like Slay the Spire…
The Android version of Slay the Spire is out. It’s $9.99 on the Google Play store, although you have to scroll down to find it.
And I recommend waiting a while before buying it.
It is indeed Slay the Spire on your phone. If you are not familiar with the game itself, well, you’re in for a treat. I’m sure there were other deck-building roguelikes out there before, but this one is so good that it has basically consumed the entire genre – anything new is basically “Slay the Spire but with X.” Being able to finally play this on my phone without streaming it or other nonsense is something I had been looking forward to for a while. In fact, I had been holding my Google Play credits from surveys for more than a year just to purchase it as soon as it popped up.
The issue is that it is a bad port.
It’s not just the bugs, of which there were many game-crippling ones (stuck on Merchant screen, continuous de-syncing, etc.). The Android port is just poorly designed from a UX perspective. Text is tiny and borderline unreadable, even with the “Big Text” option selected. Cards are shoved far at the bottom of the screen, which means half the time you try playing one, you end up minimizing the app – this behavior can be disabled via Android options, but I haven’t had any issues with Hearthstone like this. Perhaps the most frustrating though are the inconsistencies with selecting things. On the Reward screen, you have to double-tap to collect Gold, but a single-tap will select 2nd option (Potion or Relic), and your card reward requires you to click confirm. That’s three separate behaviors on one screen. Who designed this shit?
I’m also a bit salty when I straight-up lost a run right before the final boss because the wrong card was played. You cannot read the text on a card without lifting it up a bit with your finger, but lift it up too far and it will automatically be played (if it’s not specifically a targeted card). There is a “long press to Confirm” option in the Settings, but inexplicably that’s just for the End Turn button and nothing else. Incidentally, this lost run was the same one in which I accidentally skipped a Relic – the Select button became Skip after highlighting the Relic once – and then accidentally picked a bad choice in one of the “?” rooms because I was hovering my finger over the option so I could see what the Curse did.
Of course, by “accidentally” I really mean “because of dumbass UX designers.”
So, yeah, the thing I had been looking forward to for literal years was immensely disappointing. The lesson here is to
don’t look forward to things don’t purchase things Day 1.
As Reddit is largely my source of gaming news these days, periodically I find that several items relevant to my interests have been buried by random nonsense. In no particular order:
Oxygen Not Included’s DLC has entered Early Access
Called Spaced Out!, the DLC seems focused on creating and managing multiple mini-colonies rather than one. Considering how complex and fragile just one colony can be, Klei is either targeting hardcore vets of the original game or will be introducing methods to trivialize some of the fundamental problems players encounter (heat, water usage, leaning on and then running out of algae or coal, etc). Although I have logged 143 hours into the game – making it my 5th most-played game on Steam – I have never actually made it to the rocket launching endgame, so I would be fine with the latter.
ARK 2 has been announced, starring Vin Diesel
No, really, look at the (pointless) trailer. Cue up the Adam Jensen “I didn’t ask for this.” Supposedly there will be more details coming out over the next few days, but the underlying kick in the teeth is that Studio Wildcard is rather pointedly ending the development of its original game in favor of a star-studded sequel. This shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise, considering Wildcard is rather infamous for releasing a paid DLC while the original game was still in Early Access.
Having said that, if the end result is ARK on more stable game-code… maybe it’s worth the re-admission price. Clocking in at 147.5 hours, ARK is my 4th most-played game on Steam. And all that time was spent in single-player, almost entirely on the original map. The bones were good; it’s the flesh that needs work.
Slay the Spire is (still) coming to Android… Eventually!
Mentioned in passing at the top of the latest patch notes: “While we’re awaiting news from our publishing and porting teams for the Android mobile release, we’re bringing some more of the under-the-hood improvements to PC!” While an Android release of Slay the Spire is not news per se, I’m always happy to be reminded that it might eventually happen someday. After all, it’s been six months since it was released on iOS and I have resorted to a number of questionable phone games (like Hearthstone) to scratch that particular itch.
And just to continue the theme, Slay the Spire is #2 on my Steam list with 166.8 hours played.
So it’s been a week, eh?
I am not going to go into too many details, but work has been crazy these last few weeks. More specifically, I was reassigned to an interim position after a string of terminations left a critical seat empty. This is not a promotion – in fact, the seat would technically be a demotion if I were taking it over for longer than the six months I am covering. It’s more work, less pay (I’m being paid the same as before), more stress, and I even have to supervise people. I am slowly turning things around, but there was a lot of cleanup to do. Luckily the remaining team is relatively solid.
Regardless, the position drives home the fact that we inhabit an absurdist universe in which “lower” jobs require more work and get paid less than their cushy, “higher” job counterparts for no reason.
