Roguelike games are a mixed bag, not in terms of quality, but mostly in terms of the specific way they interpret the genre. Derived from Rogue, a video game from 1980, roguelikes tend to have procedurally generated world, often in the form of dungeons, and a system that sends you back to square one when you die.
Some games, usually called “roguelite”, allow you to keep a measure of power accumulated during the previous run, like gold, or experience, making each run progressively easier, until you reach the next stumbling block which sends you back.
With that established, let’s begin our run through the gauntlet of this list of the best roguelikes you can play today.
Caves of Qud
Caves of Qud looks pretty old-school. Although not as devoutly ASCII as Rogue or ADOM were, of course, it’s still quite visually distinct from most roguelikes launched in the past decade.
The menus look simple, but clear and easy to read, and so do the environments presented from a top-down, 2D perspective. The game even has the keyboard-based controls familiar to fans of the classics.
The Caves of Qud’s world mixes science fiction with fantasy, which means you’ll fight monsters one moment and robots another. You can play as a mutant, which gives you the ability to pick from dozens of possible options, which include some pretty weird ones. The enemies enjoy the same level of complexity as your character, by the way, which opens the way to some creative solutions.
Children of Morta
Children of Morta is a game about a family of adventurers guarding the entrance to a certain dungeon located at Mount Morta.
They defend the place from the forces of what’s known as “The Corruption”, ale each member of the family has their own method of doing so, be it a traditional sword and board fighter, to a monk, or a spellcaster. Along the way, you’ll live the family’s daily life.
Since this game is at its core about familial connections, it stands to reason that it would be playable in multiplayer… and it is! Better yet, Children of Morta features local co-op, and viable for the “Remote Play Together” feature letting you play local co-op games…online through screen-sharing. Going back to back against monsters feels great, and the specializations complement each other very well.
Dead Cells is one of the most critically acclaimed roguelikes of recent years.
Its protagonist is a blob of clearly magical biomass that attaches itself to dead bodies in a sewer/dungeon in hope of escaping the prison it’s locked in. Every time you succumb to the deadly enemies, you go back to the beginning, with a portion of what you’ve accumulated during the last run through the dungeon.
The combat system requires skill and learning each foe’s moveset, because death, as usual in roguelikes, comes fast to the careless. The games is 2D, and shares some of its DNA with the Castlevania games, in a blend called “RogueVania” by the developers, although the dungeon is procedurally generated rather than set in stone like in ‘vanias, which makes for great replayability.
FTL - Faster Than Light
As a break from all the fantasy games that are going to populate this list, FTL – Faster Than Light is unmistakably a science fiction game, and one closer to Star Trek.
You’re given control of a spaceship, you have a crew, the only thing that’s left is setting the course and dealing with the complications you encounter along the way, most of them from the xenophobic rebels you’re at war with.
You receive a remarkable amount of control over your ship’s systems, letting you reroute power to vital subsystems, assign crew duties, or guide the upgrades. Your task is traveling through several procedurally generated sectors, with the main base of your faction, the Federation, waiting for you at the end. But so is the rebel flagship that you’ll need to fight off, so try to avoid damaging your ship.
|Release year:||2018 (Early Access)|
A small hit by a seasoned developer Supergiant Games, hades tells the story of on Zagreus, here playing the role of Hades’ son, despite his unclear lineage in the original myths themselves.
He isn’t particularly happy in his father’s domain of the dead, so he tries to escape…again and again. Nobody simply walks out of the underworld, but Zagreus has the player’s skill and gifts from other gods.
Hades looks great, with a colorful, hand-drawn environment, polished, clear animations, and plenty of ways to build your character, from various weapons to blessing from Greek gods that enjoy looking at Zagreus’ struggle to escape. You’ll also encounter plenty of heroes of assorted myths, from Achilles to Sisyphus. The upside of repeated failures is that you’ll get to decorate your apartments.
In Finnish the word „noita” means „a witch”, and incidentally, a witch is the player character. She will also fight creatures inspired by Finnish legends.
Noita’s big thing as a game is that it boasts about every pixel of the environment being simulated, and it certainly looks this way. You have many, many ways of interacting with the environment and you can trust it to react in a logical, expected way.
Although Noita is very clearly pixel-based, there is a solid physics system governing their behavior, so if you break the wall of a glass container you should better hope the liquid isn’t toxic, because you’ll be flooded with it if you’re not careful. There is a pretty impressive degree of flexibility to which you can customize your spellcasting, with many spells and wand modifiers you can discover in the world.
Risk of Rain & Risk of Rain 2
The Risk of Rain games blend wave survival with roguelike level and powerup generation.
The original RoR was a 2D, platformer-like affair, whereas RoR2 is a fully 3D game, which even adapts player characters from the original game into the third dimension. In both cases, you need to find a teleporter and survive the waves of enemies as you wait for it to power up. The trick is…you don’t have to go.
The longer you play, the harder the run becomes, but the rewards also increase proportionately. There are also boss-level monsters for which the players should keep an eye out, because they can wreck your run very quickly. Thankfully, every character has unique abilities which make the game much replayable, because there’s always a temptation to check out that one newly unlocked character.
Slay the Spire
Normally you would expect a roguelike game to have a more action-y style of gameplay, maybe a few shades of Dark Souls here and there, but mostly something speedy and punishing.
Slay the Spire ditches that in favor of being a singleplayer card game. And it’s a damn good one, too, even as it’s doing thing many other card games don’t do, like telegraphing the enemy moves.
Slay the Spire features several characters, each with unique mechanics, who try to get to the top of the titular Spire. It’s a massive structure with each floor featuring some monsters, shopkeepers, or just a place to rest. The trick lies in building the right deck, supporting it with artifacts or various kinds, and picking the right route from floor to floor right up to the pinnacle of the tower.
The Binding of Isaac
|Developer||Edmund McMillen, Florian Himsl|
The Binding of Isaac isn’t much of a cheerful game, it has filth, blood, and guts, and even drawn in a cartoonish way, it doesn’t look as if there was any intent to make them cute, just easy to identify in the chosen art style.
But aesthetic aside, the game is a tight, tense, rather dark roguelike about a child running from his insane mother into a horrific basement filled with nightmares.
The game describes itself as an action RPG shooter, which is quite an apt description. There are unlockable classes, plenty of equipment that can veer strongly into the bizarre territory, many enemies and variants of them which will have you run for your life to come back stronger. There’s even an expansion, which adds a massive amount of extra content.
Wizard of Legend
Wizard of Legend is a game about a novice wizard going through the trials of magic in order to join the ranks of the greatest spellcasters in the world.
The dungeon used for the trials is hardly free of danger, but there are also shopkeepers who have new spells on offer, or helpful items to complement your playstyle. Some items are also available at the hub camp from which you begin your runs.
The game moves REALLY fast and once you get the spell loadout that works for you, you’ll be blazing through levels surrounded by raw elements of creation, cruising on ice waves, flinging firebolts at your foes, and causing geomantic shockwaves through the floor. It’s a flurry of colours, dodging, and stylish cloaks, all presented in a pixelated art style which makes it look the good kind of vintage.