If I’m honest, I’ve got nothing Against the Moon.
Against the Moon is a rogue-lite with card-driven combat and a deck-building mechanic. I like games in this niche-yet-surprisingly-well-served subgenre and I tend to try and give most releases of this sort a go. Whilst it doesn’t reach the heights of modern genre classic Slay the Spire, Against the Moon has a lot going for it. It’s release hasn’t been handled nearly as well as it could have been though.
We’re introduced to the world through a slightly animated, but very well drawn, cutscene that explains that humanity is holed up in the final city on the planet. The moon has become corrupted and the world taken over by monsters, called the Furos. Humankind’s greatest warriors, the Ultori, often leave the city accompanied by their goddess Arx to stem the tide of creatures and gather resources to allow the final bastion of life to survive a little longer.
The story is bonkers if you leave it at that point. The moon is evil and sends monsters to destroy humanity who have a god that lives in a box, isn’t the most common plot, but as the campaign progresses, new secrets as to the history of humankind on this world are revealed. Who is Arx? Why are the Ultori so powerful? How is it that some Furos know so much about them? By the time I came to the end of the second chapter I was genuinely interested in what was going on and was ready for more. But then Against the Moon just stops.
In spite of this being described as the full release of the game, it seems that the developers are planning on releasing the next few chapters over the coming months, starting in October. I can’t for the life of me understand why this has been done. Why release half a game when in a few months the whole thing will be available anyway? It isn’t as if this is a Steam Early Access release so I’m really very confused about this setup and quite irritated that I’m going to be waiting to find out more.
With that gripe out of the way though, I can point out that the gameplay is actually really enjoyable. The game map is node-based, in a similar way to Slay the Spire, with different nodes giving you different bonuses should you succeed. Combat itself is card-based, with three lanes on the battlefield. Arx and your opponent face-off, each with their own health pool. You have between one and three Ultori — essentially hero characters — on the field already, one in each lane who will attack each turn. During your turn, you’ll play cards from your hand to summon minions or cast magic using a limited energy pool before combat resolves. Characters can only attack those in front of them, and any damage that isn’t absorbed by minions passes through to the leader’s health pool. Think three-lane Magic: The Gathering and you’re in the right ballpark.
Minions have different health and attack stats, as well as special abilities, such as healing Ultori or placing shields for that lane. The Ultori also have Ultimate abilities which charge over time which can turn the tide if used correctly. After combat is resolved, surviving minions remain on the field and the enemy summons random groups of new ones before the next round begins. Your energy pool strictly limits what cards you can play, and you’ll really need to play your turns carefully. You could play a big hitter to take out one minion, but it might mean one of your Ultori is vulnerable and knocked out for the rest of combat. Playing a shield may seem wise, but an enemy may have an ability that makes them stronger when shields are placed.
Because of this, there can be quite a significant luck element. This is where the deck-building comes in. After combat, you may be rewarded with a choice of new cards to add to your deck or a mutation to one you already have to specialise it further. There are also rewards that can remove unwanted cards to streamline your deck or power-ups for your Ultori. You’ll need to plan your route carefully to maximise the rewards you want.
The rogue-lite element only comes in in one of the game modes that rewards you with new cards to use on future runs. In this mode, when the Arx runs out of health you’ll be sent back to the start with a handful of points to spend on unlocking new cards at random. In the campaign, failing a mission simply gives you the option to retry the combat. I have found that I could fail a mission quickly one time and then utterly destroy the opposition in a restart. The luck element is strong here. If that’s a turn off then you’re likely to have a bad time with Against the Moon. Personally I enjoyed it. The battles took at most ten minutes, aside from the occasional longer boss confrontation, so a replay after a loss wasn’t a huge irritation.
The visuals are quite excellent, with different monsters, both friend and foe, having distinct designs. I particularly liked the minimalist colour schemes used in a lot of the cutscenes. They offer a bleakness to the world that’s quite fitting with the theme, with occasional splashes of colour that really stand out. The animation here and in the game is quite minimal, but what’s there is solidly done. The sound is less well done. I enjoyed the soundtrack, but after the music in the battle had finished it didn’t loop or load up another piece meaning the rest of the combat played out with no backing. The voiceover was weak for this game. It felt more fitting for something a little more action-heavy rather than a slower turn-based game. It’s not that the voice actors were bad, just not well suited for this genre or the game’s themes.
I’ve enjoyed playing Against the Moon. Whilst the bizarre decision to release the game at this point rather than when it was fully finished is baffling, what is here is very good. I’ll likely come back to this once the rest of the campaign has been released and new characters have been added to the expedition mode. It might be worth holding off until you can get the full experience, but going up Against the Moon isn’t a bad option even now.