My frustrations with Slay the Spire, 100 hours later

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BisonHero

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#1  Edited By BisonHero

Slay the Spire occupies an interesting position for me. Its owes a lot to Hearthstone in more ways than one: it has some UI similarities, the relative simplicity of card effects is more comparable to Hearthstone than to something like Magic, and Slay the Spire entered Early Access right around the time that the Hearthstone world was abuzz with the Dungeon Run mode, a similar roguelite mode about drafting cards and powering up your deck with passive effects. I noticed a trend among several Hearthstone streamers where they all got interested in Slay the Spire after burning out on Hearthstone a bit in the past few months. It strikes me as a "in the right place, at the right time" sort of thing that just as people were wrapping up Hearthstone's Dungeon Run mode and wishing for more content, this new game appeared to fill that vacuum. I've had a great time drafting different decks with it, and hope to see the game continue to improve in the future.

That being said, I have 2 major complaints after my time with the game so far.

  1. Due to the game's randomness, there are runs where even well into the 2nd area, my deck has no build-around-me rare or relic, so my deck-building is directionless and has no main synergy to take advantage of. Great runs often result form your finding a particularly good rare or relic in the first area which then shapes your deck building as you. In bad runs that ultimately fail, you either find this defining rare card or relic in the 3rd area when it's too late to shape your deck around it, or you just never find one at all. This problem can afflict many roguelikes, where sometimes all the random stuff you find just doesn't become greater than the sum of its parts. Maybe I found a sweet relic early in the run, but of all of the card choices I'm given, I find none of the uncommons or rares that actually capitalize on that relic, so it wastes away in my inventory, contributing almost nothing. Maybe every rare I find is just kind of generally good (maybe an Offering or Adrenaline which both draw cards and give you mana once per battle but are hardly a theme, etc.), so I'm never in a position to force my deck into a defensive style, or a poison style, or a discard style, or whatever the case may be. I just sit there, skipping a lot of mediocre commons, waiting for anything that is actually worth shaping my deck around, and sometimes it never comes. You can often survive to the end of the third area just with a well-drafted deck of decent cards and some careful play, but if your deck doesn't have some super disgusting combo effects between its cards and relics, usually the boss of the third and final area will just crush you.
  2. Speaking of the third and final boss, I think 2 of the game's 3 final bosses are needlessly punitive of certain deck styles. The bosses of the first 2 areas are a stiff challenge, but can be beaten by a variety of decks. They're strong enemies with good buffs and debuffs and some of them summon minions, but for the most part they don't shut down certain playstyles or respond to the types of effects in your deck. The 3 final bosses, however, more specifically counter certain deck styles, and since the bosses are randomized each run, you have no way of knowing whether your deck is just going to get hard countered until you complete the first 2 areas and can see which final boss you're up against. The Awakened One, for example, gains Strength every time you play a Power card; maybe you ended up with a deck style that only has 1-2 Powers that you can afford to just skip and not play, but often if you choose to play a defensive deck that is all about generating armour, you have to pick quite a few Powers and you can't really get your combo working very well when you end up giving so much free Strength to a boss that heals every turn and attacks every single turn with no breaks for a buff or debuff. Then there's the Time Eater, who gains Strength and ends your turn for every 12th card you play (this is tracked across multiple turns). An easy boss for the Ironclad to fight, but if you drafted a Silent deck whose core synergy is playing many 0-cost cards each turn, you basically autolose because you out of the 3 possible final bosses you randomly got the one that punishes your deck the most. The only not-bullshit final boss is Donu & Deca, who (like the bosses from the first two areas) are just generally strong enemies who constantly take turns buffing themselves and attacking, and can be conquered by a variety of decks as long as you're smart in building said decks.

I'm not sure there's a great way to solve the first problem, but boy is it frustrating when you're just aimlessly drafting cards with no real deck goal in mind because you didn't get a strong relic or rare somewhere in the first area. As for the second problem (2 of the 3 final bosses being whack), it also bothers me how unevenly this issue affects the classes. Frankly, the Ironclad can take on all 3 bosses pretty easily; Donu & Deca are doable, it's actually really rare that you can pull off a 0-cost card spam deck with Ironclad so the Time Eater isn't nearly as bad, and a lot of Ironclad powers are so specific that usually you can't draft very many of them meaning the Awakened One won't be so bad. With the Silent, Donu & Deca are doable, but that's where the fun times end; the Silent has multiple cards clearly themed around spamming 0-cost cards but then you get eaten alive by the Time Eater, and also the Silent has more generally good Powers (including some that cost 0 and just give you good card draw/card retention utility) but if you take them there's a good chance you get absolutely shit on by the Awakened One.

I'd love for them to go back and rework the Awakened One and the Time Eater, but with all of the weekly balance patches and changes from the devs, the final bosses have received only minor adjustments, so I'm not holding out hope for a major rework at this point. It's less than ideal, but I'm frustrated enough that I would even settle for the addition of more possible final bosses to the game, just so the odds of me rolling the final bosses that are cheap bullshit are slightly lowered.

