Potions And Pitfalls: My Year In Roguelikes

If a Roguelike sent you a Christmas card, this is what it would say

It’s been a fantastic year for Roguelikes, with continued development of the stalwarts and plenty of releases that have toyed with the formula, sometimes reshaping it until it’s almost unrecognisable. I’ve even managed to have great roiling arguments with people about whether certain games should be called Roguelikes or not. That led to Roguelikelikes, which I am simple enough of mind to be pleased about. I also love that people care so much about these permutations of a thirty one year old game that they are willing to bicker about them with strangers. The dungeons and wildernesses are more populated than ever. So, scrolls and potions at the ready? Down into the depths we go.

I know several people who had their first taste of Roguelike this year thanks to the comedic charms of Dungeons of Dredmor. To them I say, yes, drink well of this draught, but do not ignore the more potent chemicals on offer. You see, the cartoon silliness of Dredmor is wonderful, but the way I see it, it’s the perfect gateway offering. All the elements are in place, with plenty of odd perks and quirks, and the user interface is as friendly an example as you’ll experience. However, there simply isn’t all that much to Dredmor in comparison to the many games that inspired it. One day there may be. After all, it’s still growing and many roguelikes have been in development for decades.

I’ll talk about some of those wizened old gents later but first, a shout out to Brogue, which is my favourite discovery of the year in the field of traditional Roguelikes. In many ways, it’s a simpler take, and therefore another good way to introduce people to the genre. However, the simplicity is, in many ways, a paring back of clutter. Instead of having hundreds of monsters, Brogue has just a few but each one feels unique, with tricks and habits that mark it out. The dungeons also feel more varied and alive, with different types of terrain, randomly generated quest rooms and traps, and clever use of water. If you’ve never played a Roguelike at all, or only Dredmor, this could be the place to start.

This is Brogue. Say hello!

But now let’s look at the long-lived lords of the dungeon. Once upon a time, there were only four of these punishing delights that I was interested in. Ancient Domains of Mystery (ADOM), Angband, Nethack and Crawl. All but the first have masses of variants, which tend to either add lots and lots of new stuff or switch the theme. ADOM is somewhat unusual in that it has a quest more complex than ‘descend until you find the biggest baddie and then kill him’. ADOM’s story ties into an overworld that isn’t procedurally generated, with specific dungeons scattered about the place. Some are completely random, as you’d expect, others have certain ‘rules’ applied to their randomness and some have a custom design. On the whole, it’s loot-grabbing dungeon-crawling goodness though, with a vast array of races and classes to choose from and a more in-depth skill tree than is often the case.

For many years, ADOM was my Roguelike of choice. I’ve even beaten it a couple of times, which is more than can be said for any of the Angbands, Crawls and Hacks. I reckon it’s a good first step into the wider world, if only because the structure provides a decent sense of progression, and monsters and items fit generic fantasy types, making them easily recognisable by name, which is handy given their ascii form. ADOM’s creator has been talking about his next game, JADE, for many years now and it’s finally in playable form. This means ADOM’s development has (as far as I know) ceased completely, but because of its more prescribed course, it always felt like a more complete game than most of the others here anyway. Despite having been anticipating it for more than ten years, I haven’t played JADE yet. I’m waiting ’til it’s in a more finished state. You can download ADOM here.

Oh look, it's ADOM. Our names sound alike, I guess.

There’s a list of Angband variants here, several of which are still in development, but I find it hard to recommend any other than TOME in this day and age. The original Angband, dating back to 1990, took the Rogue template and added more of everything, overlaying a Middle Earth vibe in the process. TOME, which originally stood for Tales of Middle Earth, was originally a more Lord of the Ringsy take on the same code, but it now has its own mythology and offers a more tactical take on the proud perma-death traditions.

