Roguelikes Ain’t Dead Yet


Many of you have probably never even heard of, let alone played the original Rogue, a game written for a Unix-based college computer system more than 30 years ago. There’s a good chance that if you only spend your time on mainstream AAA titles you may not have even played any of its numerous spiritual successors (known collectively as roguelikes). That said, while Rogue and the Roguelikes it spawned are not even remotely mainstream, it has had an enormous influence on gaming, and perhaps as a backlash to the recent focus on fun and accessible games, its brutal legacy is being felt more than ever.

For those of you that don’t know, Rogue was a top-down RPG that put you in the shoes of an adventurer entering a dark and foreboding dungeon. While the graphics used were incredibly primitive by today’s standards, its core ideas are surprisingly modern. Relying heavily on randomly generated levels and item placement, no two play throughs were ever the same, and without any kind of lives or save system death was swift and permanent. Failure would start you over again at the very beginning of the game with no chance of retrieving your previous progress or the items you had collected.

Many recent games have taken cues from this classic dungeon romp. Here are a few of my favorites.

Diablo 3 by Blizzard Entertainment

If you’ve played any game on this list, it’s probably going to be this one. While it has courted a lot of controversy since its release, Diablo 3 sold in record numbers and is probably the closest thing to a true roguelike that most normal gamers have played. Like its prequels, Diablo 3 has many of the same basic mechanics, including randomized  environments and loot, and in the case of Diablo 2 and 3, the option to enable permanent death.

Diablo 3 gets around most roguelike’s unintuitive interface and slow gameplay by mixing in fast paced hack ‘n slash combat that keeps the action frantic and the deaths frequent.

Dungeons of Dredmor by GasLamp Games

With sword in hand and tongue implanted firmly in cheek, Dredmor aims to capture the essence of what makes roguelikes great in a way far more palatable to the modern gamer. Eye-achingly bland ASCII characters or (even worse) dodgy programmer art have been replaced with detailed hand-drawn graphics, and the basic concepts of the original Rogue have been expanded on to a massive degree with an extremely complex crafting system and a seemingly endless array of bizarre items and skills.

If you’ve ever wanted to worship Inconsequentia, the Goddess of Pointless Sidequests, or own a magical transforming pear then this is the game for you! While Dredmor’s weird sense of humor may indicate that this is a game that doesn’t take itself at all seriously, at its core it is still a good old fashioned roguelike that wants nothing more than to crush your face into the ground and steal your pear.

Rogue Survivor by Roguedjack

It seems like Zombies are everywhere these days, so it’s no surprise that someone would have the bright idea of making a Zombie survival roguelike. In many ways, Rogue Survivor gives the truest sense of what living through a real zombie apocalypse would be like. Initially, your days are filled with roaming the streets searching for supplies and somewhere safe to sleep, but as the horde closes in and the power goes off it becomes almost impossible to stay alive past breakfast.

Your fellow survivors are almost as bad as the zombies, and while befriending them can increase your chances of survival in the short term, you may find yourself with a slug in the back when the food starts running out. Ultimately, most of my games ended with me cowering inside a dark house with boarded up windows and doors, eventually succumbing when my supplies ran out or something managed to break through the door and finish me off.

Desktop Dungeons by QCF Design

Desktop Dungeons is a re-imagining of the traditionally complex and lengthy roguelike game as a quick, single screen RPG/puzzle hybrid that at first glance appears to be a simple, accessible little time waster but is in fact a surprisingly deep and replayable game. Just like any Roguelike, it features multiple classes, monsters, items and randomly generated dungeons but each play generally won’t last more than 10 minutes.

Most early attempts at conquering a dungeon will result in your horrible death at the hands of the all-powerful ‘boss’ monster, but as you keep trying again and again the ingenious subtleties of the combat and levelling system begin to make sense. Once mastered, you’ll find yourself unleashing hell on your foes instead of just being their supper. QCF Designs have really hit on a winning formula here, but as great as it is on PC this type of experience really belongs on a handheld console. DS Dungeons, anyone?

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Author: Ed Mullins View all posts by