Grab your staff and prepare your party. Trails of Fire, a tactical deck building RPG from Whatboy Games, has just launched on Steam and we’re ready to find out if this new adventure is all aces or is just a bad hand.
Graduating out of Steam Early Access today, Trials of Fire is a brand new hybrid deck building RPG from indie developers Whatboy Games. After initially wowing with its early presentations at Pax West in 2019, the team behind this mix of Slay the Spire, Pillars of Eternity, and more is ready to take up arms against orc, goblins, and all manner of monsters for your enjoyment. Set in a post-Cataclysmic wasteland, Trials of Fire might draw plenty of inspiration from a very overcrowded deck building genre, but break the spine on this tale and it’s very obvious how this mashup stands out.
With Trials of Fire breaking out of an Early Access warm up, PC players can open the page on a familiar set of quests with a modern twist. Anybody who adores choosing your own adventure or regularly flicks through tabletop rulebooks will likely love the presentation of this title. Opening a journal, players can pick from a range of potential missions or roll the dice for a procedural map and a random adventure. Flick through, pick three heroes of varying design, and you’ll find a top down map that could be etched out of an Ian Livingston paperback. This seemingly traditional design flows through into every element of the game, from the opening titles to menus, character models, and even loot presentation. While this might not suit in a jovial race through Dicey Dungeons or even a trip on the Monster Train, the tone works well for a narrative that clearly has its roots in these early Fighting Fantasy novels.
As any good DM will attest, how your party prepares will inevitably impact the outcome of any campaign, and things are no different here. Trials of Fire offers up a huge range of potential quests and narratives for players picking up this single player RPG. Both hand crafted narratives and procedural adventures are available each with a different level of difficulty, and all with a wealth of lore in a sandbox play space. Before jumping into any of these troublesome times and saving some souls, you’ll be able to pick a three character team from a range of specialities. New players will generally have to take what they have, venturing forth on a new campaign with a Warrior, Hunter, and Elementalist to face off against whatever is out there.
Dropping into these campaigns, you’ll find a bewildering array of gambits to run. The eponymous Trial By Fire is an infinitely replayable custom quest where the challenges you encounter are different every time, while narrative heavy Lore Quests, Daily Challenges, Combat Runs, and Seasonal sequences are made even more diverse by a total of 14 different modifiers.
Dotted across this top down sandbox, and an overview of a scarred question marks present as potential encounters across a scarred landscape, each with their own offer of loot, bandits, or potential injury. With everything from Ratlings stuck down a precarious looking gulley, a fully fledged escort quest, to more traditional bandits these encounters provide both a flavour of the world and enough variety to keep you from getting into a kill ten rats trudge. In the end, it’s up to you how to navigate this mix of mountains, moorlands, and dark forests without losing sight of your main objective. To ensure that players don’t go wandering too far off, you’ll need to manage injuries, keep your band of warriors fed, and make sure to rest as you trudge through towards victory. Making sure that your party is happy, healthy, and full does require some basic resource management. Equally, these needs do a good job at forcing your hand and pushing players to engage with mystery encounters on the distant chance you’ll find some of the necessities needed to reach your main quest goals with starving to death.
When ne’er do wells with pointy things do present themselves, combat changes everything in Trials of Fire. Easily the most compelling feature of this title, combat thrusts a party into a hex based grid where turn based movement and positioning are just as important as luck. When engaging in combat of any kind, the options available to each member of a party are determined by the luck of the draw. A limited hand is drawn from each character’s core deck of potential cards and played to move, attack, defend, debuff, bless, or activate a whole range of combat options. What initially looks like a fairly limited deck of cards with only a few potential options each turn is far more complex than it initially looks.
Cards in Trials of Fire cannot simply be used without consequence. Much like mana, card abilities utilize a resource called Willpower. This Willpower is harvested by discarding drawn cards from your current hand, or by playing some special cards. This same resource isn’t just used to bash dragons or beat attackers. Players can also discard cards or play movement skills to traverse the battlefield, hiding behind cover, or getting up close to set up devastating melee attack cards. Coupling all of this resource management with a rich set of available actions and a variety of different bonuses makes combat more than just playing the biggest number of an Alchemist’s three card draw. Engaging in any act of aggression requires tactical forethought, resource management, and experience with a range of hostile opponents.
As quickly as a group of bandits are seen off, Trial of Fire really begins to come into its own when parties trip over legendary monsters. Left to roam the plains or encountered as part of dedicated quest lines, these especially challenging encounters will tear through an unprepared adventurer. While good tactics and planning are key, any experienced traveller will benefit from a training arc. Thankfully Trial of Fire provides plenty of upgrade paths to grow your power. Low level combat and scavenging provide plenty of materials, gold, and equipment that allow for barter, trade or equipment upgrades. More dramatic obstacles, of course, offer up better loot, allowing parties to equip new weapons, armor, and accessories. Unlike many RPGs, new and improved gear in Trial of Fire doesn’t just add stats. Instead, a very simple set of numerical updates is accompanied by a card customization system where changing weapons, adding accessories, or updating armor adds new cards to your core deck, meaning upgrades are a balance of utility instead of just simple power progression. Levelling, similarly, allows for some customization, swapping in new cards or upgrading existing abilities. When taken as a whole this means progression is almost as tactical as swinging a sword.
Worth A Hand or Two
These branching choices seep into almost every element of Trial of Fire. Whether it’s discarding a card to refine a weapon or choosing to spend time and rations to go rescue a new follower, almost every decision you make could have consequences that can make or break the outcome of a campaign. With a battalion of potential party members unlocking as you progress, thousands upon thousands of deck combinations, a robust equipment and encounter system, as well as a seemingly infinite range of procedural campaigns, Trials of Fire matches its simple looking nostalgia with a genuinely interesting take on RPG mechanics. If you’re sick of behind the scene dice rolls then Trial of Fire is waiting for your to draw. This fantastic mix of established card deck ideas with a deep and engaging RPG flavour over on Steam now.