Like TOME, Incursion looks like any other roguelike but plays differently. With a stronger emphasis on meaningful character progression. I’m a huge fan but, sadly, it’s no longer in development and people far more on the ball than me inform me it is still in development and I was looking in the wrong place! Even when the original developers do seem to cease their labour though, thanks to the opensource nature of many Roguelikes, someone else will pick up the slack or implement the better ideas elsewhere. Unless that Roguelike is IVAN, which doesn’t look quite like any other Roguelike and hasn’t been copied anywhere near enough.

This is IVAN. Run away from its devious limb-chopping.

The inclusion of such glorious features as limb-loss, bleeding and body part transmutation required spritework that could show crimson pools and trails, as well as chunks of flesh scattered around a room. It’s woefully incomplete, with only a couple of areas to explore and coat with blood, but the graphics are actually quite lovely and having legs made of steel is impossible not to enjoy. It’s also the only game I know of, except for Die By The Sword perhaps, that actively encourages players to recreate the Black Knight scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

The closest contender to TOME as a feature-packed, content-packed uber-example of the genre is probably Stone Soup, the definitive version of Crawl. It receives regular updates, has plenty of graphical options for those who desire them, and an incredible amount of items to identify, monsters to be killed by, and choices of character and religion. I’ve probably played it more than any other game this year, which is remarkable considering that it’s free and I’ve been playing what is essentially this same game since 1995. Actually, that’s not remarkable, it’s actually quite scary when I think about it, which is why I’m going to stop thinking about it.

That would be Rogue Survivor. Look at the little cars!

How’s about something with guns in it? There is a tendency to stick with the fantasy tropes of old but sometimes, a man just wants a shotgun and some demons to kill. Then that man realises that there is a Doom Roguelike (DoomRL), thinks that such a thing can’t possibly be any good and is then pleasantly surprised when it’s actually quite the thing. It doesn’t have a great deal of depth but it really is Doom as a Roguelike; everything you’d expect is in there and it all works as you’d expect. Except it’s turn-based. The next time someone mocks me for wishing more games were turn-based, I may just say, “Doom was turn-based, after all, and that worked very well indeed”, denying all knowledge of any other version.

There are more guns, although never enough, in Rogue Survivor. I’m always surprised there isn’t a more established zombie Roguelike and it’s a shame that progress on Survivor seems to have stalled somewhat. It’s a bit like Project Zomboid, except turn-based and with random generation. Even though zombies are officially boring now, slow-burning survival horror could be well-suited to the encouragement of exploration and fear of death that permeates Roguelikes, so I’d like to see this go further.

Red Rogue, that be. It's full of blood, just like a person!

Then there are the others, the outliers, the ones that don’t quite fit but I’d feel mean not to mention. The Binding of Isaac is one, of course, with its deliberately demented take on both Zelda and Rogue. It’s the Roguelike as arcade game, which is about as strange a cocktail as you could wish for. Particularly considering that the other primary ingredients are infant tears and fly-bothered piles of poo. Red Rogue is similar in some ways – like Spelunky before it, the easiest way to explain the Roguelike parts is simply to say they have been plugged into a platform game. In comparison to Spelunky, Red Rogue is more Roguelike and less platformer.

For the ultimate take on survival, and a game with both real time and turn-based segments, we must head into the frozen North where the unforgiving Unreal World awaits. There are no tournaments to be seen, just a Nordic landscape in which to hunt, cook, craft, build and die of hypothermia. It’s a game where an unexpected snowstorm can be the end of a character who doesn’t have the right clothing, which he may have made himself by killing and skinning a bear. It’s a game where, depending on the season and the weather, it might be necessary to punch holes in ice in order to fish, or to sleep beneath shelter in order to live through the night. In short, it’s not quite like anything else out there and I’m sure there are people who crave something just like it but don’t know it exists.

Desktop Dungeons approaches, looking coy and puzzlingly attractive.

