Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Deck of Ashes: Complete Edition is an addicting mix of strategy, RPG and card collecting mechanics tossed into a moderately forgiving roguelike that gets a lot of things right. Some technical hiccups however, create some rough edges that diminished my enjoyment along the way.
Turn-based card battling roguelikes have really hit a stride over the last couple of years or so with titles like Slay the Spire helping to pave the way. Some of them like Roguebook are exceptionally well-balanced and bring some new ideas to the table, while others like Nowhere Prophet struggles with balance and polish. Deck of Ashes falls somewhere in between those two polar opposites.
There are quite a few things that Deck of Ashes gets right. I enjoy the unique concept of how cards are ‘burned’ – or used up. It creates a bit of a seesaw back and forth between what to use and not – especially since ‘refreshing’ the cards can cause your character to lose life. In a lot of these deck battling games, having a large library of cards actually can hurt you as opposed to having a finely honed set of really strong cards. The way your cards get ‘used up’ in Deck of Ashes makes the case for larger decks.
The different characters you can use build their decks up in unique and interesting ways. These decks are not always the most approachable – some of the strategies take a bit of time to fully surface themselves, but once I got the hang of them? The end result was incredibly satisfying, especially when my decks were really humming through more challenging battles. Deck of Ashes doesn’t start off as the most approachable game in the genre, but the difficulty options and fewer spikes in enemy stats makes for one of the better balanced difficulty curves I’ve seen out of these types of games.
The visuals are well-drawn, if lightly animated, and the music suits the theme and tone of the game without being overly memorable but still pleasant. It’s a solid enough presentation, especially with some voice acting thrown into the story to boot. The tutorial was basic enough to learn how the core mechanics work, even if it left plenty of room to learn through trial and error later when playing the core game.
At its best, Deck of Ashes was wholly engrossing for me. I spent my first night playing until about four in the morning. However, I started stumbling onto some technical difficulties along the way that had me questioning how the port was handled.
There are some finicky controls at play here as well. The two most glaring examples really started to wear on me by the end of the third chapter of my second character playthrough. Firstly, selecting nodes on the map is often unresponsive. I’m not sure why – it shouldn’t be so hard to just press the left stick in a direction and have it select – but the longer I play, the less often it works. There are times where I am just ‘stuck’, unable to select the node right next to me until I quit and come back. Then the action works just fine… for a while. After twenty or so minutes, it stops working again. Now, I have found a workaround for it sometimes, by pressing the left button to move the ‘cursor’ to the left item bar and then back again, seeming to refocus it on where it should go – most of the time. Still, there are some times when you should be able to move in multiple directions (the cursor moves between larger and smaller to indicate that it is an option on the map), but no matter what I try, sometimes I simply cannot choose a direction unless I move off of my current node and back again. And then it mysteriously works.
The other issue I saw was in the card management / refreshing burned cards. Some playstyles and cards favor keeping a card burned, so you don’t want to spend your camp points refreshing those ones. But if you pile up too many cards in your deck, the middle rows are not selectable. I can select the top two rows and the bottom two rows, but if I acquire enough burned cards that there are five or more rows, I simply can’t select and refresh any of those middle rows. I’ve got video of the two above instances, as they became so frustrating to deal with.
My last quibble is just a questionable UI decision. Often times during combat, when you move over to a card in your hand, it balloons up so you can view the text. That in and of itself makes sense, but it can obscure enemies to the right side of the screen and make it challenging / impossible to see which one you are looking to target with a spell. This combined with the other issues I encountered hold Deck of Ashes back from reaching its full potential for me.
Deck of Ashes: Complete Edition is a mixed experience for me right now. The core experience was engaging and one that I enjoyed – when things worked the way I expected them to. Unfortunately, I ran into enough technical hurdles that I stopped my second playthrough and have only picked it up once since then (three days ago to see if the issue with not being able to refresh middle rows of cards was still happening – it is).
It’s a shame, as things currently stand – but thankfully with a few tweaks to polish up some of the rough edges and make the most of the core experience.Score: 7 / 10