In the brief time I have for gaming, I have been focusing on three titles.
Clash Royale is still a thing I play on a daily basis during breaks. I keep thinking I am approaching the end of my patience with the title – and I am certainly approaching the end of reasonable progression – but without it, there is a rather gaping hole in my mobile gamespace.
Slay the Spire has recently reeled me back in with the beta release of a 4th character. The Watcher has a lot of interesting cards and mechanics, although the balance is certainly off. Hard to complain though, given how you have to specifically opt into the beta, and there are almost nightly patches to introduce new cards and change the old ones. My play time here is approaching 150 hours.
A recent addition is Kingdom Come: Deliverance. I will have a lot more to say later, but it is an interesting game so far nonetheless. As you might expect though, I am playing it all wrong.
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:
- Elites spawn more often.
- Normal enemies are deadlier.
- Elites are deadlier.
- Bosses are deadlier.
- Heal less after Boss battles (75% of missing health)
- Start each run damaged (-10% health)
- Normal enemies are tougher.
- Elites are tougher.
- Bosses are tougher.
- Ascender’s Bane
- Start each run with 1 less potion slot.
- Upgraded cards appear less often. (50% less)
- Bosses drop less gold. (25% less)
- Lower max HP. (-5 for Ironclad, -4 for Silent and Defect)
- Unfavorable events.
- Shops are more costly. (10% more)
- Normal enemies have more challenging movesets and abilities.
- Elite enemies have more challenging movesets and abilities.
- Boss enemies have more challenging movesets and abilities.
- 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.
Remember when I said I wouldn’t buy Battlefield 5 because it would consume all my free time but not “accomplish” anything? Well, I did resist the purchase…
…and promptly put like a dozen or so “empty” hours into Slay the Spire instead.
I think my total hours /played in Slay the Spire at this point is north of 50 hours. Those are rookie numbers compared to Zubon at Kill Ten Rats, who probably put more hours into writing Slay the Spire posts last year than I have playing the game. Which it entirely deserves, by the way – it is a thoroughly enjoyable experience. It’s just not a novel experience (to me) anymore, and yet I feel compelled to boot it up any time I spend more than thirty seconds looking at my Steam library.
That’s probably a sign of good game design.
Last year, the devs at MegaCrit tweeted that they were looking at a Switch and mobile version of the game after coming out of Early Access. It’s 2019 and the game is still in Early Access, although there has been a third class added and, more recently, Steam mod support. If and when Slay the Spire ever receives a mobile port, is likely the day that I earn a Corrective Action Report at work.
I can’t wait. Because then I might be able to get home sated, and ready to play something else.
I’m probably done with RimWorld for now. After installing the mods I was talking about, I found some uranium on the map, made mining it a high priority, and completed the construction of a ship. By the time I had four cryopods – not nearly enough for my 12 colonists – I realized that a lot of it didn’t matter. I could continue fast-forwarding through time, or I could see the ending credits right now. So I did. And this was apparently enough to satisfy whatever itch compelled me to boot the game up every day.
I’ll definitely revisit RimWorld once 1.0 is released, but in the meantime, I’m playing other games.
Ironically, the other game that continues soaking up my free time is another Early Access title: Slay the Spire. I had stopped playing it a few weeks ago, having rather thoroughly and completely beat the game and unlocked everything. The Daily Challenges brought me back: they are normal runs with additional bonuses and/or restrictions. For example, some of them give everyone (including enemies) +3 Strength, or cause you to get three copies of a card when added to your deck, etc.
It is not lost on me that the Daily Challenge has some strong parallels with, say, Mythic+ dungeons in WoW. “Play the same content with additional restrictions/considerations.” The huge, fundamental difference though is that Slay the Spire is fun, and WoW dungeons are not. Well, that and the simple fact that the bonus/penalties in Slay the Spire can change the entire way you approach run, whereas in WoW it just makes the things you were going to do anyway (speedrun past enemies) more deadly.
I haven’t talked about it before, but I’m approaching the end of Rise of the Tomb Raider, e.g. the sequel to the first Tomb Raider reboot. The visuals are incredibly amazing, but for the most part I think I enjoyed the first game better. While this game plays better, I’m at a point where I feel more like Spiderman than Lara Croft. Or Ezio from Assassin’s Creed, for that matter. There’s always been platforming element overlap between the two series, I guess, but it feels more fantastical in Rise of the Tomb Raider than it ever did before.
Going forward, I have a lot more games queued up on my plate. We’ll see which ones actually get any attention though.
Monster Slayers is basically a worse Slay the Spire.
