Have You Played? is an endless stream of game
retrospectives. One a day, every day, perhaps for all time.
Still very much a going concern around these parts, but screw it, I’ve not yet written about Slay The Spire, a game that has consumed most of my waking thoughts these past couple of months, so here we go.A few years ago, I got all hot and bothered about a game called Dream Quest, a card game/roguelite mash-up with art that veered between appalling and charmingly naive depending on what side of bed you got out of. I think it had some mobile success but didn’t make a dent on PC, which was a terrible shame (and almost certainly was because of the art). I hoped and prayed for a sequel, or a snazzier remake, but it never came.
Slay The Spire doesn’t quite the fill the gap – particularly, its between-fight travel mode is a lot less interesting, and it has only two characters/classes to play as, as oppose to DQ’s dozen-odd.
With DQ, I had a greater sense of why I was playing, there was so much more to gain access to, with each new run permanently adding new cards to your potential hand, whereas most of what you can get from Spire you have from the start. (There are unlocks but they make for gentle remixing, whereas DQ’s new cards could revolutionise your next playthrough.
But DQ was like a long country ramble as darkness gradually fell and the shadows grew longer and more threatening, whereas Spire is like a steely sprint through a warzone. I thrill to its purity and its urgency, a grand accomplishment for a turn-based game.
I can’t stop playing, by which I don’t mean simply “I like to play this game often” but rather that when I do play it, it takes little short of the threat of violence to pull me away from it. I can’t leave a run unfinished (whatever its eventual outcome) because it feels so urgent, because the sum total of cards in my hand and the strategies in my head or so specific for this moment right now. In the same way that adding or removing one card can totally upset a brilliant balance, so too does dragging me away when I am in the middle of things, with these long-term plans for what my hand will be once I face down the Time-Eater or whoever.
I miss Dream Quest, the simultaneous gentleness and complexity of it compared to the unblinking leanness of Slay The Spire. But it’s Spire that I just cannot stop turning to, that gives me a sense I am mastering rather than simply exploring something.