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Atlas

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I'm at nearly 50 hours played, and I think the game is fantastic, but I totally agree with your two main points. I've got 10 victories on base difficulty, 5 with each class, probably 3-4 of those are daily challenges - I have NEVER beaten the Awakened One. It was especially disheartening to get to the final boss with a really good Silent poison build, only to learn that the Awakened One loses all poison when entering stage two - I died a couple of turns later. I often end up in poison when playing Silent because I feel like it's easier to get cards that are functional even if you don't get the best relics or pay-off cards - obviously it's amazing when you DO get to Burst-Catalyst a boss and take them from 25 poison to 225 poison in one turn, but especially early on you can build a decent deck just by prioritising defensive cards and any spell that adds poison. I've found it much harder to get the Discard-and-draw and the Shiv decks to work (I don't know if the community has codified names for the archetypes, but I think y'all know what I mean), although the one really good Shiv build I ended up with felt SO GOOD. I haven't yet had to face Time Eater with a Shiv deck, but I'm sure it's utterly miserable.

As for Ironclad, I feel like I end up drafting cards with a good square power level first and trying to build a synergy second, which is probably the wrong way to do it. I have never gotten the Block deck to work because it requires you to go all-in on the strategy, but I've had several runs where I picked up good Exhaust cards or Pain cards and they were good even though I didn't build a particularly strong synergy. Brutality is a really good card by itself, especially when it's upgraded and in your opening hand every game, but some of the best Ironclad runs I've had are ones where I've gotten Rupture to go off with Combust, Brutality, Offering, etc., ending the fight with like 30-40 strength. Evolve is now completely useless since they nerfed it.

I didn't come to the game from Hearthstone but I used to play a ton of MTG. Magic is definitely a game that struggles with the balance of flat power level vs. powerful synergies, and one of the things that turned me off the game was how hard they started pushing in the direction of synergy, especially in limited (draft and sealed). I'm not sure it's a problem that Slay the Spire can solve when you consider that synergy requires cards AND relics, but I do feel like having bosses that punish certain linear deck builds makes the problem feel worse. When you're drafting a Magic format, you're usually sitting at a table with seven other people, and reading signs and signals is extremely important - almost every format has 1-2 decks that work around cards that nobody else would want to put in their deck because they do such a specific thing, so if you're seeing certain cards go around you can read the signals and try and move in on certain archetypes, knowing that you'll get passed cards that only you want while other people fight over cards that have a higher flat power level. But when you're drafting a deck from pure randomness, you miss out on all that; you have all the frustration of those drafts where your synergy-based deck doesn't have enough pieces to go off, without the satisfaction of being the one at the table that saw the deck was open and moved in on it.

I think there's a good chance that the devs will review the situation in the near future and try and find some better solutions, but at the moment they seem to be more focused on making the game more feature-complete; the improvements to the daily climbs in the last couple of patches have been really good.

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Blommer4

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Yeah screw The Awakened One. I've beaten the games 4-5 times or something, but never won against him/that. I feel it was stupidly poorly balanced as I found Time Eater to be infinitely easier (Not saying he's not hard, just that he's not hard compared to The Awakened One). The last boss you mentioned I've yet to face, but I haven't played in a couple of weeks so maybe he have been added since I last play? Definitely looking forward to be playing more of this game further down the line, though I really hope they change/balance the last bosses some more.

Your first point, while true, is something I don't mind personally and actually think is necessary for these kind of games and their replayability. I can definitely see the complaint and why some would have it, but it would be near impossible to remove that aspect from the game without removing a ton of the fun as well. Of course this is just my humble opinion though, but I've always loved these kind of games (Binding of Isaac, Dungeons of Dredmor etc)

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Atlas

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I just beat The Awakened One for the first time. It was also the first time I got the Block deck to work, and it really worked. The second form of the boss came back and I killed it in one turn - my block was over 300. This game feels so fucking good when a deck comes together.

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BisonHero

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@theoriginalatlas: Nice work. Care to share some highlights of your deck/relic list at the end? (If you're not sure, the game has added a "run history" feature where you can review past runs and see which relics and cards you had).

I've never quite pulled off the full Block deck, but I had a decent sorta hybrid Block deck recently that was successful against the Time Eater (maybe the easiest boss for the Ironclad since IMO the Ironclad plays cards pretty slowly). Never got anything as crazy as Barricade + Entrench going, but I managed to make it through. By the end, deck highlights included:

  • 1x Juggernaut+, so my general strategy was to just gain enough block each turn to negate enemy damage, all the while getting free 5 damage ticks from Juggernaut
  • 1x Brutality and 1x Offering+, because that's just good card draw
  • 1x Double Tap+, which I'll explain more later
  • 1x Flame Barrier+, Metallicize+, Shrug It Off+, and 2x Armaments+ for decent armour generation
  • For Double Tap+ targets, I had 1 Mind Blast+ (which I think I bought from a shop near the end of the run), 1 Blood for Blood+, and 3 Body Slam+, so even though I never got up to hundreds of block, Body Slam would usually deal a solid 15-35 depending on the turn
  • 1x Disarm+, Intimidate+, and Uppercut+, so my enemies spent a lot of turns Weakened, giving my Juggernaut power more time to chip enemies down
  • Ended up getting down to only 2 remaining Strikes, but left myself with 4 Defends