Finally, Desktop Dungeons. One of my favourite games of recent years. It’s the Roguelike as puzzle game and it’s as close to perfect as any game I can think of, with a design that’s challenging, deceptively simple and immensely satisfying. It’s using the skin of a Roguelike to live within but what hides inside is something of an imposter. But that goes to show the skin has its own appeal, which continues to surprise me. When I first started playing these things, nearly twenty years ago, they felt doomed to be forgotten by all but a few. If anything, it feels like more people are playing and talking about them, or at least the things influenced by them, than ever before. Here’s to thirty more years of exploration and inspiration.


  1. JB says:

    I love Unreal World. I haven’t played for a while though, I might just have to do that over the holidays.

    Speaking of playing UrW, Quinns mentioned once that he was considering a diary (in the vein of Onionbog etc), any chance of you having a crack at it (as a fellow Smith)?

  2. djbriandamage says:

    If you’re going as far as to classify The Binding of Isaac as a roguelike then I’ll volunteer Realm of the Mad God (www.realmofthemadgod.com) as another triumph of design – a free game that marries Rogue, Gauntlet, and Diablo. RPS loved this game and it was their enthusiasm that coerced me to try it. I put a good 6 or 7 hours into this game as well as $5 to thank the developers for their game and frequent updates.

    I love this melding of oldskool game tropes with modern graphics and multiplayer. Old strategy and twitch games used to only be tolerable because we’d tend to buy a game and run it into the ground before buying another, but thanks to the prevalence of free and freemium games we can get instant gratification today and play as long or as short as we wish, for as little money as we deem worthy.

    • Urthman says:

      I love this melding of oldskool game tropes with modern graphics

      This is what I’d really like to see. Has anyone done a roguelike with actually modern graphics? Something using the Unreal Engine or Unity or a Torchlight mod? Or even a few generations older than that — something in a nice sprite-based engine that looks comparable to Diablo 2?

      Dungeons of Dredmore is charming, but the graphics look like something that could be done in a Sega Genesis game. I’d probably be happy with even that level of graphical fidelity (it’s a giant leap beyond ASCII art) but I find the actual artwork in Dredmore very unappealing, unfortunately.

    • Veracity says:

      Why not Diablo 2, then? Too streamlined to count? I suppose it depends exactly what “traditional” features you require.

      There’s Baroque (PS2/Wii), but that’s real-time, plus only four people like it and three of them are just being contrary. It does achieve the extraordinary feat of having a plot that accommodates a largely conventional roguelike approach to “progression”, but it’s not a good plot, or anything. Azure Dreams (PS1) might be roughly what you want, but obviously even that’s pretty decrepit graphically by now, and wasn’t glorious to look at when it was new.

      Agree on the look of Dredmor, mind, with apologies to the artist. It looks foul enough I’d certainly prefer Crawl tiles and maybe even just the ascii cop-out, but I’m not at all sure why. It’s not the eyebrows.

    • MellowKrogoth says:

      There’s a Doom3 roguelike mod called Dungeon Doom that I never tried, but that most likely has… well… Doom3 graphics.

      However you sound like you haven’t played many roguelikes, and therefore don’t realise that the insane depth of contents in most roguelikes mentioned above is almost impossible to realize on a AAA level. There is such a combinatorial explosion of possibilities that coding them all in addition to making convicing graphics, animations and sounds for all of them would take forever… or at least way more time than most investors in AAA games are prepared to wait.

      Just to give an example, in Nethack you can be petrified by a Cockatrice. However, if you manage to kill this monster you can walk around holding its body, and petrify other monsters with it. But, hold up the body in front of a reflective surface and you might petrify yourself. Blinding yourself by various means (and the game “offers” loads of them besides a blindfold) might actually help here! Or if you’re overloaded or have been cursed by an angry god to walk around with a ball and chain, you’ll tumble down stairs every time you try to descend a flight of them. And here comes the catch: if you’re holding the Cockatrice body while tumbling down, you’ll be petrified as well.

