Hands On: Rogue Legacy

By John Walker on May 9th, 2013 at 5:00 pm.

It’s foolish to try to predict a hit.

I cannot imagine a world in which Rogue Legacy is not a hit.

There’s no question that Rogue Legacy owes a massive amount to Spelunky. But crucially, it’s an evolution of the type of game, not a mimic, a festival of completely original ideas on top of a familiar roguelike platformer mechanic. In each new game a castle (and later tower, forest and dungeon) is procedurally generated in gorgeous 2D pixel art, into which your brave hero must venture, gathering gold, blueprints and bonus items, seeing how far he or she can reach before inevitable death. But rather than starting again from scratch, here every death is met with progress.

Firstly, the next character you play is one of three descendants of the last, each with a collection of unique traits. You might have a Lady Barbarian, a tank character, with dwarfism, and a spell ability that sends scythes flying out of her. Or perhaps a Knave, low stats but with bit critical hits, born with hypergonadism meaning he’s “perma-roided”, along with gigantism, and an axe spell. The again you might get a Mage, weak but with stronger spells, who happens to be gay, and also hyperactive. Some are colour-blind (game in black and white – and yes, they already know that’s not colour-blind), others are short-sighted (the screen gets blurrier the farther away it is from your character). Or how about an Assassin with hypogonadism and IBS? He farts as he jumps, and possesses weak limbs. Yeah – maybe not him.

Picking from three, it generally allows you to avoid classes that don’t suit how you play, but still forces you into variation. I much prefer playing as the Barbarian, but they’re not always on offer. Which leads me toward a class I may have previously avoided, and a new approach.

But there’s far more to it than that. Gold gathered on a run can then be spent in two different ways. In the preview code I’ve been playing I’ve only access to the Castle portion of the game, and for this I have a very involved screen that lets me unlock more and more of the building (the castle growing new wings and turrets as I pick them). I can invest gold in improving basic stats like HP and magic, or improving strength to wear heavier armour. But this page also lets you unlock new character classes, and indeed add improvements to those you already have. Your Mages can become Archmages, Knaves become Assassins, Shinobis into a Hokage. Eventually you can tweak elements like your attack speed, your crit chances, your gold haul, and so on.

But then there’s the stores too. Before you re-enter the castle, also unlocked through the previous page, is a Blacksmith, and Enchantress, and an Architect. The first lets you improve your armour and weapons, the second adds new abilities, and the third lets you replay the same castle you were previously in for a small fee.

To get new stuff to buy from the Blacksmith and Enchantress, you have to have found the plans for them in a previous run. Once there, you have a whole bunch of options to pick from. And the most interesting of these come from the latter: from her you can add double, triple, even quadruple jumps. You can implement dashes, letting you dart left or right (which proves enormously useful when solving some of the game’s challenge rooms). And you can even add the ability to temporarily fly.

So it is that the more you play, the more involved the game becomes. The first few times I stepped inside the castle I barely lasted a couple of rooms. I was convinced that the game might be too hard, and that I was going to bounce off it. But the immediacy of another turn, and the chances offered by a new character with different skills, meant I couldn’t resist trying again. And the more gold I brought back, thus the more I added on to my choices and abilities, the farther I could get. It never becomes easy – not by a long shot – but I became more equipped to cope with its busy, challenging levels. Eventually I reached a point where entering the room with the castle’s boss didn’t mean death in under a second!

Eventually I defeated the boss.

And in doing so, I technically finished this extended demo version of the game. But I did not stop playing. I have not stopped playing.

That’s why I’m so confident about Rogue Legacy. Even when I’d exhausted it of its twists and surprises, unlocked so many of its classes (of which there are more to be added, I’m told), and advanced things such that I can get a good long way through the castle on most runs, I keep playing.

