Watching an Early Access game grow into full release is a very interesting endeavor for me. I’ve seen games like Dead Cells and Slay the Spire begin with rough mechanics and unbalanced gameplay, only to come out the other side with a very strong, well developed, finished product. Deck of Ashes caught my eye a while ago, and now after trying the demo version, I am even more excited to see its growth.

A Curse has befallen the land called the Ash Curse and it is up to you to take on a journey with a cast of antiheroes, fittingly called the Outcasts, in the hope of breaking the curse. In the Pre-Early Access build that we were given to preview, only one chapter and the tutorial prologue were available. On April 11th the game will enter into Early Access with more content and balancing.

Despite there being a limited amount of content, the gameplay that is available is solid so far. The gameplay is very reminiscent of Slay the Spire, with your character having a unique deck of cards that allow you to deal damage, heal, and do all sorts of other things. However, the developers have added other mechanics that (with the accompanying art style) begin to feel more like Darkest Dungeon in practice.

For example, when you play your cards, instead of them going into a traditional “discard pile” they go into something called the Deck of Ashes. In order to re-use those cards, you have to either have cards that “renew” burnt cards, or you have to sacrifice a certain amount of HP to reload your draw pile. Resource management is very important in Deck of Ashes, and any prospective adventurer will have to be very careful about how they play the game.

The game starts out at camp, where you are able to utilize the Ash Master, who can renew the cards in your Deck of Ashes, as well as the Herbalist, Merchant, and Blacksmith. The Merchant sells recipes and other useful items, while the Blacksmith allows you to craft cards from recipes you have acquired. The Herbalist can heal you, remove status ailments, and boost your character’s stats if you have the required currency.

The resources you have to manage in combat are simple. You have mana, cards, and health. In battle, you can only use cards whose cost adds up to your max mana. On top of that, you have to manage your health, and your deck, which becomes difficult as battles grow longer. Personally, I think the health cost of renewing your deck is a bit imbalanced because I died more times due to that (in unavoidable ways) than anything else.

Outside of battle, you can acquire gold, cups, relics, ore, and keys. Keys are used to open chests on the map, while ore and gold are used as currency. The different resources allow you to craft/buy cards, upgrade your character’s stats, and upgrade your vendors. This resource management mechanic adds a “survival game” feel to Deck of Ashes that is very reminiscent of Darkest Dungeon.

In fact, pairing the difficulty with these survival mechanics and the visual art style makes it hard not to notice the obvious inspiration the development team took. With that being said, it also has a very distinct style of gameplay, and the enemies are also very unique. Overall, anyone who tries to say that Deck of Ashes is a “Slay the Spire clone” or a “Darkest Dungeon clone” are missing the point.

Exploring the Deck of Ashes world map is similar to Slay the Spire, except instead of moving higher and higher, there are roads that you can travel along, in multiple directions. Often-times you will need to make your way back to camp from a distant node in order to upgrade vendors or stats, renew cards, or heal. There are also text-based sections that can benefit or hurt you.

I think after playing this demo a bit, I am even more excited to see the full Early Access build. I can’t wait to see how other characters play, and I can already tell that there will be a deep progression and deck-building system. The characters are interesting, the world has a gritty, dark fantasy aesthetic, and if the developers play their cards right this could be a fantastic release.

As of right now, my only major complaint is in regards to the difficulty. I can see a lot of people enjoying Deck of Ashes in its current state, but I am not a masochist. Personally, I think multiple difficulties would allow for more players to be able to enjoy the game and experience it in a more relaxed fashion, before ramping up to super difficult things.

Maybe it is a question of balancing, making the difficulty rise slowly as you play. Honestly, even if they just lowered the resource costs a bit, or raised the drop rate for them a little, I think the game would feel more balanced. At this point though you start at a disadvantage, as the tutorial shows you things fully upgraded, and then when Chapter 1 begins you have very little upgrades to work with.

Deck of Ashes is fun, I just hope we see more balancing when the Early Access version drops on April 11th. I’ll have an Early Access Preview soon after it goes live, so keep on the lookout for that. Deck of Ashes seems promising, so I look forward to covering it more as it grows and changes.

A Steam key for the Deck of Ashes Pre-Early-Access Demo was provided by AYGames for this preview.

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Alexx Aplin

Alexx has been writing about video games for almost 10 years, and has seen most of the good, bad and ugly of the industry. After spending most of the past decade writing for other people, he decided to band together with a few others, to create a diverse place that will create content for gaming enthusiasts, by gaming enthusiasts.

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