The premise of this deck-building roguelite is that you are part of a guild of people trying to take down the Big Bad Guy. Your deck and cards are reset on death to the default ones associated with the class you pick (of which there are several), but you maintain any gear you have accumulated, and any Fame unlocks. Considering that gear increases the damage of your attacks, can give you “temporary” cards in your deck (that will persist as long as that gear is equipped), and boosts your HP, these are essentially permanent advantages that you maintain as soon as you collect them.
The issue is twofold.
First, it is physically impossible to actually “beat” the game without several cycles of death and gear accumulation. In other words: grinding. It’s not the grinding that’s necessarily bad, but rather how the game is balanced around it. You will essentially be paired up with monsters that you have zero chance of defeating, not because of poor planning or execution or even RNG, but simply because the game is “balanced” that way. Losing in that manner never feels fun. Roguelikes (and -lites) often feature punishing RNG, but that’s not what’s going on here – you are engineered to lose X times in Monster Slayers, guaranteed.
The other, more important issue is that… the gameplay is simply bad. In Slay the Spire, you get a notification of what the enemy is about to do, and so there is a possibility of some interplay or tactical considerations. Should you try Blocking the damage, or are you free to go all-out Attacking?
In Monster Slayers, beyond a description of what the enemy does in general, e.g. “Vampire Bats can drain health,” there is no real indication of anything. So what happens is that you just play your cards until you run out of cards or AP, and then your opponent plays their cards, and you wait to see if you’re dead yet or not. That’s really it.
There are some other “minor” issues like the game looking terrible, the UI being horrendous and mostly useless, not having a understanding of what cards the enemy is playing (not that you can interact with them much), the music being repetitive, and the act of playing cards not feeling good. For example, the Rogue class has several “Deal N+1 damage, draw a card” attacks, and while it’s fun chaining those together, if you click too quick, you’ll accidentally play a different card.
If you are looking for another Slay the Spire fix, look elsewhere. If not… play Slay the Spire instead.
I have beaten Slay the Spire two times as the Ironclad and three times as the Silent. All of the runs were quite different insofar as specific cards and interactions go, but the overall strategy was basically the same for each one:
Avoid Losing Health
This probably sounds like I’m trolling, but I am quite serious.
As with many games, HP is a resource in Slay the Spire. However, regaining HP comes at a much higher cost in this game. At each Campsite, you can regain 30% of your max HP, or you can upgrade a card. While sometimes necessary, each time you heal at a Campsite instead of Upgrading a card, you are forgoing dozens, if not hundreds of opportunities of using said upgraded card over the rest of the run. Even if you end up grabbing a specific card or Relic that heals you somehow, that is typically at the expense of a different selection that might have helped you in a different way. Much better to simply not need to heal at all.
So here are my tips in avoiding losing health.
Understanding and Loving Block
Blocking often feels bad, especially when it isn’t enough to absorb an entire attack. Instead of being one turn closer to ending the fight, you instead do nothing and take 2 damage, right?
Well, imagine instead that there was a 1-mana card that said “Gain 5 HP.” Would you play it? Yeah, you would probably play it as much as you could. Guess what. That’s what Block does any time it absorbs damage. There will be times when you will save more HP by burning down an enemy than blocking half the damage, but you also have to look beyond the current battle. If you save 10 damage now by burning down the enemy quickly, but lose 30 HP three fights from now, you have ultimately made a poor trade.
Now, there will be times where you have a fist full of Block cards while your opponent is doing nothing but buffing themselves. Those times will suck, and it’s possible you’ll take more damage overall later. However, consider the opposite case where you have a fist full of attack cards and a pile of damage coming back your way. The latter is much more dangerous than the former.
Combat is for the Fortunate
If you do not have a reliable means of avoiding damage via deck/Relic combos, you should not be taking unnecessary risks in combat. Or getting in combat at all. This means picking a route that bypasses as many regular and Elite encounters as possible. Yeah, combat gives you a chance to add cards to your deck, and Elites giving a Relic is cool, but you can also get cards and Relics in those “?” encounters, typically without losing HP. Do those instead.
The biggest exception to the general rule is everything on the 1st floor. Since you are just starting a run, it behooves you to take as many risks as possible now, when failure does not sting as much, rather than later when you could lose hours of progress.
Relics Will Carry You
Your overall run will, in a large part, be dictated by the Relics you acquire. Nab the one that gives you 3 Block every time you discard a card? You should probably start picking everything that lets you discard cards. The beginning of a run is more free-form as a result, but you generally can’t go wrong with a fast cycle deck. Just make sure you pick up some Answer cards along the way.