The castle’s enemies are varied in their attacks, and many are devious. That keeps things interesting. The occasional encounters of giant versions of regular enemies are daunting, and still mostly finish me. The new skills I’m still adding still change how I approach things – I’m really not sure how I feel about flying, still trying to figure that one out. Still, still, still. The game just keeps offering more, and this is with only a quarter of it available to me.

It deserves a success as big as Spelunky’s. It merits it. That it can provide the same insanely moreish desire to play again and again and again, but at the same time sustain a sense of continuous progress, is a massive achievement long before the game’s even finished. And here’s the thing: say it could be completed after a squillion plays through? Start again! It’s a roguelike after all – it’d be a new experience all over again.

I was wrong about something once (I thought I’d got something wrong, but it turned out I was right) so I accept it could happen again. But I feel it’s safe to say that if Rogue Legacy isn’t a huge success, then there is no justice left in the universe. I’ve played less than a quarter of what the game will eventually offer, bleeding it dry of its treats and secrets, and yet I keep playing. It has the compulsivity, it has twenty buckets of unlockables, and perhaps most importantly, the platform game inside it all is great fun to play. This should be big.

You can pre-order the game as of now, for $10. That will include the soundtrack, which is especially good.

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50 Comments »

  1. karry says:

    “I cannot imagine a world in which Rogue Legacy is not a hit.”

    You dont have to imagine it, you’re already living in one.

    • povu says:

      Oh my god, an opportunity for us all to change the world!

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        Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

        My first decree: The oceans will henceforth be cheese. Suck it, manatees.

      • semout12 says:

        Evan. I just agree… Patrick`s report is impressive… last tuesday I bought a great Volkswagen Golf GTI after I been earnin $8978 this-last/5 weeks an would you believe $10,000 last-munth. it’s realy the easiest-job Ive ever done. I began this 3 months ago and immediately got me over $73 per-hr. I went to this website wow65.com
        (Go to site and open “Home” for details)

    • Captain Joyless says:

      EXACTLY WTF

      So let me get this straight:

      1. the game is done
      2. i have sufficient money to purchase the game
      3. I AM NOT PLAYING THE GAME RIGHT NOW

      STEAM GREENLIGHT WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOUUUUUUUUUUUUUU

  2. Veritaas says:

    I haven’t wanted a game so badly since Terraria videos started getting posted constantly on /v/. It’s really frustrating that they’re waiting for the game to actually get Greenlit, but I don’t blame them. Having a game available on Steam is a huge boon to the game’s sales.

    That being said, maybe that says something about Greenlight/Steam as a platform. It’s very difficult for indie devs to get onto the platform, though I can somewhat understand Valve’s position on this. They don’t want to dilute Steam’s library of games with thousands of shitty games being released every week.

    • Kiiyor says:

      I was the same. Now, I excitedly check the starbound forums each day for even the tiniest morsels of information.

  3. squareking says:

    I just want interface buttons that aren’t Xboxy. Do that for me and I’ll preorder.

    • aliksy says:

      Oh, I hate ports that have xbox interface crap.

      Other than that, this game looks very interesting

    • John Walker says:

      Not a port. I just chose to play with a 360 controller because it’s the best tool for such games.

      • aliksy says:

        Pistols at dawn.

        • misterT0AST says:

          Choose your pistol from the handy inventory wheel.

        • tobecooper says:

          Maybe you should use your preferred input devices in the showdown.
          Though, I fear it would quickly descent into a lasso fight.

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            darkChozo says:

            K&M has more reach as a melee weapon, but controllers make fairly effective thrown weapons, as many a console gamer can attest to. I would say that it comes down to whether the K&M user could get in range before getting pelted down; if he can, the fight’s over.

          • The Random One says:

            Only a fool throws their controller, it’s much more effective as a mace. Likewise, only a fool would use their keyboard as anything other than a shield. The controller has more heft, so the controller user should fight aggressively and keep the M+K user distracted. Should he lose focus he will also lose the fight.

