Deck of Ashes puts players in a world corrupted by the Ash Curse, with the goal of finding Lady Death herself and seeking an end to their own personal suffering, in a combat card game where players must build up a powerful deck and destroy all those who oppose them.
Deck of Ashes gives players the choice of four different ‘heroes’ to choose from. Each member of the Outcasts brings a different set of skills and cards to the table. A Rogue with fast attacks, a Mage with fire spells, a Warrior with brute strength and his companion, and finally, a demonic jester who summons spirits to fight with him. Each character is completely different and has their own set of cards. While some cards may be consistent throughout different playthroughs, such as potions, there is enough diversity to actually make a difference.
Combat is pretty straightforward; use your cards to defeat enemies while they ‘mostly’ use basic attacks to defeat you. A great mechanic that this game uses is the Ash deck. Every time you use a card, it’s sent to the Ash deck. When you’re about to run out of cards, you are given the option to sacrifice 15 health in exchange for 5 cards. This is a great and frustrating mechanic, because some cards that are only usable as Ash are pulled out. I found myself in a tight spot made even worse when some ‘Ash Only’ cards were brought back to my hand. Other times, it feels so much more rewarding pulling exactly the card you needed back from the Ash and winning the fight.
Don’t Seek Out the Boss
In Deck of Ashes, you are free to explore the area you are in, picking fights, exploring to find resources, opening chests and encountering random events (which are usually just fights). Each time you move across the map, the area boss gets closer and closer. This is easily one of my favorite mechanics of the game. Rather than seek out the boss of the area, it knows when there is an intruder and seeks them out itself. The aim here is to get as strong as you can before it arrives, because it is a serious fight.
The game starts out with each character in a different starting zone, which makes it feel fresh when I decide to play as a different character. It gives the game an even better reason to try other classes. Losing one time, I thought: “Okay, well, I can try something different,” and switching both the area and character gave it a solid sense of replayability. Obviously, the next zones were the same for all characters, but the first 20-30 minutes gave me a reset that I needed.
The art style is well done. The hand drawn look of each character is something I can always get behind. The enemies look grotesque, so much so that I want to kill them as quickly as possible so I don’t have to look at them anymore. The music also fits the tone very well. The calm adventure music while exploring the map, the ominous sounds while delving a dungeon and the terrifying song before a boss fight. Each track makes itself recognizable but not in a bad or repetitive way. You know its about to go down when you hear the thundering music of a boss fight.
What the Game Struggles With
While Deck of Ashes brings a ton of great features to the table, there are some issues, however minor. The first is that, at times, you are thrown into a fight and the enemy has already struck you before you know what is happening. There is no pause to let you orient yourself to the fight.
Random events don’t feel so random. Most of the encounters that I put myself in are fights. Rarely is there a time I end an encounter without going into combat. Not to say it is strictly a bad thing to have many fights; I was hoping for a little more variety in the encounters.
The voice acting in the game is high quality, but something just seems off with how it sounds. It almost sounds as if it was recorded but not mastered for the game itself. There is also a lack of diversity of animations. Whenever your character attacks, it is usually just one animation for all of them. The same concept applies to enemies. They just point at you and an energy wave is sent across the screen.
The biggest issue I found was that I was unable to buy any upgrades from the merchants in the camp. I had sufficient materials to do so, but I was not allowed. This created an extra bit of difficulty, as upgrades are necessary for survival in this game. While it worked for my other runs, this is something that needs to be patched.
Overall, Deck of Ashes exceeded my expectations with a fun, challenging and interesting card game. The mechanics are so fresh it doesn’t feel reminiscent of any other game out there. Despite its faults, Deck of Ashes is a truly refreshing card game.