kill the arrow is one of the best games I’ve ever played. I think I have over 100 hours in the game Changeand another fifty or more Xbox. And, thanks to the announcement that it’s coming to PS+ in AprilI’ll probably sink 50 more on my PS5too.
Let’s start with a first line of what Slay the Spire really is: it’s a turn-based, dungeon-crawler deck-building game that plays like a roguelike. Think Binding of Isaac meets Hearthstone (or Magic: The Gathering meets FTL: Faster Than Light) and you have a very rudimentary base to build. But these comparisons are of limited use, because the game is unique – and that’s its specific, undeniable charm.
By starting a new save, you embody one of the four main characters of the game. You will have a basic and fairly weak deck. But so much the better, because you’ll have to learn the mechanics, one by one. You’ll quickly learn that this is a deck builder that’s less about getting many cards in your deck, but rather about control whatever comes to hand.
Your first character, the Ironclad, can heal itself slightly at the end of each battle – so it makes sense to pick up cards that do damage to it in order to deal more punishment. But your second character, the Silencer, is more of a glass cannon that can attack multiple times and stack poison on enemies, but has less health and can’t heal.
The most dangerous enemy in this game isn’t the big boss that spawns at the end of the first world, the infuriating “ritual” enemy that can wipe you out with one blow near the end of the game, or the bands of thieves who can search your chests in the meantime… no. The deadliest enemy you will encounter in Slay the Spire is greed.
Want an extra card for your build? See a relic that will allow you to diversify your strats just out of reach? Want to take damage to get some extra gold between fights? Go ahead, risk it. Chances are that the 4 HP you just sacrificed will be your downfall in the next encounter. Back to square one.
Unlike some of its roguelike brethren, however, Slay the Spire at least gives you experience per run, allowing you to unlock more cards and relics as you progress through more and more attempts. to – you guessed it – actually kill that eponymous arrow.
Even if you die after the second boss, you’ll probably have just enough experience to unlock a new power card (read: something that gives you a buff for the rest of the encounter) that makes you think “fuck, I should play another run and build something around that.” There it is ! Another 30 minutes of your life is rushing. You die again. But you find a new strategy – probably around poison and knife throwing – and dive back into it. Rinse, repeat – oh fuck, it’s 4am.
Even after a few hours of play, you will begin to understand the value of the game’s main mechanics: cards, armor, energy, relics. You begin to interpret enemy attacks (their next turn intent is always displayed above their head) and learn how to mitigate it to the best of your ability. You learn how to get better decks, fast. You learn which relics are worth hunting down and which to ignore. You learn which encounters you should avoid and which mysteries are worth investigating.
Like all the best games in this genre, Slay the Spire is incredibly easy to pick up, but diabolical to master. The nuance involved in building a killer deck is sublime. The discretion you need to not overload your deck is a lesson in self-control. The constant dance between luck, skill and insight in your head as you desperately try to find the solution to last just one more turn in this final boss fight there is catnip.
Beating the game is just the start, too. Like all the best roguelikes (Issac, Gungeon, Hades, et al), concluding the main path once is just the tip of the iceberg. You will have to do it again, with all the characters. Then you’ll start over, with the correct relics in your inventory. Then you will find new bosses, new levels and new tasks.
And if that’s not enough for you, what about daily tasks? Or all the Trophies? There’s a reason I’ve sunk nearly 200 hours into this beautiful gaming bastard – the more time you spend with it, the deeper it gets and the more its magic unfolds.
Sure, the animations are rudimentary and the art looks like something out of Newgrounds in the early 2000s. Sure, the sound design could use a bit of work. But hi; it’s a 5/5 game for me, despite all that. Because – from a game design perspective – it’s simply one of the most compelling, well-oiled things you can buy. It’s so influential, in fact, that the developers of Marvel’s Midnight Suns cited him as a major inspiration in their playing (I talk about it a bit here).
And, best of all, it’s the complete package: many card-based video games are based on services: YuGiOh, MTG, Hearthstone… they’re designed to keep you playing and paying. Slay the Spire is not. And yet, I’d say it’s worth more than all of those games (maybe even put together).
I’ve bought this game three times already, and now that it’s coming to PS+, I’m going to own it a fourth time. And I can’t encourage you all to do the same. You have nothing to lose, and therefore, so much to gain.