Answer the Encounter Questions
Slay the Spire is currently in Early Access so this can change, but generally the “questions” that an encounter will pose and the subsequent answers are:
- Single, large attack | Apply Weaken
- Multiple attacks | Apply Weaken or reduce Strength
- Escalating Buffs | Kill faster
- Punishing Attack usage (thorns, etc) | Kill faster, or Passive damage
- Punishing Skill usage | Attacks that also gain Block
- Punishing Power usage | Only use highest impact Powers
Generally, you are going to want to have at least one card that applies Weaken no matter what. Several bosses have one uber-attack that will deal more than 40 damage at a time, so that one Weaken card will end up being the equivalent of “Gain 15+ block.” Would you draft a card that said “Deal 9 damage, gain 15 Block”? Of course you would.
Beyond that… well, it depends on the character you chose and the relics provided. Playing as the Silent means you have specific access to some very nice cycling cards, and can pick up cards that apply Poison. Tons of Block + Poison = eventual win. With Ironclad, you are generally more reliant on attacking, but don’t forgo Block cards on your way to stack Vulnerability (+50% damage). I had the most success with Ironclad when I kept a lean deck and upgraded the 0-cost card that buffed my Strength for the turn.
Some of the cards and relics you pick up during a run have an impact beyond any individual combat. For example, the Feed card gives you an increased max HP when it deals a killing blow, and the Alchemize card grants you a Potion. There are also relics that heal you when you cast a Power, or perhaps grant you a special action when you reach a campsite.
This may seem like another duh moment, but… do those things.
Specifically, engineer scenarios in which you can take advantage of them all the time. If you get a Feed/Alchemize card, start drafting card draw or extra block so that you can stall combat long enough to capitalize on them. If you get a bonus action at campsites, make sure you are not wasting the opportunity by having to heal up. You should avoid having to heal at campsites anyway (so you can upgrade cards instead), but that goes twice as much when one of your precious relic opportunities is consumed by something that is useless otherwise.
Slay the Spire is basically a deck-building roguelike in the vein of Hearthstone’s Dungeon Run with a splash of Dominion. While still in Early Access, damn near everything about the game was compelling enough to grab my attention for 20+ hours immediately after purchasing.
The basic gameplay cadence is to pick one of two classes, and then complete encounters on your way up the Spire. At the start, you have 10 cards in your deck, and three energy to spend each turn. After each turn, cards you played (and any you didn’t) go to the discard pile and you draw 5 more cards. When you run out of cards, the discard pile is shuffled into a new draw pile, repeat ad infinitum.
Your beginning deck is basically filled with 1-energy Attack (deal 6 damage) and Defend (gain 5 block) cards. As you defeat enemies, you get a choice of one of three cards to add to your deck. Some of these are strict upgrades to your basic cards (Deal 5 damage AND gain 5 block), but many of them are completely different mechanically (discard your entire hand, draw that many cards). Adding these new cards to your deck makes it more powerful, but just as with Dominion, a deck with 30+ cards is not as powerful as a deck with 15 cards – you are simply less likely to get the combo pieces you need when you need them.
This is where the brilliance of Slay the Spire comes in. For one thing, it allows you to forgo getting new cards if you wish. Additionally, in shops and certain non-combat encounters, you can choose to remove cards from your deck. This is good both for thinning the lower-impact cards from your deck, and also removing Curse cards (usually just a dead draw) you might have inadvertently picked up. In addition to cards, you can also get one-use potions, and gain Relics, which are typically passive abilities that augment your run in some way.
All of this is on top of a robust buff/debuff system, a dozen or so different enemy types with their own behaviors, a bunch of bosses/elite encounters, some non-combat events, Shops that let you purchase new cards, one-use potions with nice effects, and so on and so forth.
Oh, and have I mentioned that the two available classes have different card pools?
Since purchasing the game last week, I have beaten the final encounter a couple of times with both classes, using (by necessity) several different methods based on which relics I managed to pick up. For example, one relic gives you 3 Block each time you discard a card. Suddenly, Calculated Gamble (Discard your hand, draw that many cards, costs zero) becomes the best defense card in the game, while simultaneously moving you closer to a your win condition cards. Other games required playing and fetching the same two cards as many times as possible. Still other games saw me die to the first elite encounter I faced, three moves into a run.
Roguelikes sometimes dislike rogues, know what I’m sayin’?
In any case, if you were looking for something less RNG than Hearthstone’s Dungeon Run, or enjoy deckbuilding in general, I highly recommend Slay the Spire. It is in Early Access, so technically it could get better or worse, but they would have to essentially gut the entire game at this point to make it not worth the $13 (on sale) I already paid. Buy it, or keep it on your radar once it releases for real.