      That’s just one set of thousands of possible interactions, and as you can imagine the above is already a nightmare to code, model and animate properly. Not to mention the quasi-impossibily to test properly a game with so many possibilities in a usual game development time-frame.

    • Urthman says:

      It’s true I haven’t really played any hardcore roguelikes, but I’ve read enough about them to be really interested in that complexity and to realize that asking for that to be implemented with any kind of graphical fidelity is asking a lot.

      But darn it, PC games are amazing! They regularly deliver more than I expect or thought possible, so I’m gonna ask for a roguelike with really great artwork, if not a modern graphics engine.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Bluerps says:

    I’ve played some roguelikes (mainly Nethack), but Dredmor is the only one I spent a significant amount of my time with (around 40 hours, and counting). I don’t know what it is – maybe the UI, the graphics, or simply the humor – but that game has something for me, that other roguelikes seem to lack.
    (Though it’s probably not the UI or the graphics, since I also spent much time with Dwarf Fortress…)

  4. onyhow says:

    Incursion is still being developed, it’s just that the dev didn’t talk much…

    Checkout the Google Group…last post was only 3 days ago by the dev…

    • Dominic White says:


      “The closest contender to TOME as a feature-packed, content-packed uber-example of the genre is probably Stone Soup, the definitive version of Crawl.”

    • Chris D says:

      Future generations will puzzle over the meaning of this exchange.

    • onyhow says:

      Sorry, I skimmed and skipped that part about DCSS…then I realized the mistake when I edit the post just as you replied…

    • Berzee says:

      I am that future generation.

    • Harlander says:

      There’s only one change-log entry that’s a must for Incursion:

      “Changed inventory system to not be like Omega.”

      Omega’s juggling-based inventory system is by far the least intuitive, most obnoxious item management system I’ve ever had to use, so much that I feel compelled to bring it up every time Incursion, otherwise a fanatically detailed, intriguing roguelike, is mentioned.

  5. Unaco says:

    Zangband TK. That’s what you want. Easily recommendable. So much so, I won’t write much more about it, and will let someone else do that…

    link to rockpapershotgun.com

    I was even considering making my own, slightly modified version, and calling it MalaZangband! This is mainly because I was stuck in Stockholm for a week, with a crappy laptop, no internet, and only the Malazan Book of the Fallen and ZangbandTK to keep me occupied, and that pun is too good to waste. But who wouldn’t want to throw Moranth munitions around, or roll a T’lan Imass?

    • Skeletor68 says:

      I just stopped everything else I was doing to log in and say PLEASE do this. Also you are my new best friend.

      A Malaz game would probably make me cry. If I ever win the Euro Millions I will fund this and we can make a rogue-like with a AAA budget.

    • Harlander says:

      Fie upon this!

      ToME is king of the ‘bands.
      link to roguebasin.roguelikedevelopment.org

      Lua scripting, plugin archetecture, a multiplayer version…. It’s got it all.

    • jon_hill987 says:

      zAngbandTK is brilliant.

    • cckerberos says:

      Thank you! I went looking for this some years back but found nothing but dead links.

    • erutan says:

      I’d second being very interested in a malazan mod. :)

  6. Dominic White says:

    DoomRL is getting a graphical version in the new year, last I checked. And yeah, Crawl is almost certainly the king of the genre right now – it’s intuitive, accessible, and doesn’t rely on ridiculous amounts of metagame knowledge like Nethack. Also, a very nice mouse UI and useful graphics.

    • andrewdoull says:

      Based on the voting for roguelike of the year, Tome 4 is ahead of DC:SS out of the ‘more traditional’ roguelikes. Dungeon Crawl had a lot of changes this year, but Tome had more. It is a bit of a stretch to call Tome 4 an Angband variant, seeing as it is a complete rewrite from scratch.

      Also, over 185 roguelikes were released this year (some updates, many new). That in itself is a huge success.