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          RedViv says:

          Here lies aliksy
          Slain by the dread knight Walker
          Seems like hiding at an exact diagonal angle was not the best idea.

      • Mctittles says:

        I enjoy playing these types of games with a controller, but not usually the bulky 360 one. Most developers ignore other input devices though.

        Which was most likely Microsoft’s plan when they didn’t have support for other controllers “out of the box” with XNA.

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    AlwaysRight says:

    I watched the trailer to this last night, when I finished watching it I took my headphones off (I was wearing headphones at the time), stood up (I was sitting at the time), scrunched my brow, nodded my head and said out loud -

    “Yes”

    (Then I got intense deja vu)

  5. Swanny says:

    So it’s Spelunky-ish…
    With Terraria-ish NPC’s…
    And a couple of Binding of Isaac-ish upgrades at the start?

    *swoon*

  6. internisus says:

    Meh. It needs better play mechanics. The way it feels to move, to jump, and to slash seems to me to lack nuance and satisfaction. It simply isn’t a very strong action platformer, which means that all of the promising structural stuff going on is wasted effort.

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    darkChozo says:

    I think I’ve liked literally everything I’ve seen about this game. Looks absolutely wonderful.

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    Lambchops says:

    I thought this looked great last time I saw it mentioned here and this further makes me think it’s right down what is currently my alley. Looking forward to giving it a go.

  9. Dromph says:

    I want this. NOW!
    It’s been a while since I was so excited about a game which hasn’t been released yet.

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    slerbal says:

    This looks great, and I’d like to pre-order this but I have one concern:

    Is release of the game specifically tied to being approved in Greenlight? Given people’s comments on this thread and previous I am getting that impression, but their site doesn’t specifically say this…

    Because if that is the case I’m not pre-ordering with such a nebulous release based on a 3rd party they have no control of. I will still get it after launch, but money’s tight right now.

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      slerbal says:

      I’ve voted it up on Greenlight, regardless. Whatever the answer to my question: Good luck to them :)

    • Dromph says:

      Don’t worry, the devs already stated that they are looking into other distribution models when they don’t get greenlit.

  11. ZeeHogarth says:

    “I feel it’s safe to say that if Rogue Legacy isn’t a huge success, then there is no justice left in the universe”

    Checks Rogue Legacy site, sees this quote already on their website, notices John Walker’s scary red eyes.

    Now I think I might be too scared to preorder this :(

  12. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    I do feel that the game needs a demo. As it is it feels promising but potentially disappointing. Potentially.

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    strangeloup says:

    I was sold on this about a third of the way through the article, but I patiently read through the rest in case there was anything that would put me off, like a special external DRM box that requires you to feed it a puppy every time you want to install.

    Fortunately, no such traps were present, and although Paypal rather disconcertingly worked out $10 to be £6.66, it’s still a very good price. Looking forward to playing, though I couldn’t find an inkling of a release date beyond “sort of vaguely soon”.

    Also, I thought hypergonadism meant having really big balls.

  14. Freud says:

    I have a backlog of games that will last me 200 hours at this point. I haven’t even bought Dark Souls/Dishonored/Bioshock Infinite/Far Cry 3 yet, which will give me another 200 hours.

    Sisyphus for a digital age.

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      dahauns says:

      I hear you, brother.
      I recently bought Dark Souls when it was on sale and to this day slightly wonder why.
      And the recent Old School RPG (Kickstarter) Craze has started to fill me with dread.
      Proj. Infinity
      Wasteland 2
      Torment
      Divinity Original Sin
      Grimrock 2
      The Lord British Thing
      Might and Magic Legacy

      When am I going to play all this?

  15. stump sock says:

    Is it weird that I pre-purchased a game based solely on the promise of roguelike birth defects?

  16. dacapo says:

    So my character could be short-sighted, have weak limbs, fart a lot, or… be gay ? Ok, how does THAT translate in terms of game mechanics ? maybe it’s because I’m not very straight myself, or maybe John’s description of the various character traits is a bit too vague, but this part of the article felt quite weird.

