I never played the likes of Slay the Spire. It’s not that it never appealed to me –  I just never had the chance to try it out – and so I ended up missing out on the whole wave of roguelike deck builder indie games it inspired. Until now, anyway!

Gordian Quest by Mixed Realms is a deck builder meets DnD game where you control a fantasy hero, grow to a party of three, and set out to kill an evil wizard. You know, as you do with these fantasy games. Now what makes Gordian Quest different from a regular turn-based RPG is that nearly all actions are based on cards, with different characters having separate decks that are further customized via equipment and upgrades from skill trees. This card mechanic introduces an element of RNG into the game; you can only use the moves from the cards you currently have in your hand, and can only use as many as your AP will allow. With movement also costing AP but positioning drastically affecting which of your party mates draw aggro from enemies, there’s a lot of fun improvisation to be had, especially when you’re put in a tight bind or when you get the exact combo you were looking for in your hand.

As easy as the main concept of the battle system was to grasp however, most of the extra bits felt almost arcane in how difficult it was to learn them. What exactly do stats outside of health do when damage is labeled right there on the card? I’m ashamed to admit that up to now I still don’t quite know. The damage for attacks is labeled on the card, and the only thing that really seems to boost damage is Critical, while it’s reduced with Guard. So what do Strength, Dexterity, and Intelligence do for my characters then? Some of the cards have a red, green, and blue marker to symbolize being a Strength, Dexterity, or Intelligence type, but what does that mean? Some equipment say something like “lightning resist”, does that mean there are damage types? How do I know what damage type an attack does if it doesn’t come with a special effect like poison or burn?

This “easy to get the main concept, hard to get everything else” trend goes for the art as well. Talking in terms of sheer aesthetic appeal, the game looks gorgeous. The art style is neat,  the monster designs kick ass, and the battle screen is a real beauty. 

Unfortunately, it also gets a little difficult to read. While you can see which of your party members an enemy is targeting by clicking on them and mousing over the sword icon next to their health, the area is small and sometimes feels inconsistent – I occasionally feel like the red lines showing aggro don’t get drawn even when my mouse is over the right place, and I have to click back. While you can also see the cards an enemy has in their hand, I’m not quite sure if I was doing something wrong, as I would occasionally read the enemy turn horribly and get poor, squishy Bertram into a beatdown he did not deserve to be in.

Where Gordian Quest shines hardest, however, is the fun factor of the character’s decks. The customization options are insane, with tons of equipment slots that provide a new card for a character’s deck each, and a skill tree where – get this – you choose where in the tree to place the next tier of upgrades you unlock, meaning you can tailor-fit your character progression to be able to put off investing in skill tree branches you don’t like and still have access better upgrades. Oh, and you can even upgrade individual cards through the mastery system, and in true roguelike fashion, also unlock upgrades for use in subsequent playthroughs. 

This level of customization can lead to some very enjoyable decks, filled with some frankly disgusting combos. I can’t even begin to tell you how funny it is to see someone like Alphonse straight up assassinate an enemy from full HP because he spent the last turn preparing his crit, or to see Catherin fight normally, but suddenly unleash a massive nuke for absolutely no AP cost because of her channeling cards. It feels great to play, and while I’ve not had the chance to play everyone just yet, if they’re all at least half as fun to play as Catherin, Bertram, and Alphonse, then that’s one solid roster.

All in all, Gordian Quest is an easy recommendation. It may be a little buggy and sometimes it might be difficult to read, but the sheer joy of pulling an amazing first hand is addicting, and with its ridiculous customization and roguelike options, I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface.

Besides, I bet most of us could use a hefty timesink right about now. 

Gordian Quest is available for PC on Steam (Early Access). This review is based on a free review copy provided by developer Mixed Realms.

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