      I say over, because I missed a few while I was setting up the poll (Anquestria, a my little pony Angband variant, for instance).

  7. Matt says:

    If you’re going to give NetHack a whirl, you might as well do it in public – telnet to nethack.alt.org and get hacking, HJKL style.

    • Harlander says:

      It was on a public Nethack server that I actually succeded in ascending for the first and only time (in fact, it was pretty much the last time I played Nethack)

    • mistwolf says:

      I have been playing Nethack for 20 years (Yes. 20 YEARS) and have never ascended. Not once. The day I finally do may, in fact, be the last time I play it. Until then, I keep trying.

      I cannot reccomend alt.org enough! Especially once you know the Nethack controls and/or are used to text interfaces/telnet/ssh, it is an amazing place. Their ability to keep a game going even if you disconnect is wonderful (I assume they use some kind of automagically connected Screen variant) and it is great knowing there are others out there playing. And there is something deeply Zen-like about watching someone else play, especially someone GOOD. :)

      rec.games.roguelike.nethack was a great haunt back in the day (Or was it an alt.games? I can’t recall properly). One thing I miss in modern gaming is things like YASD posts. I firmly believe they were the precursor to social networking, that bite sized piece of info that just made you smile!

      Few games near perfection. Nethack is one of them. Sure there are various things you could tweak or fiddle with, but it is all incremental stuff at this point, and technologically there are amazingly few bugs to deal with. (Except those damned purple x’s. Stupid non-corpse-leaving bastards!)

  8. Ian says:

    I’ve just discovered that the old forum’s Zangband Character Memorial Thread is now lost. LOST.

    I’m sad now. :(

  9. Casimir's Blake says:

    Bah, not a single one of these is first-person. :(

    (DoomRL is really rather good though, somehow ASCII characters can impart such tension, given the right setting.)

    • Szpil says:

      “(DoomRL is really rather good though, somehow ASCII characters can impart such tension, given the right setting.)”

      Yeah I have to agree and I think alot of it has to do with DoomRL featuring the original Doom sounds and having a soundtrack (besides all the items and monsters can easily be remembered from Doom).

      I wish more rogue-likes would have some sound effects and soundtracks. Adds alot to atmosphere.

  10. Szpil says:

    Uuuh – so glad to see Brogue here. It is definetly my favourite rogue-like of the year. And it is actually very close to the original Rogue – with some new innovations and an excellent design.
    The UI is very good and clear and the ASCII graphics just look beautiful. It is also a huge step forward, that combat statistics and some of the item interaction are described within the game (monster descriptions etc.) – so that it can spare itself a wiki.
    It does have a mouse UI, but I’d recommend using the keyboard.

    • disperse says:

      Yes, I must agree. Brogue is the first true roguelike to catch my interest after years of playing Nethack (not counting Spelunky and Desktop Dungeons which were good games but not true roguelikes).

      The autoexplore ‘X’ command deserves special praise for taking a lot of the busywork out of the game. I’d like to see other roguelikes borrow this idea.

    • Skabooga says:

      Three cheers for Brogue! It has become one of my favorite roguelikes, surpassing even my nostalgia-ladden love for Mines of Moria. Perhaps the most tactical I’ve ever played a roguelike, I’ll spend a minute trying to determine what my next move should be sometimes, as opposed to just holding down ‘H’ until I’ve run through all the monsters in the room.

      Hell, Brogue is the only roguelike I’ve ever legitimately beat. Although in the interests of full disclosure, I couldn’t beat ADOM even with backing up my saves and reloading after death.

    • slM_agnvox says:

      disperse says: “The autoexplore ‘X’ command deserves special praise for taking a lot of the busywork out of the game. I’d like to see other roguelikes borrow this idea.”

      Pretty sure Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup pioneered that bit of functionality. Pretty sure I remember reading that autoexplore, which evolved from an autotravel function one of the code’s original caretakers coded in, was one of the key features that began the branching of Stone Soup from the original Crawl.

