I love deckbuilders. They weren’t always my favorite types of game to play physically—learning and keeping track of a set of often esoteric rules can be a drain mentally– but there have been some amazing video game interpretations lately. Monster Train and Slay the Spire are probably two of my favorites. In those games you can mix and match decks to create insane synergies. It’s always fun to get lucky and get the perfect synergistic combo that can lay waste to any enemies you come across. Against the Moon looked like more of the same, and I was excited to see developer Code Heretic’s interpretation of the deckbuilder genre.
Against the Moon is a roguelike deckbuilder. It has all the functions of a deckbuilder, but it doesn’t look like a deckbuilder. Sometimes in deckbuilders your deck is determined by your starting hero or other factors, but there seems to be only one deck here. Against the Moon is lane-based, too. There are three lanes, usually with a hero character at the end of each. Lanes are not a novel addition to the deckbuilding roguelike, but their implementation serves to broaden the scope of the strategy a bit.
In Against the Moon you actually take control of Arx, a sentient city that serves as the last bastion of humanity. You also have control of three Ultori—hero characters that are superhuman defenders of humanity’s last city. To retake earth you’ll have to fight through waves of strange bio mechanical creatures in a post-apocalyptic setting.
Each battle plays out how you would expect a deckbuilder to play. You play different minions or abilities, with Luma being the currency which determines how much you can play during any given hand. Each lane has different slots, four each, in which to play minions. Sometimes when you play a minion they have an ability that is activated when they are played, others have abilities that are activated on each turn—some have both.
Three lanes mean three Ultori—essentially hero characters, each with different abilities. Each different hero you can choose has different health and attack stats, but more importantly, different ultimate abilities. These ultimate powers are activated by Luma, a currency which you collect between turns to play different cards. Different abilities or minions allow you to accumulate more Luma.
These different minions and abilities mean different types of synergy. There really aren’t different deck types, so you have to build your deck from a single source of available skills and minions. I really wish there were more decks and more minions. I am usually not a fan of at least one deck or hero type in every deckbuilder I play. Against the Moon really suffers in terms of variety, and that limits experimentation.
Perhaps my biggest problem with Against the Moon isn’t its setup, but its execution. No card in your deck ever feels quite as powerful as it should. There is progression between runs—collect enough Architectus Elements during a run to unlock more powerful cards later. But the difficulty of the runs makes experimentation next to impossible, especially with the small selection of cards available when you first start the game. Even after expanding the possible cards I could get, I never found any of those fun, overpowered synergies that made me spend so much time with Slay the Spire and Monster Train.
Against the Moon, with its limited selection, already feels a little unfinished. Even worse, is the fact that there is little to do. There are two story campaigns, one of which is the tutorial, and the other feels more like a challenge mode than a story. That leaves the Luma run mode as the meat and potatoes, and that’s not really a horrible thing. Luma run is what you would expect out of a roguelike, though each run is pretty short compared to the average roguelike.
In each Luma run you have an overworld map that allows you to choose a branching path. It’s pretty pedestrian, and doesn’t really give you much information. You can see the potential rewards for battles, but not the enemy types you should expect. There are also different events which can harm you or benefit depending on the event, your choices—and random chance. Again, it’s all pretty run-of-the-mill stuff.
I was never that big of a fan of Against the Moon’s art, but it has a low production value overall. Enemies don’t have attack animations. The voice acting is melodramatic, and the narrator sounds like a second-rate YouTube narrator. The story is intriguing, but it’s told in such a cryptic, esoteric way it’s hard to care about who you are, what you’re fighting, and why.
Ultimately, Against the Moon’s style of deckbuilder didn’t really grab me. It has an intriguing battle system that is high in strategic potential—but without that much variety between abilities, it all feels a little redundant. Its difficulty, especially early on, limits experimentation and I found it hard to create any satisfying synergies like I manage in other deckbuilders. With only two story missions and a roguelike Luma run, it ends up feeling unfinished. The developers plan on adding more as time goes, but perhaps they should have let it ride in Early Access before going for a full release.
Against the Moon is available now on Steam.
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