Review: One Step From Eden

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This game was selected as one of our April 2020 Reader’s Choice Reviews. Learn more on our Patreon page.

How do you feel about learning curves? Do you need steady progression through a game to stay engaged, or are you willing to chip away at parts before you can proceed? If you’re not okay with the latter, I don’t think you’re going to like One Step From Eden very much. This unique mix of deckbuilding and fast-paced strategy is mentally taxing on a whole new level, and the roguelike structure means lots and lots and lots of runs before you finally grasp how it all works. In truth, I’m still in the learning phases of this one, but it does enough right that I’m more than willing to say it’s worth putting the work into.

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Don’t expect a whole lot of story here: you’re on your way to Eden, last bastion of civilization in a ruined world, and a bunch of nasty things want to stop you. Borrowing a page from the Slay the Spire handbook, you proceed down different paths in each area featuring battles, shops, camps, elite foes, and a boss at the end. Your route will determine what opportunities you have to grow your character, between experience towards leveling up and new cards from battles, artifacts from elites and treasures, and all manner of goods and services at shops. Hopefully your journey will make your deck powerful enough to face the bosses who wield mighty abilities of their own, but even a typical battle can end your run if things go very, very badly.

One Step From Eden borrows more than just a page from Slay the Spire, honestly. Not only are areas laid out similarly, managing your deck and artifacts and even some of the strategic concerns are the same. It’s the combat itself that sets this one apart, choosing to cast all the way back to the heady days of Mega Man Battle Network for real-time grid-based battles for you to sling your cards around in. Your deck becomes a list of spells that you cycle through two at a time, aimed at different parts of the opponent’s field. There are some obvious powers like calling down lighting, flinging ice shards, and setting down turrets, along with some clever tactical options like breaking grid tiles and forming reflective barriers. Synergy between spells is important, with some schools of magic being built around concepts like Trinity and Flow.

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The real-time aspect of this system is what I think you should focus on, because that’s what makes One Step From Eden so imposing to learn. You have a vast deck of spells to manage, each with its own targeting rules, mana cost, synergies, and so on. You’ll also have passive effects from any artifacts you’ve found and from your character choice to consider. Then there are the enemy types, which are wonderfully varied and pack their own devastating spells and gimmicks. Lining up ideal plays while avoiding damage would be a challenge even in a turn-based setting (as Slay the Spire is happy to remind you), but here you have to do all of this with seconds to consider. Your foes are moving, timers are running down, attacks are incoming, and you’ve still got to line up your shots and think about how to chain spells together. To say this is overwhelming at first blush would be a huge understatement.

But it won’t be forever! Wits and reflexes are a necessity here but the strategy will eventually gel into something you can snap off quickly, while responding to threats on the board. It’s just going to take you hours to get there, and I can’t say for certain how long that’ll be for each person. Like I said, I’m still internalizing the flow of battles, and experimenting with different decks. There’s a surprising number of ways you can go with your spells, spread across ten different schools, and further magnified by the strengths of each character. It’s a smart call for the game, really, giving players a huge variety of cards and styles to experiment with as they go through the many, many runs it’ll take to master the frenetic combat. Also worth noting are the high health pools for most characters and wealth of defensive options, meaning you can make plenty of mistakes and keep on chugging.

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I am by no means an expert on One Step From Eden, but I can see it’s a very gratifying game to seek expertise in. With enormous variety and tactical depth, each run can play out in entirely different ways. And that’s important, considering how many runs it will take to get comfortable with the complex real-time battles. It may take even longer to learn about what artifacts to take, what spells to upgrade, what to spend your money on, and so on. But all these details and considerations are what make this a game worth working at, instead of one to pass by. Coupled with charming pixel art and an excellent soundtrack, One Step From Eden is a challenging but ultimately gratifying addition to the expanding deckbuilding genre.

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