I’ve heard many great things about the deckbuilding genre, including a game called Slay the Spire, but I never took the chance to play it just because never got around to it. So when Theseus Protocol was announced, I was intrigued because at a glance it looked like “Slay the Spire, but anime” which is a good enough reason to try anything.
I went in not knowing what to expect but came out pleasantly surprised. Despite being an early access title Theseus Protocol has a lot to offer in terms of strategy, gameplay depth, and customization in its small package, and continues to offer loads of fun even after your first, or fifth run. Coupled with nice visuals and pretty good sound design, you got a recipe for one of the better roguelike games to come out if the developers keep the pace they’re going at right now.
Screenshots and footage are taken from a review copy of Theseus Protocol supplied by Archive Game and reflect the state of the versions of the game before, and after its Early Access release.
▍ Stylish Cyberpunk Card Mayhem
Theseus Protocol is far from the flashiest games I’ve ever played but it definitely has all of the details in the right places. The characters and enemy designs are cool and embody the themes and designs of this world pretty well. Music’s pretty subdued for the most part which isn’t a bad thing because you’ll be thinking a lot of the time, so having some pretty quiet yet tense tunes really helps keep you focused.
It really helps to have clear enemy designs because, at some point after your third or fourth playthrough, you’ll recognize the threats on the screen and know exactly what they can do, and how you can deal with them, but more on that later.
One thing I can absolutely appreciate is how fast all of Theseus Protocol’s actions are. As much as I like flashy animations sometimes it can get in the way of the game’s flow especially when I just want to get things going. It all looks great without taking much of your time. Backgrounds are quite beautiful too as they aren’t just static but some of them have a bit of life to them with effects and variations. It’s quite refreshing going from what looks like a simulation to the bustling outside world.
Sound design wise the game hits just the right notes. While some of the sound effects are definitely a little louder than others, everything sounds just punchy and impactful enough to really sell the attacks you’re doing, even if on screen it looks like your character’s just throwing a card at them.
Overall Theseus Protocol looks very nice for its initial release as early access, and while there is some room for improvement, the game’s overall presentation is not just playable, but great to listen to and look at. With how great the game looks and sounds right now, there’s just bound to be more in store when it finishes ironing out everything.
In fact, I got to play the game before it was released on January 17th and already in a few days I got to play it, the developers already released an update that enhanced a bunch of the UI and sound effects, which pretty much addressed a bunch of the issues I had when writing this review. On another note, the game does happen to run very smoothly on a Steam deck, though you will have to fiddle around a bit as Right-clicking with a mouse will need to use the L2 button, which is a little awkward at first.
▼ Here’s What the game UI looked like prior to its final release.
▍ Mastering Your Deck With Improvisation
Theseus Protocol is a roguelike deckbuilding card battler. You’ll start the game by picking one of three characters (the other two need to be unlocked) and then moving across a series of stages with random encounters, whether it’s enemies, a shop, healing, or events.
When you get into combat you’ll be facing off against one or more foes, and you’ll take turns using cards to perform actions. Theseus Protocol has hundreds of cards, but at its most basic there are attack cards, defense cards, and effect cards. Each card has a unique effect tied to it and it’s up to you to use these cards based on the situation or take advantage of your hand to unleash some devastating combos.
This works because whenever your turn begins, you can see the actions of every enemy before it happens. You can tell how much damage they’ll deal, if they’re going to buff themselves, recover shields, etc. Their actions aren’t ambiguous when your turn begins, letting you quickly adapt and come up with a new strategy with whatever you have.
Every time a card is used or your turn ends, it’ll be sent to the discard pile where you can’t draw them until all of your other cards have been used. Cards can also be exhausted due to certain effects, or intentionally exhausting them by using them to charge up a character-specific weapon. Some cards also have effects that trigger when Exhausted, but you won’t be able to exhaust the card if your weapon’s fully charged or on cooldown, adding another layer of things to consider.
Weapons deal damage and can also trigger an effect, with each weapon needing a different amount of energy. The fun comes in managing your cards, their various effects, and even when to exhaust these cards, as you can also overcharge a weapon by feeding it more energy than it needs, causing it to deal double damage.
I can’t even begin to scratch the surface of how much depth is in this game, and even after well over 10 hours I still find myself playing with new cards and strategies that I’ve never thought of, and adapting to the situation. Builds that work off of Valiance, a buff that permanently buffs your damage during a fight, or Periodic shock, a DoT that deals mitigating damage but won’t trigger a counter-attack, are just a few things you can play around with when it comes to the different enemies and their gimmicks.
This is on top of the Theseus Protocol’s different characters having their own unique set of resources, cards, and weapons allowing for loads of variety and different playstyles. Charlotte can play around shield stacking and the Periodic Shock debuff, while Nena can flip a switch and gain an insane amount of attack power or defensive power, at the cost of using her entire hand, and that’s just one tactic.
Theseus Protocol is just a blast to play, and I found myself totally glued to every encounter. Every fight against a familiar enemy felt like a boss as I was trying my best to get by them with as little as possible, or if the stars align, absolutely destroying them. You really can get into the zone in these combat encounters, and even though I only managed to beat one run, I got pretty close a couple of times and can’t wait to go on another run until I beat the game with Nena.
▍ Rich Progression Just Begging to be Explored
Like with many roguelikes, Theseus Protocol comes with a pretty expansive progression system, that improves upon your character’s weapons.
In Theseus Protocol you can unlock powerups to passively increase its basic stats, whether its damage or even auxiliary effects like granting you a shield if the weapon is not on cooldown but loaded with ammo, giving you more ways to use a single weapon depending on the situation.
One more thing is that you can’t equip every perk on a weapon, meaning you’ll need to swap some of them out for a more defensive playstyle to counter certain enemy patterns like shields, and armor, or just go full-on offense.
I’m fine with the progression in the game but it’s definitely different from something like Hades. You can unlock quite a lot of upgrades from completing a run, but for failing a run you’ll get far less, and instead of getting small incremental buffs every run, you end up getting a big chunk of them after a successful run. Currently, the game doesn’t seem to have any difficulty modes beyond Easy, so for now, upgrading will just keep making the game easier without an option to ramp up the challenge.
Though with indicating it as “easy” and not just a default difficulty setting, I’m sure as the devs move forward with development, this will be something they add to Theseus Protocol in a future update.
▍ If You Like This Genre, Keep Theseus Protocol on Your Radar.
I actually had a bunch more issues with Theseus Protocol, but as I mentioned earlier a bunch of important bugs like losing my progress when I exited to the desktop got fixed. In its current state the game is still prone to the occasional crash, but this usually only happened to me after a few hours of play.
Overall I think if you’re a fan of this genre, or even if you’re not, Theseus Protocol is a very fun game to play, and one that the developers are actively working on improving. If you’re even slightly interested in this kind of game or want something you can play quickly that’s loads of fun, Theseus Protocol will keep you occupied for quite a while, and with the game still being early in development, I’m definitely excited to see where it goes.