Despite sounding like the name of this year’s hottest indie band, One Step From Eden has a little more mass appeal than you might think. Fans of Hearthstone or Slay the Spire will love the twists that make the staid formula fizz.

Deck builder with a difference…

Each level of OSFE works the same – you pick a route across the map and fight your way to the exit, like a particularly bolshy road trip. The ‘fights’ may be a straight-up Battle, environmental Hazard, Distress (a hostage situation), Camp (a chance to heal), Treasure, Shop and Miniboss. These all work pretty much like you’d expect.

“Surly waiters. Had to ask for tap water. Stabbed in face. 3 stars.”

At the end of each round you fight a hero with unique powers and attacks, all of who are playable characters. Beat them them on a late enough level and they’re yours, and the later you fight them the harder they are. More health, more aggressive, and even new attacks. So far, so… almost exactly like Slay the Spire. But two things freshen-up this tried-and-true design.

Chess with more lasers. GOOD CHESS

Every fight happens across two 4×4 grids…

yours, and your enemy’s. You can’t enter their space and vice versa, so as you cycle through your deck you’re constantly factoring-in not only the most efficient use of your cards, but also whether you’re targeting the right row or square. With spells working in straight lines, diagonals, areas of effect, single-square, turrets, piercing and a bunch of other ways, it can really test your strategic chops.

This goes both ways. While deciding how to spread the pain, you need to stay out of harm’s way. Enemies have the same tools you do, meaning there can be a lot happening on screen at once. Though tiles highlight when shots are incoming, dodging is often a hectic affair.

Adding to the challenge, you can only access two of your cards at a time, each fitting into a ‘slot’ with a dedicated cast button. However, once one’s used it’s instantly replaced from your deck. A card queue on the left lets you plan upcoming combos, if you’re willing and able to burn other cards on the way. Nice bit of strategic depth! However, this is all complicated by the second key difference.

What if magic spells, but on flash cards?

Every fight happens in real time

That’s right. You have to juggle the battlefield, a constantly changing hand of cards, a huge variety of effects, and plan future synergies without any space for a breather. Speed-of-light decisions spread your brain across three spaces – your grid, the enemy grid, and your deck. Winning a fight means always knowing whether THIS card will hit THAT enemy from THIS row, and whether THESE squares are safe from THOSE attacks.

A very minor example of the chaotic board state

Adding to the chaos is a random board state, where loot, obstacles and friendly NPCs can all spawn giving you even more to consider when battling. Can you destroy that chest before it disappears? What attacks will miss that hostage? Should you shift that boulder blocking that enemy turret from hitting you?

Perhaps it’s been done elsewhere, but for me this was the first time I’d seen the spicy meatball of linear time plopped on top of my plain deck builder spaghetti. While the pace is frenetic the game does a good job of telegraphing when attacks are coming, and limiting you to two cards at a time avoids analysis paralysis.

While OSFE often feels punishing, each spanking feels well-deserved. Umm, I mean… when you fail, you normally know what mistakes led you to that point – a mistimed dodge or a badly optimised deck. To mitigate any errors though, you’re given a number of tools to shift the odds in your favour.

Stacking the deck

One awesome thing the game does a terrible job of telling you about is the Focus mechanic. Any time after your first fight, you can open your deck and choose two of ten different Focuses that align with the types of cards in the game. These will then show up more often. So, if you want a freeze-‘n-burn build, you can double-focus on the elemental Anima set. Want to mix up turrets and defence? Then Focus Hexawan and Phalanx. And if you don’t pick a focus you get bonus Luck, which increases all loot rarity but also makes fights harder… not ideal for beginners. It’s almost criminal a bigger deal isn’t made of this.

Artifacts are also present, giving you permanent but minor upgrades to your character – a starting shield, bonus poison damage, extra money, etc. etc. if you’ve played Slay the Spire, you’ll be familiar with this already. And if you haven’t played Slay the Spire then go play it right now.

Mix ‘n match card sets for powerful combos

A slice of control over the chaos

Every card is also upgradable, but instead of just being a flat numbers boost you’re given one of three random options. These include lower mana costs, double cast, added status effects, and so on. You can even upgrade cards multiple times for a higher ‘Upgrade’ cost each time, adding more effects to a card. Upgrades can be bought from shops, oooooooor…

… gained for free from Pacts. These are available in stores, and give you an immediate benefit for a short-term disadvantage. Maybe an Upgrade, if you agree to halving your money from the next three battles. Or perhaps you’ll get money, but there’ll be a 50% chance in your next fight that every hit will fire a missile at you. You get all the info upfront, so you can decide whether the risk is worth the reward.

And these are just the tools you can use during your journey. Before every run you choose your character and your kit, which determines your starting deck, artifact and your basic attack. These aren’t small changes.

First steps are the most important

Let’s take the starting hero, Saffron.

Her Default kits starts you with four cards perfectly suited to introduce you to a different spells effects – area attacks, single square targeting, straight shots, pushes and frost. Very simple.

Her basic attack (which for every character is always available) is a zero-cost low damage pistol shot. This means you always have a source of damage.

Rounding off this beginner-friendly build is her starting artifact, Second Soul, which on death (likely quick on your first runs) brings you back with half your health.

Your starting loadouts are clearly laid out and explained, and even have a little flavour text

Now, same character, but with her unlockable Chrono kit. Half your deck is replaced with one rapid fire card and a single-square damage over time, and your basic attack is now a time slow effect.

Pictured: an unsuccessful dodge

If you’re savvier than me, you immediately realised the inherent synergies in these two things. Aiming and stacking-up multi-hit attacks is suddenly much easier, and dodging is a breeze (for short periods). Easier dodging likely means less damage which pairs well with your new artifact, Heart of the Cards, that heals a little bit at the beginning of every fight. This is still a very newb-adjacent build, but how it plays and the cards you’ll gravitate towards has massively changed.

This isn’t unique to Saffron either. Each character (a sample shown in the gallery below) has their own gimmick, with multiple kits that further transform how they do their job. They’re colourful, characterful, and coupled with the huge variety of card sets and artifacts they’re a joy to use with a dizzying array of builds to stumble upon.

Big decks, big feat

If you can’t get enough of decks and the building thereof but crave something a little different, One Step From Eden should be on your wish-list. By adding real-time grid-based combat and a basic attack to its repertoire, it hurdles the main pitfall of progressive deck-builders – building a deck that just won’t get you past a battle. Even if you find yourself with a sub-optimal build, good dodging and persistence can often see you through.

This doesn’t mean OSFE is immune from such problems. Despite the very welcome Focus mechanic it’s still not unusual to have to compromise on your vision to get through. That said, if you’re playing this type of game then you’re unlikely to turn your nose up at a little chance.

One step from heaven

Jesus, I haven’t even mentioned there’s a couch co-op and PvP mode… I haven’t tried them yet, but I can only imagine the chaos…

This review is too long. Stop reading it and go play One Step From Eden.

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