What is a roguelike?
Well, it’s a game like Rogue. (Obviously).
Redundancy aside, Rogue was a game developed in 1980 by Glenn Wichman and Michael Toy, with assistance from Ken Arnold later down the line. Two of Rouge’s main gameplay elements were procedurally generated dungeons to explore and permadeath, the idea of a save being valid up until death, at which point it is deleted.
These two elements are the ones most commonly associated with the word “roguelike”, but several more gameplay features and layers of complexity have been added as the genre developed.
Sometimes more modern games with roguelike elements will be referred to as “roguelike-like” or “roguelite”, as they aren’t true dungeon crawling games, but take a lot of influence from previous games in the genre.
Modern roguelike titles have introduced additional elements to the genre to define it. These often include some reliance on luck for item or equipment generation, multiple playthroughs rewarding the player and of course… Soul-crushing difficulty…
… And this is why I absolutely love playing them.
Having recently bought the Afterbirth+ expansion for The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, the dive back into the completionist grind began once more. Now with even more bosses!
Isaac functions closer to a roguelike than other recent titles. You go through a set number of floors, all procedurally generated, with death being the end of one run, forcing you to start another.
Luck does play some role in runs, but the game design is done in such a way that doesn’t promote rerolling a run because of one bad item, combos can be pulled off with the most obscure of items. Even Bob’s Brain can be useful under the right circumstances.
But all the luck in the world doesn’t mean anything when facing the brutal challenge of playing as The Lost. A one hit point wonder, with the benefit of flight and obstacle-piercing projectiles (and a once-per-room shield after some game progression) tests your movement skill to the limit.
It… takes a while.
However, roguelikes don’t necessarily have to be in dark, dank dungeons.
FTL puts less of a focus on luck and more on resource management. Keeping track of fuel, missiles and scrap (currency) is the ideal method to go forward.
Do I have enough fuel to make X amount of jumps? Should I use missiles to disable the shields or save them for a potentially more dangerous ship? Is it worth buying the weapon and weapon system power, or should I upgrade my shields?
As expected, permadeath is involved, once your ship has been blown to pieces or all crew ejected out the airlock in despair, you start back again at the beginning of the galaxy, with a fresh crew.
Defeating the final boss, The Rebel Flagship, is a task of insane proportions which with an adequate run with smart management can be done. Of course, you could always blow it up at the same time as you die.
Of course, you can always go to a game which holds roguelike elements to its core, offering the experience of a dungeon dive, all the loot that goes with it and difficulty to match.
Dungeons of Dredmor is the closest example to a traditional roguelike in this article, and it serves as a brilliant introduction to the genre, with an easy-to-understand interface and quality of life updates to make the dungeon experience more accessible for everyone.
Descending through ten to fifteen floors of procedurally generated mazes, the objective is simple: defeat Lord Dredmor. Throughout your journey you will be aided by your skills, equipment, lutefisk and Krong (the most fickle of all gods), paired with an amazingly self-aware sense of humour in both the surroundings and enemy dialogue.
You’re going to need all of the above, as this game does not let up with enemy difficulty, even on the first floor. It’s possible to go down to the thirteenth floor and be swarmed by a monster zoo…
…or be killed by a simple Blobby on the first floor.
So, that’s been my summary on the elements of three roguelike games that make me love the genre so much, even as I recoil back in anger as I failed to defeat the boss once more, taking a moment to pause over how such a good run could’ve gone so wrong.
Then clicking to start another one; There’s no stopping me.
A huge thanks to Murray for this excellent piece on Roguelikes. I’ve been known to play a few hours of Dungeons of Dredmor myself. If you’re interest in the history of Roguelikes, check out the DOS Games Archive, where you can download Rogue for free. Do you have a favourite video game genre that you’d love to write about for us? We’re hoping to turn this into a mini-series that is written by our contributors, so if you’re interested, drop us a message below or via email. Meanwhile, let us know what you thought about the above article in the comments below, or over on Facebook, Twitter or Reddit.