Recently I’ve been dabbling heavy into the rogue-like scene. As an RPG gamer, I’ve always had my eye on this genre, along with MUD’s and MUSH’es, and the eternal bank draining subs to MMORPG’s (which are now glibly abbreviated to MMO’s). I’ve always been intrigued by how much of an adventuring experience you can squeeze out of the rogue-like. A lot of them are highly focused on mechanics, systems, and procedural generation, and they tend towards being punishing games not for the light hearted roleplayer. However, I’ve always felt they have a distilled pure content, that *could* and possibly *should* be enjoyed by the larger RPG gaming community.
The beauty of this hobby, is that the majority of the games are free to download, and many play on a wide variety of platforms. Not only that but because of the nature of a rogue-like, many play fine on very low spec hardware. Not all gaming requires expensive graphics processing power!
Well, dear reader, I’ve done some of the leg-work for you. I’ve spent some time, perusing the genre, and cherry picking out the titles, I think you should be able to dabble in, without too much anxiety. Hopefully the suggestions here will “open the door” to the wider world of rogue-likes, and you’ll be able to appreciate some of the stunning creations that slip past the majority of RPG gamers simply because they’re tucked away in a niche that’s been neglected at times.
I’d like to stress that this isn’t an exhaustive list of “gateway” rogue-likes. It isn’t an ordered list of preference, that passes judgement on the games based on the sequence that I mention them. This is purely a personal list of rogue-like games, I found pleasing to my gaming senses, and ones that I think should be more accessible than the historical/canonical rogue-likes of the past.
I don’t want to upset any rogue-like purists, I don’t want to be-little the heritage that has gone before, but what I do want to do is find a place, in a darkened cave, where RPG gamers are surrounded by rogue-likes that they can appreciate from the get-go, and ones that they might enjoy enough to spark up the lantern and illuminate all the treasures deeper within the cave. This is an exploration, a journey, and hopefully it will lead to a better appreciation of the joy that can be contained within a rogue-like. Strap on your chain-mail, and join me at the stairwell heading down….
First off, I’d like to present to you a rogue-like (RL) that is set in a Universe many will have familiarity with. Doom. This ground-breaking rogue-like, now developed to the point of nostalgic brilliance, really delivers a true Doom-like experience, framed in the format of a rogue-like. There is just a glorious simplicity to the game, that reflects the carnage on offer with the iconic first person shooter, but it is cleverly moulded into a similar tension riddled explorative rogue-like. Weapon and ammo management, along with tactical spatial positioning and weapon range optimisation will set the ground rules for play.
The visuals, the music, and the hidden tension created with the “fog of war” (not shown in image above), will really have you adrenalin soaked and screaming for more. There’s complexity in the perks you pump points into, but it’s an action rogue-like with gunning down hordes of evil at it’s heart. Most gamers should come away from this experience exhilarated without knowing they’ve just participated in a rogue-like.
Plenty of gibs!
Available to download for free on Windows, Linux and OS X.
This game is one of the more interesting puzzle style rogue-likes I’ve come across, and it delivers a rogue-like experience, in very short session, with such abstraction but style – that I would almost nominate it as one of the best “First rogue-likes” ever. The object is simple, bet from the left door to the right door in each level. In keeping with textual rogue-like’s you’re the “@” symbol. The green sprites are the monsters with particular behaviours (usually based on what movement the player makes). The red icons are powerups, dotted around the map, that are used as your collectible inventory to help you progress from one side to the other.
It all sounds very basic, and often too simple, but the interplay of the powerups and your movement through the map – clearing the without losing too much health is very addictive, in it’s simplest and most abstract form. The visuals are very retro pixel orientated, and should appeal to a wide variety of gamers. With the soundscape similarly complimenting the whole experience.
One of my favourite fast play rogue-likes ever. I play it over and over again, mainly enjoying it’s simplicity. I think the games ability to draw me back time and time again, is all about the UI. It’s intuitive and efficient. The majority of the hard work is almost done for you! Equipment pickups are auto-slotted, if they’re not as good as what you’re currently using, they are auto-sold. Spells auto-slot, and excess go into your inventory. There are three classes that play very differently, Fighter, Thief and Wizard, but they all play with the same level of ease – so there’s no real reason not to try them all out!
The explorative/combat ratio seems to hover on a sweet spot, you’re never over swamped, nor totally lost. But the challenge builds gradually enough to give even the most seasoned rogue-like player something to think about late game.
