Deck of Souls Preview

Deck of Souls

Elden Ring‘s massive popularity has made the Souls genre mainstream, to the point where it’s now being hybridized with everything out there, including card games.

Yes, that’s right, there is now a Souls-like card game, and its name is Deck of Souls. In this game, players are put through a series of battles through multiple chapters where they have to attack, dodge, parry, and even manage the weight of their equipment, all in card game form.

Deck of Souls‘ core gameplay is massively inspired by Slay the Spire, but most of its mechanics have been reimagined as part of the combat present in Souls games, including the brutal difficulty.

In true Souls-like fashion, the game operates on a stamina-based system, where each card costs a certain amount and the bar doesn’t fully replenish between turns. This leads to fights constantly being stalled without you being able to act, making some combat encounters take way too long.

There are ways to restore stamina, but those usually come from single-use cards that get banished to your discard pile after activation, so the later half of combat encounters is always a slog of not having enough action points.

What makes this system somewhat aggravating is the fact that your starting deck is entirely randomized, so instead of having a solid selection of basic cards to build off of, you can get a very imbalanced spread.

Randomizing your deck every run is a pretty lazy solution to the problem of creating a balanced starting hand for each class and can lead to some less-than-fun playthroughs. My first run only used high-damage cards with high costs, which meant that I could only damage enemies every two or three turns.

All enemies act at once, and you can use roll cards to avoid one of their attacks, but the unbalanced decks make it so you can’t block, damage, and roll reliably; it’s usually only one of the three.

There’s also the fact that you can only use one card per enemy on screen, which doesn’t allow you to fully focus on who you want to kill. There are instant cards that mitigate this, but they are usually locked behind requirements like gaining armor or being hit a certain amount of times.

The player can choose to spend their souls to buy equipment and level up, as well as create new cards or remove unwanted ones from their deck. Leveling up is possibly the most interesting mechanic in Deck of Souls, as it allows you to focus on what you think your character’s shortcomings are currently.

All equipment has its associated weight, and being over the weight limit means you’ll draw fewer cards, which is a pretty accurate representation of what being slow in a real fight would be.

The game also features random encounters, which the player usually can’t refuse to participate in, making a lot of them not worth it as they can lead to difficult sub-bosses.

Features get drip-fed to the player by being defeated in runs, which is standard for roguelikes, but it feels like Deck of Souls takes too long to unlock its systems and better cards, so you just have to make do with suboptimal runs before the game lets you actually unlock the worthwhile equipment.

It almost feels like artificial pacing in a way, as you reach the boss of a chapter only to not have any chance to defeat it, pretty much creating mandatory losses. Modern roguelikes struggle with understanding that unlocks are meant to be crutches to make the game easier, not the only things that will allow you to beat the game.

There’s a fine amount of balancing that needs to be done so a defeat can feel rewarding instead of frustrating, and at the moment, Deck of Souls simply lacks that. Bosses do insane amounts of damage, which can usually instakill the player if they don’t have a roll card in their back pocket, which sadly there aren’t enough to go around.

At the moment, progression feels like it’s almost entirely based on luck, which is a little too rough to be enjoyable. The game doesn’t feature the dizzying highs and miserable lows that Slay the Spire has, instead opting for a constant feel of being just strong enough to clear basic encounters, while bosses are out of your grasp for a while until you die a few times to unlock more things.

Deck of Souls isn’t offensively bad. Its systems are cohesive, and it has some interesting ideas of its own, but it doesn’t do enough to differentiate itself from the other thousand card game roguelikes that currently saturate the Steam store.

Deck of Souls has the potential to be better in the future, but even a better version of it wouldn’t be exactly mind-blowing or even interesting to play, it would simply be passable, which is just not enough nowadays.

Deck of Souls is available on Microsoft Windows (through Steam’s Early Access).

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Fan of skeletons, plays too many video games, MMO addict, soul-like and character action enthusiast.

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