I enjoy story-based RPGs, tabletop gaming, and making myself sick in VR. I haven't let a professional cut my hair in years and I do not intend to start now.
May 21, 2020
Good Shepherd Entertainment
Monster Train is not the first game of it’s kind. I noted in my beta impressions article the deck-building rogue-like was definitely reminiscent to me of at least one other game in this genre, Slay the Spire. While the basic concept is something familiar, the more I play Monster Train the more I’m convinced it’s the best iteration of this style that I’ve seen so far.
Players begin each run by choosing a primary and allied clan from the five available factions—two ready from the beginning with three more unlocked through gameplay milestones. Each faction has a recognisably unique identity that comes through in their card art and abilities. For example, the plant monsters of the Awoken come with spells that can heal units or add thorns that deal recoil damage when hit.
The Umbral, on the other hand, are ghastly creatures with gaping mouths–all the better for their gorge mechanic which allows them to feast on weak ‘morsel’ creatures for stat boosts. Your chosen clans determine what cards you will encounter during your run. The clan you choose as your primary for a run will also determine your champion; a powerful unit that starts every match in your hand and can be upgraded during your run.
“One of the more surprising opponents is a steampunk Daedalus with iron wings who’ll attempt to beat you down with a wrench.”
With your clan chosen, your train begins its journey through the nine circles of Hell. Entering each circle begins a battle, with enemies growing more powerful the further you advance. Enemy factions are also varied, leading you to fight winged seraphim, vengeful priests, and more. One of the more surprising opponents is a steampunk Daedalus with iron wings who’ll attempt to beat you down with a wrench. These battles play out across four floors of your train. The first three floors allow you to play units or spells, while the top floor houses your Pyre. Aside from a few special cases, enemies enter on the lowest floor and ascend one floor per round until they reach your Pyre and attack it directly. The Pyre is able to fight back, dealing damage to all attackers on its floor, but if it’s destroyed your run is over.
Between fights, you’ll choose a path on an overworld map that determines what loot you collect before your next battle. These paths will lead you across simple items like sacks of gold or healt to restore your pyre, or more interesting interaction like the brief story encounters of the Concealed Caverns that show glimpses into the historic battle of Armageddon. The route you pick will also give you access to vendors who can upgrade your cards in exchange for gold, banners that will allow you to recruit new units, and chests containing relics that grant permanent passive buffs for your run.
Runs are fairly short, but difficult enough to challenge the average player. If you are much better at this game then I am, the Pact modes unlocked after your first successful run offer more difficult enemies and a rank system to climb; beating a run in each pact tier unlocks the next rank of pact with even harder challenges to overcome. These pact ranks add a progression to the game beyond completing runs or unlocking factions and their cards, but so far they’ve proved too difficult for me to tackle successfully. As there are many ranks of pact mode to unlock, each progressively harder, this definitely seems like a feature that will occupy a lot of your time if you want it to. Thankfully for me, pact is optional so you can keep fighting the standard battles if you need time to hone your skills there.
Adding further variety is the multiplayer mode, which offers a daily custom challenge run with preselected clans and modifiers applied to provide a more unique challenge. Another multiplayer mode functions like a standard run but tracks your progress against other players in a race to the inner circle of Hell, showing how you perform compared to others fighting the same battles.
I really enjoy the core loop of Monster Train. The fast pace of each battle and watching my demon horde annihilate invaders and grow stronger each round with good card choice and drawing the right spell at the right time feels great. Getting a little further each run before I lose or slamming against the same boss over and over like a brick wall wasn’t frustrating; even though I feel pretty bad at the game, I want to keep trying just one more run each time I’m cut short. I want to push a little further, find a better combination of cards, choose better buffs and units, learn new strategies each time I fail. I have played plenty of this game and only beaten a single run all the way through, but the achievement of finally playing a good strategy and winning was exciting; an actual sense of pride and accomplishment. For me, Monster Train has been perfect for just chilling with after work while listening to YouTube videos in the background. If you are willing to turn down the tone-setting battle music, this is an excellent game to unwind with while listening to a podcast—so long as you find this kind of challenge cathartic rather than frustrating.