Steam’s Early Access consists of games that either show promise or foretell disaster. The best games on Early Access already have the framework in place; they just need to iron out the bugs or finish creating content. The worst games on Early Access are glitch-filled messes and show no signs of improvement. While attending SGC 2014, I had the chance to preview a game that’s on Early Access called We Slay Monsters by Furiously Inactive Games. While I had my issues with it, I do think that it belongs in the former category.
We Slay Monsters is a turn-based dungeon crawler with a cutesy design. Sprites look more like cutouts made in arts & crafts, which is fitting considering that the game takes place in an academy of dungeon crawling. Even the monsters, despite their insufferable persistence, look menacing yet adorable. In the beginning, players square-off against evil farm animals. As you level up, you fight more menacing creatures such as dragons and aliens; however, even they are deceptively cute. The only part of We Slay Monsters’ presentation I thought seemed bland were dungeons, but at least they are randomly generated, as with most rogue-likes, which keeps exploration fresh.
Speaking of rogue-likes, We Slay Monsters’ story is fitting for the genre. Each session is meant to last around two hours. Within that timeframe—assuming you don’t immediately die—you are meant to explore a dungeon and find the gem inside. For each dungeon, you pick a student with a specialty in a certain class. In the demo, I managed to play as both a warrior and a mage; each one had access to magical and physical abilities. If a student reaches the gem at the end of the dungeon, he or she graduates. If a student fails, however, he or she will remain dead, and you’ll need to begin again with a new character. The team told me that they plan to include an update that allows players to gain items should they stumble upon the graves of their former corpses. This academy is going to need a hell of a PR representative.
In order to stave off your student’s inevitable death…I mean help them accomplish their goal of graduation, players will need to chain together their attacks using a card-based battle system; they’ll also need to position their character so that they have the advantage over their foes. Players are randomly dealt a hand of cards that are reshuffled after each turn. Each card is assigned a numerical value and a suit that denotes its ability. For instance, a card with a staff can be used to magically teleport an enemy. These cards work at certain ranges. For instance, cards with an orb can only be used in close-quarters combat, but cards with fire can be used for long-range combat. However, all of these can be chained together based on certain conditions. While a pair of lightning-suited cards won’t be able to do anything, three lightning-suited cards creates chain lightning. This dramatically alters the range and attack of regular lightning. Likewise, using a single card of the highest numerical value might slightly damage an enemy; however, two-of-a kind will inflict higher damage. Each enemy type exhibits a certain behavior, so simply goading them towards the narrowest corridor won’t always work. It’s a simple system that packs on more depth than it seems.
Of course, there are plenty of items to find in this turn-based dungeon crawler; however, this is the aspect that I found to be the most problematic. Dungeons are designed for players to explore within two hours; you will use most of the seconds that make up each hour by waiting for your turn. In the current build, players move slightly, and it brings the pace to a halt. Luckily, actions such as picking up items is as simple as walking over the corresponding tile; selecting what you would like to do with said item is just a click away in the menu. Thankfully, the team also said that they are working towards fixing the pacing issues.
Even with the slow pace, I managed to reach the end of a dungeon—I was one of four players. While some may not have had enough patience to see it through, I managed to do so because I felt strangely compelled by We Slay Monster’s card-based battle system. As with most things on Early Access, We Slay Monsters is a gamble. That said, as long as the team promises to include the improvements it mentioned, the odds are in We Slay Monsters’ favor.