Picture yourself sitting around a table with your friends, the roleplaying books (or board game) splayed out before you. The world is at your fingertips, everything is possible. You begin playing, and things all seem to be going well. Then, disaster strikes. You’re required to either roll some dice or draw a card that will determine your fate. You know there are at least a few positive outcomes and even a neutral one that you can obtain. So you say a little prayer and draw/roll/spin. Then either cheers of jubilation or wails of despair. For most of my gaming career, I’ve been prone to the latter. Now I won’t say I haven’t had a few shining moments here and there, but when it comes to the RNG gods, I’m most certainly out of favor.
So you may be wondering, how does this tie into a video game? Well, in the case of Slay the Spire, a PC game I decided to pickup after watching Austin Walker’s stream on Twitch (here) I was super hyped to give the game a try. I like deck building games in general, but this one added roguelike/run based gameplay to the proceedings. Every run is different from the last, with all the randomness you’d expect. And so I embarked upon my quest to slay the proverbial “Spire”. More than 25 hours later, I’m about ready to uninstall the game and be done with it.
Don’t get me wrong, the game is exceptional (yet again an early access success) in its design, art style and amount of content. What’s slowly becoming apparent however is that this randomness means that even your most carefully crafted strategy can be completely negated if you encounter a specific enemy/encounter that you aren’t prepared for. I’ve had countless runs where I’ve created a deck that builds off of each card or works in combination extremely well. And with the addition of relics (permanent upgrades that are also randomized) and potions (one-time use buffs/debuffs/damage) it allows you to create some fantastic combinations that are satisfying when they work.
The problem with randomness is that you can ALSO get nothing that works well together, and then add on top of that an enemy who is perfectly the opposite of what you’re good at and you can see where this is going. I feel like FAR too many of my runs have ended because I was fighting a boss and kept getting card draws that were perfectly out of cycle with the boss’ sequence. For example, I was fighting a boss who cycled between attacking and debuffing me every few turns. Well the RNG gods decided that I’d get nothing but attack cards on the turn the boss was also unleashing their best attack, and ZERO defense cards to help. And when they weren’t attacking I’d get a hand of defensive cards. In some cases there are a few items that can help combat this situation, but yet again it’s random so you have to hope it either drops or you can buy it from a merchant.
The character you pick for a run (there are 2 currently) determines your starting deck (which never changes). If you are lucky enough to get to a boss you also get a choice of a “buff” for the next run, but these are ALSO random so you don’t get as much out of them as you’d like. And then there’s the XP system, which you get for each run, and gates several card unlocks that are character specific. These cards all seem cool, but yet again they’re all random so you won’t see them unless the “die-roll” is in your favor. And after each battle you also get a choice of a new card (3 or 4 cards to choose from) which helps you build your character more and where the better/best cards will appear. Early on it’s hard to sometimes find a “deck identity” for your character but after a few combats you should have an idea where you’re going to be leaning.
All of this is well and good, but again with my TERRIBLE luck it never seems to come together for a successful “run” in the end. I’ve made it to the final boss three times now, and on two occasions I had thought i stood a chance, only to be met by the perfect foil to my deck/character/build. The most successful of my runs was the first time, where I ‘beat” the boss with almost no health and several of my best cards “gone,” but then since this is a boss OF COURSE it had a second form that I had zero chance of defeating.
That was many hours ago, and since then I’ve opened all the unlocks for one of the chatacters, and seen friend after friend who bought the game after me begin to post about their triumphs. But me, I continue to find “the run” that will finally get me through the game. I continue to play a run or two here and there, but my interest is quickly waning as the game doesn’t ever seem “fair” in my eyes. This is almost certainly due to the inherent randomness in the game, but for the life of me I can’t stop playing.
Anyways, back to the Spire to get my poor ironclad murdered by a random mob...