RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.

Posted on Jul 21st 2016 at 08:00:00 AM by (NeoMagicWarrior)
Posted under Rougelike, PC, Adventure

What is Rogue?

Recently, there has been a flood of games touting to be "Roguelikes" in both the Indie and AAA design spaces over the past few years. Even more perplexing, the titles claiming to be Roguelikes seemingly spanned all genres. With the new update of one of my favorite Roguelikes (more later), it seemed only fitting to really examine what a makes a game a Roguelike, and more importantly, what a "rogue" is.

For the full version, you could always Wikipedia it, but in brief, Rogue is a PC dungeon crawler with ASCII graphics. The premise is pretty simple: go from the top floor of a dungeon, get an item, and then escape. The game features turn based combat and movement; for every action you take, all the enemies get a turn, similar to a game of chess. Each level of the dungeon is semi-randomly generated, and populated with a myriad of enemies, items, and interactable objects to make each delve unique. Being simple in the graphics department, Rogue could also go much deeper in item interaction than most games, as not having to animate things saves considerable time. Other things that make Rogue different from most games is that items do not come identified, and the user usually needs to figure out what they have via trial and error. This generally leads to some hilarious situations, like drinking a potion of fire when you badly needed healing instead.

Most notably, Rouge features permadeath. No lives. No continues. You have one shot to make it to the end, and very little resources to keep yourself alive while doing so.

I have not spent a real large amount of time with Rogue, mainly because I've been playing it's far superior cousin...


Another "classic" Rougelike, Nethack is Rogue on steroids, with a healthy dose of pop culture references and puzzles thrown in. Very similar to Rogue in terms of gameplay, but much larger in scope in all directions. Most of what I can say about Nethack is already said above, but just add the word "more" to everything. Nethack also adds a pretty neat feature called "bones files" to make things more interesting. Sometimes, when you die, the game saves the floor that you were on and loads it into a game later on! You get to see where your corpse was left, and can salvage some of the sweet gear you found. Even better is that Nethack is able to be played on a server which stores EVERYONES bones files, so you can run into the corpses of adventures long since deceased from another players game! This game is the definitive Roguelike for those who want to try out the genre in a pure form. Currently, v3.6.0 was just released, and it added a ton more content. Try it! It is free, and available on PC.

Many titles lately have been using the term "Rougelike" to mean something along the lines of "Hey, we made a game that randomizes things!," while others have used the term to indicate a few other similarities. Roguelikes have taken on several forms over the years, and I thought I'd hit on a few of the more modern titles if ASCII graphics and turn-based gameplay seem too antiquated.

The Binding of Isaac

The Binding of Isaac is a perfect example of how to do a "Roguelike" right. It borrows the random game generation, the cryptic item system, permadeath, the dungeon delving, but eschews the turn-based gameplay for a twin-stick shooter style combat. Isaac shoots tears from his eyes to defeat the evils of his basement on his quest to run away from his crazed mother. Mild warning: Isaac can get a bit gross and offensive...It is super worth the play if you are okay with it though.

Crypt of the Necrodancer

An oddly faithful Roguelike, Crypt of the Necrodancer is a huge change in terms of gameplay from any of the other games on this list; it is a rhythm game first and foremost. You need to move your character along to the beat of the background music and you get penalties when you are off beat. Enemies move along with the music, preventing you from taking the time to really plan out moves like in Rogue or Nethack. Crypt of the Necrodancer is a bit short, but the replay value is through the roof, as a variety of different tracks and styles of music can keep you coming back for more.

Darkest Dungeon

Darkest Dungeon is an experience onto itself. It functions in such a unique way it is a bit hard to discribe, but I'll try anyway. After assembling a team of adventures who look like they have obviously seen better days, you dive into a world of monsters and mayhem that is something akin to an H.P. Lovecraft novel. All of your adventures only have one life and you WILL lose people. Additional props go to this one for having a stress meter that makes your characters go insane the farther down you dig. A really interesting combat sytle makes Darkest Dungeon a great choice for fans of traditional RPGs who want a bit of Rougeishness.


Spelunky is the standard platformer of the bunch, which features random levels, and multiple ways to finish a level (or get stuck in one). Unlike the rest of the list so far, it forgoes random equipment in favor of a more simplistic style. Not my favorite, but highly praised by others, it deserves a place on any list of Roguelikes.

Rogue Legacy

It even has "rogue" in the name! Rogue Legacy is one of the few Roguelikes that lets your progress matter between playthroughs. It functions like a typical MetroidVania game, with the big exception being that the castle changes it's layout with (almost) every death. You get to spend whatever gold you earn each run on upgrading all of your gear, which gets passed on to your heirs (and the game relies heavily on this feature). Your geneology helps determine the type of bonuses or penalties your characters get. Some of them are quite crazy, such as nostalgia, which makes the entire game play in sepia! Rogue Legacy is a solid game, even though it is a bit light on the "Rogue." 


Delver is the FPS of the Roguelike genre, and is actually pretty faithful. Random generation creates an interesting interior space for you to sling spells or clash swords....until you get killed by a bat over and over. It looks very pretty and is in fairly active development. I don't actually believe that I've played the same version of the game in more than one sitting. It is a bit rough around the edges, with some spotty hit detection as of the last time I played but still well worth a look.

Tales of Maj'Eyal

But Neo, I need some serious motivation with my Roguelike! Enter Tales of Maj'Eyal, the Roguelike with character...no seriously. This game plays like a standard RPG with classic Roguelike gameplay. Skill trees, quests, and all sorts of customization options make ToME one of the most expansive Rougelikes you can grab. ToME is my go to if I want that classic feel, with a little less ASCII, and a WHOLE LOT of cooldowns.

This is only just a taste of what the Roguelike genre has to offer. I could not even begin to write a comprehensive list of games in the genre, but some other people have! Some good resources for checking out different Rougelikes are Steam's "Rougelike" tag and Roguebasin.com, a pretty comprehensive database of all sorts of Rougelikes large and small. Feel free to try out something new and exciting...just don't drink the potion without identifying it first!

Till next time!
~ Neo

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I've played Nethack for many years, though the version I played was an offline version without the bones files. I loved the randomness of the items, and it's always an adventure when you run out of unidentified potions/scrolls and have to use an item to save yourself, just to find it's either a level up potion or a fireball that kills you.

I don't think I ever got post floor 15...
Spelunky is one of my favorite games of the decade.
Second on what Shadow said.  Nethack is an amazing experience that is only rivaled by its complication and gameplay depth.

I used to play a great one called Tales of Middle Earth (ToME), a Tolkien themed ASCII Rogue-like, but set in an expansive world.  It wasn't until I read your article that I learned that the Tales of Maj'Eyal is the non-copyright infringed version of ToME!  Blew my mind, I tell you!  Great article!
@bombatomba: I never knew about that! See, this genre is too darn big!
You put a lot of time into this write-up, it would seem - well done!  I have a hard time warming up to this kind of game, mostly due to the random/procedurally generated stuff.  I want to be able to find my way through something and know where I'm going without having to second guess myself.  I have a hard enough time getting (and keeping) my bearings in games with large maps, so this genre has never appealed to me, but to those who love them, I say enjoy!

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