      DCSS has such an unbelievable amount of neat and powerful features built in, it is really incredible. Try Ctrl+F to search for an orc cloak, you’ll get a list of results, sorted by distance from character, price if item is in a shop, identification status… And selecting one of the results will auto travel your dude right to the tile it can be found.

    • Premium User Badge

      Waltorious says:

      Yes, Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup has had autoexplore for many years now, and it’s amazing. It makes it really hard to go back to any roguelike that does not have this feature. And not only that, but there are other fast-travel options too, like being able to tell your character to go back to the Lair of Beasts, Floor 3 and watch has he/she picks the fastest route there automatically. The search function is awesome, and there’s also a shopping list to keep track of items for sale that you can’t afford yet. And the tile graphics are great, showing you at a glance not only what enemies you’re facing but what kind of weapon they’re holding, whether they’ve seen you yet, whether they’re running away, whether they’re poisoned or confused, etc. It’s definitely my favorite roguelike.

      Having said all that, Brogue really is fantastic as well. Adam is spot on about each enemy feeling completely different, and the weapons are also quite differentiated with varying special attacks by type. Plus the use of fire and gas clouds is really cool. Highly recommended.

  11. kulik says:

    Everyone knows dwarf fortress by now i guess, no need for mention that but there is one game called Cataclysm, whitch is pretty awesome zombie apocaplyptic roguelike, go check it out.
    And of course Caves of Qud. Oh and Prospector if you’re in sci-fi kind of thing.

  12. InternetBatman says:

    I’ve only played Binding of Isaac and Dredmore. I can’t deal with the old interfaces and permadeath really bothers me. I will say this about Isaac, even as a someone who doesn’t play roguelikes I can see that it didn’t take enough from the genre. The lack of retreat and scarcity of coins means that you don’t really manage things, you just get lucky. Other roguelikes seem to be largely characterized by death from lack of caution, with some randomness thrown in. Isaac seems to be characterized by complete randomness with a little bit of skill.

    • Moist says:

      A very good point on one of the flaws of the Binding of Isaac. It’s not so much a roguelike but a series of very slightly randomised zelda rooms. The overall layout of the various rooms makes almost no difference at all to the gameplay. When it’s so restricted that the gameplay depends entirely on how much you’re enjoying that square, slightly randomised, uniform room of maybe a hundred or so templates it had better be really good gameplay.

      and it’s not

      The shooting feels awful and allowing you to move in eight directions and shoot in four is a horrible design decision. The enemies are only deadly in an attrition way; you either get overwhelmed or win. There’s very little actual tactical consideration beyond kiting, it’s really extremely limited. Allowing no starting diversity (until you beat the game several times in obscure ways, or, whatever) for a long time makes it fairly dull and repetitive.

      Really it takes a tiny part of Zelda gameplay, adds randomisation and a repulsive aesthetic and makes it the entirety of the game. I didn’t find it worth playing for long after I’d gotten over the mild nostalgia of doing the same thing I’d done several years in a better game.

    • MondSemmel says:

      Nonsense. At least up to the first Mom battle can be won with essentially any possible item combination. No luck whatsoever required.
      Beating Mom #2 or the new final boss is a different story (for me), but I think even this may be doable.
      Plus, once Isaac gets the D6, you can further reduce all aspects of luck in the game.

      But seriously, what made you claim the game is mostly luck-based? Rarely do I ever lose health in this game and say “that’s not my fault”.
      And there are mechanisms in the game to make sure you aren’t completely gimped. For example, every boss room spawns a guaranteed “stat-increasing item”.

      EDIT: I guess I’ll counter this dislike of Binding of Isaac by saying that I absolutely loved it, while simultaneously HATING Dungeons of Dredmor. That was an unholy mess of uninteresting gameplay and a horrible interface. Are you happy now?