For major contributing relics, I had:

  • Bronze Scales, which is great if you're turtling and want free counterattack damage
  • Super early Singing Bowl, so every time I skipped cards I got +2 max HP. I probably should've skipped cards a little more often, but the run history says I ended up at 92 HP max
  • Kunai, so every time I did 3 attacks in a turn I gained a Dexterity, which was surprisingly easy to do with my zero cost Body Slams and Blood for Blood and Mind Blast
  • I got Toxic Egg early (autoupgrades Skill cards as you add them to your deck), and later got Molten Egg (same thing but with Attack cards), so a very high proportion of my deck was upgraded other than the starting Strikes and Defends, and my Armaments+ made quick work of upgrading whatever wasn't upgraded
  • Torii, which is still one of the best relics in the game because of how it reduces hits of 2-5 damage down to 1 damage
  • I had Calipers (instead of losing all block at the end of the round you only lose 15), but to be honest I'm not sure I ever quite generated enough block to really preserve that much block turn to turn. But it definitely helped on turns where the enemy didn't attack that I could bank some of the 15-35 Block I was generating

It wasn't quite the win I was expecting and I kept holding out hope for the Barricade power that never came, but according to the run history I only took 44 damage in the Time Eater fight, and I believe I went into the fight with something close to full health, so it was a pretty satisfying win nonetheless.

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Steam says 63 hours. Let me see if I can offer some thoughts.

I've unlocked everything and beaten the Silent up to Ascension lvl 2 (not my favorite class so I don't play it as much), I am currently trying to get through Ascension lvl 5 on the Ironclad. I've beat every boss in the game 5-6 times at least and completed...maybe 40-50 runs?

At this point anything but Ascension level difficulties are too easy. The daily challenge has become a once a day thing for me and I like the variety, though most of the bad things you can get with it are no where near as harsh as the ascension level buffs to difficulty.

The key too my going from getting wrecked constantly too getting good enough to generally complete most runs I start (and essentially all the ones I would play on normal) was thus. Learn what cards are good, only take them. Skip card choices that are bad, always. The smaller your deck in general the better. Hit as many ? as you possibly can, followed by as many camp-fires as you can, followed by Elites, followed by shops. Except on the 2nd/3rd stage, if you didn't hit a shop in the first floor then its worth prioritizing one. Remove curses when you can before anything else, prioritize the ones that deal you damage, limit card's played or apply status effects.

And..that's pretty much it. ? spaces are almost always superior to anything any of the other spaces can give you. From free or cheap card-removal, to free upgrades too the most broken one in the game (which I really think needs nerfing) which will upgrade every strike/defend in your deck at no cost (the other option being I think removing a card or something no where near as good as upgrading 10+ cards at once). The rest is just a matter of playing enough of the game to know what bosses/elites do what and how to handle them.

Example, the group of 3 elites that alternative between doing 8 damage and putting 2 ethereal statuses in your deck. Strategy, kill one of the two that will rotate into doing damage at the same time, preferably the one with the least HP. Your not likely to be able to do this on the first turn, but taking 16 the first turn and going full offense is worth it. After that, you generally just have to wittle down the remaining 2 while only needing to block 8 damage a round (of which a single defend reducing it to 3 is usually good enough).

Everything else in the game has similar strategies but are, in general, the higher up you get the more important you understand the kind of decks that can be built, and work too them.

my advice for people trying too get some experience with the game. Play ironclad, always take spot-weakness. That is by far the single most broken card in the game (and really needs too be drastically re-balanced). Its miles away better then the power that boosts your strength, or demon-form due to that being so $$$. Both of those are also decent, since boosting power is a very easy thing to combo with. No, you won't always see it, but any run where you do if you've followed the advice of 'don't take bad cards' your deck should be small enough to regularly see it. If you happen to get multiples..well you should just win right there.

For those wanting to play the Silent then be aware of the two main strategies. Playing all the cards, and poison. The first is pretty self explanatory, but requires some good luck with relic/card drops. The second is extremely hard to pull off without getting ahold of Noxious Fumes. With that poison becomes amazing. If you can get a catalyse or two (and upgrade those to x3 the poison stat) then poison is by the far the most OP deck to build/play.

Everything else is, as stated, dependent on the relics you get. Exhaust based decks become more viable if your relics do things when that happens. Playing a lot of 0 cost attacks becomes broken if you get the relic that +1s your strength whenever you go. The plated armor is -very- broken in general.

As for specific complaints. Honestly, I've had the most trouble with the big knight boss on the second floor. If I make it to the top floor none of those bosses ever bother me. That Knight boss (name escapes me) is by far the biggest 'can you get past me' check'. Not sure what to say about the final bosses, I've run through all of them a dozen times or more it feels like and its always a one-sided fight in my favor, again on none-ascension modes anyhow.


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