    • Rete says:

      Gay does something in our game. But it’s a secret. Probably one of my most favorite. I’m going out on a limb here, but I think a lot of people will hopefully like it.

      • Lazarus_Soma says:

        Huh my thought was that it was just a bit of extra flavour text and not actually a impacting factor in the gameplay, although I suppose making out with a particularly fetching rat-man mini boss works too; maybe too well :p

      • Temple says:

        No descendents? Or a choice of adopted ones…
        (just want to say your responses on here made me buy the game (and the game seems good too, of course))

  17. ScorpionWasp says:

    So this is a game that takes the defining characteristic of rogue-likes, the thing that makes them pure and virtuous and the One True Way to Game(tm) (perma-death with complete isolation between your various playthroughs), and takes a piss on it. It adds MMO elements to them. Skinner boxes. Because it’s not like every single fucking game nowadays has that sorta thing. No, what we need is more games with unlocks and levels and PROGRESS in them. Games that are unwinnable by design until you have grinded for hundreds of hours. Games where any sense of challenge is destroyed by the fact every single playthrough will necessarily be easier than the previous. Games where you can’t really tell exactly what you accomplished when you finish it. How much better at it you have really gotten. What is your actual skill at it. Because balancing difficulty is hard, and a progress system ensures everyone will eventually be able to overcome it. Yes, great news indeed. Let’s receive it with open arms. NOT.

    • The Random One says:

      Unlike NetHack, which obviously can be beaten the first time by someone who knows nothing of the game and has never read any wikis, and definitively doesn’t require you to grind for gear!

    • Rete says:

      You can actually beat the game in 1 play through, which means you won’t level at all. It’s pretty insanely difficult to do, but you can do it. We very purposefully avoided doing any type of gear-check in our game (blocking you off from progressing via pure numbers). If anything, adding dynamic scaling into the game while still maintaining this macro balance was a whole lot MORE work to do.

      And I know we can’t please everyone, but before you say the game is junk, if you really want a challenge, we have an additional mode in the game which I think you’d appreciate.

      • Lazarus_Soma says:

        You know what? I think I rather like you sir and your game truly intrigues me with the ridiculous amount of effort you folks have seemingly put into it, you can consider me currently throwing cash at the screen for your release.

        (edit) andd greenlighted as well

  18. MellowKrogoth says:

    Ha ha, they quoted and represented John Walker on their website, he has RPS armor and scary red eyes :D !

  19. Flavioli says:

    “But rather than starting again from scratch, here every death is met with progress.”

    This, developers. This is how you get me to buy your game. Do more of this kind of thing.

  20. Mdnthrvst says:

    >roguelike platformer
    Aren’t oxymorons supposed to be funny?

    Sorry, but this, and FTL, and the Binding of Isaac, and Spelunky, are roguelike-likes.
    The distinction is important so that true roguelike communities – you know, ones that play games like Cataclysm: DDA, games all but ignored by the mainstream press – don’t get inundated with casual fans mistaken about the topic of discussion at hand.
    There’s nothing wrong with experimentation, but calling a game that borrows a handful of elements from Genre A a fully-fledged constituent of Genre A is disingenuous.

    Nor is ‘roguelike platformer’ anything but ridiculous. It is not an adjective.
    “Roguelike” does not just signify randomness and permadeath, despite the insistence of uninformed journalists and apathetic indies. It is a very old, very rich, and very convention-driven genre that existed for *decades* before any of these riffs on it ever came into existence.

    • minic78 says:

      Like it or not, “roguelike” was misdefined. Whoever’s to blame for the trend of calling games with perma-death and randomly-generated levels “rogue-likes” instead of “rogue-like-likes”, it doesn’t matter. It’s now a term that developers must use to market their game if it has these characteristics, so you’re going to have to deal with this grave injustice. You have my sympathy. Truly.