Deck of Ashes
Publisher: Buka Entertainment
Review Context: I am always interesting in playing card games that try to put a different spin on the genre, especially attempts to make single player card games. I’ve played and enjoyed recent games like Slay The Spire and Monster Train.
Date of Playthrough: June 2020
PC Specs Game Played on:
OS: Windows 10 Pro 64-bit
Processor: Intel(R) Core(TM) i7-9700F CPU @ 3.00GHz
Video Card: NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 SUPER
Disclosure: This review is based off of a review copy provided for free.
Deck of Ashes, developed by AYGames, is a deck-building roguelike game that is a single player adventure experience that originally caught my attention due to the trailer. As a fan of card games, I saw Deck of Ashes as a departure from most other card games due to the presentation of the game in the trailer. So how does Deck of Ashes actually stack up as a single player experience?
What I applaud about Deck of Ashes is the commit level to providing a story background to all four of the characters, Lucia (Pyromancer), Sly (Rogue), Buck (Warrior), or Magnus (Shapeshifter). All of the storytelling for each character is presented with very nicely drawn art, similar to the style of Darkest Dungeon. The game is separated by chapters with voice acting for each character in the beginning and in between each chapter to the end of the game. The storytelling is ultimately better than the story itself, as the game is about an ash curse that has cursed the land and evil power falling into the wrong hands of the villain, Lady Death. Throughout the game you are being guided by the Ash Master, who helps tell the story throughout the game.
Although this game is a single player story experience, I would consider the gameplay to be the more essential part of Deck of Ashes. Selecting a character at the beginning of the game allows you to play a difficulty of your choice, as there are several, but also a choice to play with preset cards or do a draft for your starter cards. Every character has a different set of cards and different style of play to get used to. The main hook of Deck of Ashes is card crafting and there is plenty to craft, but that presentation is somewhat deceptive and limited because you can only card upgrade the most basic cards you start with. You can also upgrade duplicates of basic cards you might get. That’s not to say the card upgrading isn’t deep itself, as you have a bunch of different routes to take for the basic cards. Each character also has at least two different ways to play and usually its good to go for one approach to maximum status effects on enemies in battle.
The actual gameplay loop of the game is you are randomly dropped in an area with a “ruler” that rules that particular land. Each map has a bar on the top that starts on the left that moves right while you traverse the map that signifies the ruler looking for you. Once that bar the reaches the end you have to face the ruler and defeat the ruler to move on to the next chapter of four overall chapters. As you traverse the map you will be given the choice of where to go and how much danger to put yourself in, as there are easy battle tiles, as well as medium and hard. There are also chests that require keys, a dungeon (dangerous), and events that cause random effects. It’s ultimately up to the player where to go. Mostly every tile also contains resources of herbs, relics, goblets, or ore. These resources are significant to upgrading your character back at the camp and have game-changing effects.
The actual combat itself is presented interesting because you draw cards, play cards, and discard cards. All played cards go into your deck of ashes and some cards have an ash keyword that affect combat if that card is in your deck of ashes. Once your cards run out you have to renew your cards to get them back in your battle deck to be drawn again using a card called “Ash Pact” that sacrifices life for card renewal. This is by far the most unique aspect of the game and something that players will have to get used to managing. What I really like about the combat are the art and animations of all the card effects and the characters and enemies. The game has many status effects like bleed, poison, and burn and they are presented in a way that is not too difficult for a player to see. Managing your mana is a big aspect of the game and will define your success or failure in combat. After each battle you talk to the Ash Master and you can spend rest points on renewing cards for the next battle and/or your character health.
The overworld map is open and you are free to go wherever you want, but returning to camp is essential to your success in Deck of Ashes because the various merchants sell things and can give you upgrades for your character in the current run. As you defeat monsters you’ll accumulate gold and ash you can spend to either craft cards with ash, buy items, card recipes, or traits to buff your character. Crafting and upgrading cards requires ash, which unfortunately is a very scarce resource, as you have few opportunities to get more ash. There are ash storms on the map that give you an opportunity to get ash, that you have no idea how critical they are to getting more ash because you can also choose to grab recipes. It’s not until you realize how imbalanced the game is that you buy or find more recipes than you can actually craft that choosing to pick the ash over the recipes is almost required to maintain a decent experience in Deck of Ashes. The concept of card recipes in the game is also very bizarre because you have to obtain recipes more than once if you want to craft a card twice. There is no “learning” recipes. On top of that, cards that aren’t the most basic set of that character can’t be upgraded, so once you’ve upgraded your basic set of cards you actually don’t end up using card upgrading for the last half the game unless you craft a card from the basic set later.
The resource investment system with the various merchants in camp is also very interesting, yet game-changing and punishing if you don’t invest efficiently. It took me a few runs to figure out the most efficient way to invest my resources. Once I did, I was able to beat the story with all four characters in Adventure mode. All of the characters have the same choices to invest in, a design decision that should be reconsidered if a future update is made. There is a lot about Deck of Ashes that like, but the most frustrating thing about the game was playing with Buck (Warrior), as many of his character card’s font size, font color, and card background color made them so hard to read I had to use my camera phone to help me read. I’ve never had to do that ever in a game. This is also a problem with some of the neutral rare and epic cards, as the font size is just too tiny. Those issues are correctable, but I am baffled that made it into official release.
The bread and butter of Deck of Ashes is the campaign and the campaign asks a lot from a player The game asks you to defeat the campaign with all four characters to reach the Epilogue, which I can sort of understand once you know the story, The goal of the main campaign is to defeat Lady Death, which I found somewhat unrewarding when I did and made me feel like every stat investment I did previously was pointless. It left a bad taste because you should be able to face the last boss with the work you put in, especially in a roguelike experience. Not to mention, these chapters are kind of long and losing and starting over isn’t the most enjoyable thing, so it’s the journey to the end that adds to the frustration of the stipulations of the last boss in the main campaign. The Epilogue is enjoyable, and I like how the game set things up for an unnamed boss fight, but I’m not sure that the Epilogue is that great of a ‘carrot on a stick’ to get players motivated to defeat Adventure mode with all four characters.
Deck of Ashes doesn’t leave you empty-handed if you lose a run, as you can unlock new cards with reward points and also unlock new traits you can buy with gold,. You can also buy one-time use modifiers for your next run. If the campaign isn’t your thing then you can play Badlands mode, which is an endless mode similar to Slay The Spire. I found Badlands mode stale and uninteresting because there are no camp upgrades with the resources, but to each their own.
Deck of Ashes is another game that falls into the category of me liking the concept, but needs to be executed much much better. The single player campaign experience is to be applauded because it sets itself apart from other card games, but the gameplay options needs to be a bit more fleshed out and tweaked. AYGames built a great foundation, but I need to see some changes before I can comfortably recommend this game to someone else, unless I provide a cheat sheet primer for camp upgrades.
Similar Games Liked:
Slay The Spire (PC)