Against The Moon Review: One Small Step

Against the Moon is available on Steam, Joseph Pugh conducted this review.

Overview

In my life, I’ve been against many things. For example, the existence of spiders, social obligations, and running unless something is on fire or I’m being chased by a predator. Even then, the fire or predator would have to be really big, or I’m just going to walk very briskly instead.

I’ve never been Against the Moon though, then again, it’s never sent Cthulhu like monsters to eat me, yet at least. It is still 2020 after all, let’s not assume anything. In this game, the Moon is the villain with the bestial Furos at its beck and call.

The moon commands Furos minions.

You fight the Furos in turn-based combat, building your deck of minions and spells as you progress through a map full of battles and events. If you have ever played something like Slay the Spire, you will understand the formula.

However, Against the Moon utilizes a three-lane battle system and features dual paths for card upgrades that set it apart from other deck builder rogue-lites.

Arx me a question

Above all else, you must protect the Arx. It is a sort of goddess, city, AI thing in a sarcophagus? Confused? So am I. The reason being, the game features a prologue, one story mission, and a standard rogue-lite- random run type mode.

My first impression of Against the Moon, was that it’s unfinished. The prologue features voice-overs that are hit and miss between terrible and okay, but the rest of the game doesn’t feature them at all. The main menu is filled with placeholders that say “coming soon” alongside its sole story mission.

Events give you a taste of lore.

Now the meat of the game is by far the mode called Luma Run, but it’s still strange. The game is steeped in fascinating lore and you get some tidbits during random events. But I largely can’t tell you what’s going on outside of the moon is evil, the world has been wrecked and the Ultori are powerful heroes.

I’ve been told that more story content is coming for free, and I know the developer has a good track record, so I’m inclined to believe them. It’s still poor form for a game without an early access tag to lead with that impression. The pieces of lore you find are very interesting, so I do hope the game sees additional story missions in the future. They have posted a nice roadmap too!

Rogue Moon

The sole story mission largely plays like the standard Luma Run, but with additional objectives and quirks for each battle. Losing in Luma Run means you start over, but you can retry battles in the story mission.

Completing the story mission unlocks a new character and a character variant, but most of the content can be found in the replayable Luma Run. You choose three Ultori to take with you. Each one has a starting set of cards and their own attack, health, and abilities.

Each Ultori has its own abilities and starting cards.

Completing Luma Runs unlocks additional difficulties, and you can unlock even more character variants by completing them. The variants have their own set of cards and powers, so they are essentially new characters from a gameplay perspective. This grants you a nice variety to choose from once you unlock them.

You also acquire research points that can be spent to unlock new cards and powers that can later be acquired during a run. Losing still rewards you with a few, but completing a run grants a significantly larger amount.

You progress through each run weighing the risks and choosing which paths to take. Different battles offer different rewards, and it’s important to plan ahead. Any damage Arx takes is permanent unless you spend charges, another type of currency, to heal her.

Some battles will earn you new cards, a level up for one of your Ultori, or the ability to upgrade existing cards in your deck. The system is very decision heavy and is easily one of the game’s highlights.

The dual upgrade paths for cards is really clever.

Each Ultori has multiple abilities that can be gained through leveling them up, and every card in the game has two distinct upgrades you can transform them into. Though you may have to unlock the upgrade first.

Both Ultori and card upgrades are meaningful, and it gives you some very fine control over the build of your deck as you progress. Furthermore, many upgrades aren’t straight improvements over the original. There are pros and cons to each one, and sometimes it’s wiser to keep a card unchanged. It’s a pretty clever system.

Battle System

You and your foe have a leader, yours being Arx. If her HP is reduced to zero, you lose. There are three lanes on the battlefield, and one of your three Ultori occupies each one. Every turn you can spend luma to play minions in those lanes or cast spells.

Every round minions in opposing lanes attack each other, and if they are destroyed, any leftover damage carries over to the next minion in line, and so forth. If a lane is unguarded, it hits the Ultori, and if they are knocked out, it hits the Arx instead.

You can essentially view the attack and health of each minion in a lane as one mathematical pool. The game calculates this for you in a clean manner that is very easy to understand. The back and forth of the game is protecting your Ultori and Arx while damaging the enemy leader.

Each enemy deck is a type of puzzle.

You also build up a second resource called energy, and each Ultori and the Arx has a special ability that can be used by spending it. One Ultori stuns multiple minions, for example, while the Arx herself can send out a powerful blast of lightning.

They’re a bunch of tactics you can pursue through your deck building and combat systems. But the enemies don’t follow the same rules you do. Each enemy leader’s “deck” is basically an algorithm, and it’s kind of a double-edged sword.

For example, there are a couple of minion types that almost always appear together, and usually are summoned in an alternating sequence. The foes aren’t dynamic or emergent, they are preset challenges.

The game gives a lot of player agency on what rewards to pursue.

Each one has it’s own quirk, and the deeper you get in each run, the more complex they get. In a way, each battle is a puzzle, and you are bringing your own customized pieces to solve it.

It’s undeniably fun and well designed, but it needs more variety. The “themes” so to speak get repetitive and predictable quickly, and it makes the early game of each run painful. Each Ultori starts with preset cards, so it can really feel samey at first while you simply go through the motions of solving each “puzzle” with similar pieces.

Verdict

Against the Moon has the bones of a great tactical deck builder. It’s potential is quite clear. The combat system is solid, the risk versus reward pathway is full of player agency, and the upgrade system is fantastic. It just feels unfinished, and not just with the story.

The predictable nature of the enemy decks puts a damper on the enjoyment. I would hope that more “puzzles” so to speak come with future story content, but future content is never a guarantee, especially since Against the Moon isn’t an early access title. Though I am personally confident in its future.

Boss fights add small twists to the battle.

As it stands Against the Moon will likely fizzle faster than the games that inspired it, with repetition setting in quicker than it really should. Yet the brilliant upgrade system and solid tactical combat are worth experiencing, and I sincerely hope the game receives more content simply because I want to enjoy the game more.

A copy of Against the Moon was provided for Gideon’s Gaming by Black Tower for the purpose of review.

You might also be interested in checking out my reviews of other rogue-lites. If you enjoy my content, please consider taking a peek at my Kofi page. Every donation helps.

Pros

  • The solid three-lane battle system
  • Clever multiple-choice upgrade system for Ultori and cards
  • Clean interface and easy to understand math prediction
  • Nice variety of characters

Cons

  • Poor voice-overs
  • Game feels unfinished
  • Enemy behavior is predictable and repetitive, especially in the early game of each run
  • Lack of enemy variety