Trials of Fire is like XCOM. Your team moves on an action point-alike basis, positioning matters, and the terrain has to be taken into account. Oh, and it’s really hard if you’re not thinking about what you’re doing.
Trials of Fire is like Slay the Spire. You play a run, upgrade your team to superpowered demigods, win (or, more likely, lose), then start all over again, having a hoot the entire time.
Trials of Fire is like Dragon Age slathered with a post-apocalypse. Dark fantasy, gritty situations, and hard decisions to be made along the way.
Trials of Fire is also, absolutely and completely, its own thing.
There are hints and nods in the direction of games you’ve played before, sure – and that’s a help, because it can give a bit of grounding in a game that can overwhelm initially. That’s a lot of text. But looking past my repeated caws of ‘It’s like Slay the Spire!’, you see a debut effort from UK studio Whatboy Games that oozes a quiet confidence, but not in a disgusting way like I made that sound. It drops you in there: here’s the setting (post-apocalyptic fantasy), here’s what you have to do (depends which mode you play, but generally get to a place), and here are all the obstacles in your way (anything from rat-soldiers to giant cave worms). You crack on. You fail repeatedly. But you keep on cracking on.
Battles take place on a hex grid, tokens representing your party and your opposition and cards distributed between your characters. Willpower is required to play cards, which can be earned both through playing certain cards, or by recycling (discarding) cards from your hand. You can move about the battlefield if you have the willpower (or card) to do so, you can attack with other cards, you can buff and debuff with other cards still. That’s your classic card-battling, but it’s folly to ignore that battlefield – positioning, distance, line of sight, environmental effects: it all matters at one point or another.
Surrounding an enemy can be important to stop them escaping to hit powerful ranged attacks. Hiding around a corner to avoid a spell might be the difference between victory and starting (yet another) run. Forgetting that big red circle means ‘lightning will strike here’ can prove a sincere source of embarrassment for some otherwise heroic reviewers. There’s a lot going on.
But with so much depth – the tactics of movement combined with the strategy of playing your cards, while also factoring in the cards and moves made by opponents – there’s also a hell of a lot of fun to be had here. Trials of Fire is almost sandbox-like in its approach to battling, with a level of freedom in your buffing, opening up broader avenues of attack, and the ability to rewind/take back certain moves allowing for little (and some bigger) mistakes to be rectified. It’s fair, and transparent, and oh so very difficult at times. And rewarding.
Backed up by a party-building RPG system and a procedurally generated overworld to explore, there’s a lot to be had in what first seems to be a rather straightforward package. Trials of Fire is a fine example of a game that’s been honed to quite a degree thanks to an extended Early Access period, and it’s paid off handsomely.
It shows me up for not paying close enough attention, but a personal highlight in Trials of Fire has been unexpected things happening – combination strikes, multi-hit/status causing magic, or popping buffs on characters I didn’t think you could. Alright, so it’s just an advert for me not reading instructions, but it’s constantly rewarding to see the game cater for and respond to your playstyle.
Smart, deep, and at times unrelentingly difficult, Trials of Fire takes greatness from elsewhere and crafts its own distinctive brilliance.
Genre: Spire slayer
Format: PC (tested) / PS4 / XBO / Switch
Developer: Whatboy Games
Publisher: Whatboy Games
Release:__ Out now