There's a lot said about Slay the Spire being one of the best games, and deckbuilders, of the year. But there's another deckbuilder floating around on Steam that's absolutely flown under everyone's radar.
The best and simplest way to describe Neoverse, which is out on Steam now, is that it's basically an anime Slay the Spire. There's barely even a semblance of plot from the main menu: humanity was truly great, they reached some kind of Eutopia, and apparently that's the genesis for special characters to go adventuring through the galaxy.
It doesn't make a lick of difference, because it's all that's needed to get you into what is a pretty solid gameplay loop throughout. You start off by picking a hero, each of which starts out with one of three archetypes for a deck. Naya is a Ghost in the Shell-looking agent whose starter deck either buffs her basic guns, or relies on stacking a ton of damage through radioactivity.
Paladin Clarie is more of a defensive character, with the ability to heal through vampirism (aka life steal) or focusing on maxing out her health regeneration at the end of every turn. Helena, who you'll unlock after the first two levels, is a summoner. If she summons a gryphon, it'll regularly buff her armour at the end of every turn. A dragon focuses on damaging all enemies at the end of every round, while a white lion is a high damage-dealing, single-attack creature.
Whatever hero you pick, you're given your starter deck, a starting bonus (if you've played the game before) and then you proceed to the first mission. The first missions usually only feature a single, weak character, and it's mostly just a chance to build up some gold and skill points.
How Neoverse works is pretty simple. You draw a hand of 5 cards initially, with each card you use going into a discard pile. Every time you play a card, you draw new cards from your deck until you run out (unless you play a card that specifically shuffles your discard pile).
The key with Neoverse is that you can trigger combos, parries and precision attacks. Combos are carried out by playing certain types of cards in a particular order, like three attack cards in a row. Do so correctly and your next attack card will do double damage. If you play the wrong card, the whole combo resets. You'll still get the benefits of whatever card you played, of course, but it's useful if the combo wants
Parrying works sort of similarly. Every enemy telegraphs their next action with an icon underneath, and if there's a number then you're going to get hit for that much damage. But if you have exactly the right amount of armour to match that enemy's attack, they'll get stunned at the end. Similarly, if you kill an enemy with the exact amount of damage required, you'll trigger a precision attack, granting you a bonus skill point to use.
A neat thing about Neoverse is that you can acquire new skills, cards and items immediately, which is helpful if you're stuck on a boss battle. As you progress through the missions, you'll also complete various challenges that grant more skill points, let you evolve certain cards, remove basic cards from your deck, and so on.
The whole loop revolves around knocking down one enemy after another, keeping your deck optimised by not filling it too much with trash, maxing out the skills most efficient to your deck, and knowing how to respond to different enemies as efficiently as possible. Your HP carries over from one mission to another, so if you cock up in an early fight, you'll be up against it for the rest of your run.
Neoverse is pretty good at giving you enough incentives to continue, as well. Along with the bonuses you get at the start of each run, which are influenced by how well you did previously, every run also lets you unlock new skills and cards that you can purchase for future runs.
The tricky thing about managing all of this is just how many buffs, debuffs and effects that can be applied at any one time. Fortunately, the visual presentation is clear enough that you can parse all the information relatively quickly — the maths is never especially complicated — and all the attacks are well animated.
The main downside with the gameplay loop is that the background environments are almost completely static. A lot of the worlds I ran into over about six hours of gameplay were largely flat, lifeless areas. You can see beforehand what "universe" you'll be exploring: one run had me venturing through a space station, another through "Universe 72, Middle-earth, Fantasy 1187". There are more procedurally generated environments, all of which largely suffer from the same lack of dynamism. That applies to the enemy and player models too, which hover back and forth until a card is played.
It's a minor complaint though, particularly for a game that's in early access. What I've played so far works really well, is easy on the eye, and has plenty of variety in the deck types and challenges that it's easy to burn half an hour or more on runs. There's a horde-esque Hunter mode once you clear the second level boss for the first time, and each character has special daily decks you can play with once you've progressed far enough.
Neoverse is available now for $15.57, although by tomorrow that price will jump up to $26. It's a solid deckbuilding roguelike. Don't let a couple of the fan service skins put you off: Neoverse is real solid.