Anyone who has read my previous reviews knows I am a huge fan of card games and card based video games too. While I am not a huge PC gamer, these are the types of games I can generally still play on my old PC or laptop thanks to them not being very graphically heavy and running on minimal specs. Recently I was introduced to developer AYGames new game in Early Access, Deck of Ashes. Now let me share my thoughts on my new game addiction.
The world of Deck of Ashes is dark and the art style reminds me of the fantastic and challenging game Darkest Dungeons. The world players are thrown into is in chaos after Pandora’s box is opened and covers the land in ashes. Monsters of all kinds now roam the lands. The player is recruited by the Ash Master, a tattooed fellow who reminded me of Dhalsim from Street Fighter II, to stop the force behind the blight, Death herself.
The player characters themselves each have personal reasons to follow the Ash Master and I was impressed by the storytelling in Deck of Ashes. Even the merchant, blacksmith, and herbalist at your base camp have interesting backstories and contribute to the story as a whole. While the story is told in simple hand drawn cut scenes with mediocre voice work, the overall world and origin of the characters is still very well written.
There are currently two selectable characters at the start of Deck of Ashes, each with their own specific card sets to collect and build. Players can choose from the pyromancer Lucia the Eternal Flame or the recently added rogue/thief character Sly the Black Serpent. Both play very differently and new players will want to use Lucia as she is the easiest to learn the game with.
Deck of Ashes is very similar to the recent Slay the Spire. Players start with a base deck or draft one at the start of the campaign. Unlike Slay the Spire and it’s minimal tower map though, Deck of Ashes uses an overhead map, allowing the player to move between locations, so it feels a bit more open. The map will have basic spots to mine for resources, battles, treasure chests, dungeons to explore, and various random event spots.
Each movement is an hour of in game time. This is important as there are various reset timers the player has to keep track of along with timed buffs and debuffs you acquire from events. There is also a limited amount of time allowed on each stage before you will be forced to battle the end boss of the chapter. This creates a rush to build your deck and buff your character because if you are not able to defeat the boss, you will be forced to start over.
Combat in Deck of Ashes is turn based. Each round the player has a limited amount of base mana (5) to cast cards with. After casting each card it is discarded to the “Deck of Ashes” unless it has the rare Phoenix ability that makes it go to the bottom of Battle Deck. After your mana runs out you can choose to put cards back to the bottom of your deck or keep them. The next round you will draw back up to your base 6 card hand limit. When you run out of cards to draw the player is given a card that will return some random cards back to your deck but deals damage to your character.
After each battle the character will be awarded various resources and allotted rest point. Rest points can be used to heal your character or renew cards still in your Deck of Ashes. Cards can also be renewed one a day at your base camp for free. You can also pay to heal there at the herbalist. Thankfully you will be sent back to your camp before each chapters boss fight to prepare, no matter where you are on the map. This may sound like pretty harsh play conditions but I enjoyed juggling my health and cards and eventually discovered all kinds of fun ways to manipulate this system.
Each character has different playstyles and combos the player can build as they gain more cards from winning battles or buying recipes from the merchant. No matter what your build though I found healing spells to be essential to success. Get them as soon as you can. While Sly was more challenging to use, I eventually found I enjoyed his more complex combos and card drawing abilities.
Deck of Ashes isn’t a very long game story-wise. The main campaign is only three chapters and and then a multiple phase end battle. After each completion your whole account will be given Reward points that can be spent to get cards, modifiers, and other bonuses for your next campaign. This and the fact that more characters are planned make Deck of Ashes have some replay value though. I also enjoyed trying out different combos and the difficulty can be increased for more of a challenge.
Overall, Deck of Ashes is a fantastic game for fans of the deck building genre. The world AYGames has creative is unique and I absolutely love the art style. The enemies range from gross to terrifying. I have spent the last couple weeks playing it daily and each time I learn something new. While only in Early Access currently, I still highly recommend picking it up on Steam.
Deck of Ashes is available now in Early Access for PC via Steam. This preview is based on gameplay from a code provided by the publisher.