Jay Little - Software Obsessionist
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My Ode to Rogue-Likes
5/16/18 1:19:26 AM

Everybody knows that I love to play RPGs (Role Playing Games). In fact I love them so much that over the last few years I mostly stopped playing games from every other genre. Despite that, my love for RPGs has begun to wane a bit in recent years. While I do still love getting immersed in wonderfully complex multi-layered lore and tweaking my stats and skills to best maximize my chances for victory, somewhere along the way the thrill of that began to fade. Maybe it's the fact that I've played hundreds or even thousands of these games and after awhile they all start to blur together. Or perhaps it's the fact that the infamous RPG grind really can wear you down if you spend too much time grappling with it.

Nearly a year ago I stumbled across a game on Steam called Caves of Qud and I absolutely fell in love. Caves of Qud is a highly evolved member of the RPG sub-genre affectionately known as Rogue-Likes. While it's not the first game in the genre I've played, it's the one that really ignited my passion for it.

Why is the genre called Rogue-Like? Because the very first game in this sub-genre was called Rogue and it was released all the way back in 1980. What is a Rogue-Like? It's basically an RPG variant with turn based combat, some element of randomness in terms of the precise challenges you will face and most importantly: permadeath. That's right. When you die in these games, it's forever. You can't reload and try a different variation and must start over. So if your first conclusion is that these games are hella-hard, you are absolutely correct.

Once the random elements are thrown into the mix, you have a situation in which each and every play through is unique. Since one false step can result in your character permanently dying and you don't have any real way of knowing what you'll face in advance, players tend to be very careful and consider the consequences of every action. Throw in some great character customization and you've got a perfect storm of game play.

Have I ever finished a Rogue-Like? Hell no. Not even close. And that's not for a lack of trying either. But I love them. The question you might be asking yourself is, "Why?" Well that's simple. Each time I play a Rogue-Like, my experience is unique. My choices may or may not positively effect the outcome. It's also entirely possible that my run will be doomed from the get go making me nothing more than a victim of circumstance.

The beauty in this genre is the experience itself. It isn't about beating the game so much as it is about experiencing it. To me that's why I love Rogue-Likes so much. Instead of mindlessly ripping through games just to be able to say that I "beat" them, Rogue-Likes remind me that in games, as in life, the journey often is more important than the destination.

So are you interested? Well if so, here is the good news. There are tons of Rogue-Likes out there and they are either free or relatively cheap. If you want something free then give the classic Nethack a try. It's close to the original Rogue and it's still actively maintained even today. It's compatible with virtually every operating system out there. If you want something a bit more user friendly and accessible, you'll probably want to step up to something you pay for. Here is a brief list of some of my favorites:

  • ADOM

    A more graphical and user friendly variant of Nethack. If you like Nethack, you'll probably want to try this next.

  • Dungeons of Dredmor

    A relatively recent and accessible game with tons of character customization and a lot of tongue-in-cheek RPG humor. Great fun with lots of replay value.

  • FTL

    This one is actually sci-fi based and it's pretty amazing. While some of the mechanics differ from a typical Rogue-Like, it definitely qualifies. Trying to outrun the Federation and take down their flagship makes for one hell of a good time.

  • Caves of Qud

    In my opinion this is the ultimate achievement when it comes to Rogue-Likes. When complimenting this game, it is hard to know where to start. The character customization is out of this world. The immense variety of possible scenarios modeled here are out of this world. Even the lore and history of the game world is randomly generated. This game is huge, it is complex, it is deep, it is alluring, it is unforgiving and it is absolutely amazing. The best part is: It's still a work in progress. The developers are putting out updates each and every week and it just keeps getting better and better.

Want even more? Check out this Steam search for the tags "Rogue-like" and "Rogue-lite" for a metric frigton of these kinds of games. Most of them are insanely cheap and offer insane amounts of replay value. It's hard to ask for more than that from any game, much less a cheap one.

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