There is a sequel on the cards, with a demo out already, however the second game is not by the original developer, and the design may stray away from the tight and strict elegance of the first game.
Cardinal Quest is available on Windows, Linux, Mac OS X, iOS (iPhone/iPad) and Android devices.
Dungeons of Dredmor
I can’t really say the words “Accessible Rogue” without saying the words “Dungeons of Dredmor”. A jovial game that has quite some depth to it, delivers what is probably considered to be the most “up-to-date” and accessible rogue-like experience you can get. With two fully fledged pieces of DLC (Down-Loadable Content) already available, this game should keep on growing in substance and in appreciation.
It delivers the total mouse-based, large custom graphical rogue-like game that there is. The main draw being the amount of “comical” content available in the form of weird and wonderful class specialisations, items of peculiar hilarity and monsters that are equally silly, yet endearing. For all it’s alleged British humour, there’s a challenging and deep rogue-like game here that’s well worth checking out.
Dredmor is a commercial product primarily available through Steam, for Windows, Mac OS X and (soon) Linux.
Tales of Maj’Eyal
TOME4 is one of the most fully featured, graphical rogue-likes I’ve come across. Primarily it’s big selling point is the online connectivity, storing character profiles online, and supporting an MMO-like IRC chat facility whilst you’re playing the game. In fact other player events show up in the chat window as it happens – so you always feel connected to the community, as you’re exploring your particular world.
TOME is always evolving, for the better. I’m always surprised by how much the game has come on, when I jump in and out of the scene over time. It’s probably the rogue-like I’d say players of World of Warcraft would like. Most character skills are on timers, so you have to get used to a very different flavour of rogue-like tactical combat. Classes have very shallow skill trees, but plenty of them – so customisation feels littered with interesting choices. The items that drop always have a lot of information attached and have pluses and minuses, so assessing equipment becomes quite an important balancing act, based on your build.
A lot of the quests in TOME, have lore attached that is discovered upon exploration, and you can really begin to feel involved in the world as the adventure progresses.
TOME is the rogue-like I think most RPG players should start on, it simply delivers a very polished feature rich experience bridges the gap between rogue-likes and more mainstream RPG games.
TOME4 is available FREE for Windows, Linux and Mac OS X. And it is frequently updated, showing commitment and determined long term development.
Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup (DCSS)
DCSS is a beast of a game, and is probably the closest you’ll get to a more canonical rogue-like (from the ones listed above). DCSS is an evolution of a concept from Linley’s Dungeon Crawl, which in itself is an evolution of sorts from THE original rogue-likes like Rogue, Hack and Moria. There is a lot of very interesting history behind rogue-likes and I urge you to explore the heritage because therein lies the magic to these types of games. However, DCSS provides both tile (pictured above) and console versions of a very authentic rogue-like game that still remains enjoyable and accessible at the same time.
I do struggle at times to comprehend the depth on offer, there are many websites available with help for novices when it comes to delving deeper into DCSS, but you can claw and crawl your way around and still enjoy the experience.
I’d say explore this game last in this list, and if you’re still playing these sort of games, then the door is fully open, and no doubt you can see the shining crystalline promise within the rogue-like genre.
DCSS is available for download for FREE for Windows, Linux and Mac OS X.
I can only really scratch the surface of the genre here. A number of resources are available for further exploration for those still curious, and I can only recommend these with much enthusiasm:
Temple of the Roguelike - for news and opinion, and also discussion forums teaming with rogue-like devs.
Rogue-like Radio – THE number one podcast for all things rogue-like.
Ascii Dreams – Andrew Doull’s blog, Roguelike of the Year awards.
Roguebase – Roguelike News Portal.
7DRL.org – 7 day rogue-like development – snappy and swiftly developed rogue-likes that usually have inventiveness and novelty brimming over – if they get them completed within 7 days.
Roguebasin – All encompassing Wiki of rogue-likes
Roguebasin’s Actively Developing Rogue-likes – A list of..
There are some honourable mentions that I’d have liked to include in the list, but I just didn’t have the time to plough through them and give any worthwhile opinion. I have played these to some extent, and I’d definitely say give them a go, if rogue-likes have piqued your interest.
Finally, if you’re up to the challenge, look towards…. DWARF FORTRESS!!! Strike the Earth!