I bought Slay The Spire sometime in 2017 and against all my expectations it remains one of the most commonly opened games in my Steam library. It’s a roguelike, and a deckbuilder, and thus has a lot of hypothetical playtime in its rather simple base conceit, but it’s still incredible to me how the addition of a new, third character to the game’s loadouts has reinvigorated my love for the humble dungeon crawler.
In June, developers Mega Crit added the Defect, the third and final character (so far) to join the game’s lineup alongside the Ironclad and the Silent. Each character in Slay The Spire brings with them a unique set of cards that join the possible obtainable cards in a single run. Each run begins with a basic deck (typically five attacking cards, five defensive cards, and one card unique to the character) and as you progress upward through the titular Spire, you will be presented with opportunities to remove or add cards to your deck.
This relatively simple concept becomes a playground of different abilities and combinations. Since Slay The Spire is not a competitive multiplayer game, the necessity for “balance” in deck builds is thrown out the window. Each run becomes a miniature exercise in speccing out a deck for maximum combinations of cards, until by the third Act your hand becomes a circus of damage, abilities, powers, and defensive buildups. It’s the satisfying and strategic core of what makes Slay The Spire so enthralling.
The game’s first two characters, the sword-wielding Ironclad and the poisonous, shiv-throwing Silent, both focused on this specific type of gameplay. While each had their own possible routes to go down as far as builds (the Ironclad could spec a deck for the Anger card, for example—a zero-cost attack card that, upon draw, adds a copy of itself to the discard pile; or for maximum Strength, adding damage to each attack), they both relied on the cards themselves.
The Defect is different, and possibly the best example I’ve seen of a new character adding such newfound depth and variety to a game. The Defect also has their own attack and defensive cards, but they also have a unique ability: orb slots, above the character, that activate their held orbs at the end of the player’s turn. Stocking your orb slots with three lightning orbs deals three damage per orb to a random enemy at the end of each turn, or each frost orb grants the player two shield points at the end of a turn.
Playing as the Defect, then, feels almost less like a traditional energy-based card game (such as Hearthstone or Magic: The Gathering, games that Slay The Spire draws lineage from). The player-driven arrangement of defensive and offensive orbs (summoned by cards from your deck) feels more reminiscent of a tower defense game, or even a traditional turn-based strategy game. I found myself creating decks specifically for maximizing orb slots, whittling down the amount of cards in my deck until all I had were those useful for my strategy of maximum automated damage.
It fits the character’s aesthetic design as well—the Defect, unlike the Ironclad or the Silent, is a robot. Specifically, a defective automaton from the Spire, who is choosing to ascend out of their own free will. It’s a flavorful addition to a game that doesn’t have much in the way of defined lore—most story events in Slay The Spire are short bits of fiction between combat in semi-random encounter rooms.
For a game that feels relatively humble in its aspirations and lovingly goofy at times, I’m continually impressed by the strategic depth in its mechanics. The Defect’s wildly different playstyle becomes almost immediately understandable after a couple combat instances, and it quickly became my character of choice. There’s just something so good about finishing a turn and watching the on-screen enemies get annihilated by lightning blasts. In a game all about chain reactions, the Defect might be Slay The Spire’s best catalyst yet.
Dante Douglas is a writer, poet and game developer. You can find him on Twitter at @videodante.