    • Moist says:

      I quite like Dungeons of Dredmor, I do hope you played it on the hardest difficulty though. On “rogue” you really have to consider the value of the choices you make at the start of the game and what you choose when you level up, each encounter requires tactical consideration and keeping in mind an exit strategy if something goes wrong. If you don’t manage your mana and health it’s so easily another permanent death. It’s really quite compelling when the challenge forces you to consider most of the actions you take.

      I can see how the game might be boring on a lower difficulty without permanent death, and I do agree that the UI is flawed. I found it functional after a while and had few troubles. You’d probably murder someone if you had to deal with the UI of an ascii roguelike.

    • Moist says:

      The Binding of Isaac isn’t a thinking game, it’s a skill game where you are tested on your physical reflexes and ability to make a projectile that moves in three dimensions hit a two dimensional target. If you’re bad at that game then you can call the experience inconsistent and luck based. There is very little strategy beyond that summation of gameplay. So you’re unlucky if the level you enter is above your level of skill,

    • MondSemmel says:

      I did play Dungeons of Dredmor on the medium (I guess? Neither hardest nor easiest, in any case.) difficulty with permadeath on. I don’t see any point in playing such a game without permadeath.
      I played a character with Smithing, and I don’t think I’ve seen a similarly annoying interface for crafting before. I never had any idea what I could craft without scrolling through pages of stuff (or looking at the wiki, which had painfully slow loading times). Plus, once I had crafted the best possible armor from “normal” materials, I had no problems whatsoever until ~floor #6, and by that time I just wanted everything to end…The game was so completely, painfully slow!
      Also, I didn’t like the humor, and I had similar misgivings about the art style that I have heard voiced on RPS before: Different pieces didn’t seem to fit well together.

      I don’t tolerate bad interfaces well, but I did play Dwarf Fortress for a long time, so if that were the only issue I had with Dungeons of Dredmor, I wouldn’t complain that much.

      Concerning Isaac: Yes, the game features real-time action, but it’s not like the game hides it. It doesn’t claim to be a classical turn-based roguelike, so I don’t think it’s fair to fault it for that. If a player cannot tolerate real-time action, they should really stick to turn-based games. (And the other way around.) But there’s a lot more strategy required in the game than just fighting: The order you tackle the rooms in, and even whether you tackle all rooms on a floor at all (especially on the last 3 floors, where you take a lot more damage), whether and where to use keys, bombs or coins (e.g. I only have one key. Do I open the Shop on this floor, hoping for a good item, or do I go down a level and save the key for the Item Room there?); figuring out the many, many secrets (secret rooms, bombable blocks, etc.), and so on. After about 15h of gameplay, I did eventually look at the wiki pages, but especially until then, there were tons of things to learn even apart from the fighting mechanics.
      Also, even a full run until the end boss doesn’t take more than 1.5h of playing time. I really appreciate that: Isaac doesn’t overstay his welcome.

    • cckerberos says:

      The constant mentioning of Isaac when discussing roguelikes is, honestly, utterly baffling to me. What did it take from the genre? Randomized dungeons and you only get the one life? The first is hardly unique to roguelikes and the second shouldn’t be surprising in a short game you’re meant to complete in a single sitting. And meanwhile, its core gameplay is fundamentally different from any roguelike I’ve played.

      Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a good game. I just don’t get the need to connect it with a completely different series of games. The Diablo games have far, far more in common with roguelikes, yet you don’t see the comparison being constantly made, do you?

  13. Galefury says:

    The Dungeons of Dredmor UI is horrible. I played it for an hour or so, then closed the game in disgust. Sure, it looks nicer than most roguelike UIs, but actually using it is almost painful. I heard it can be made close to tolerable by fiddling with the options, but it put me off so much that I didn’t bother. I heard there are some good ideas in DoD, and if I get really bored I might give it another chance, but playing it felt extremely tedious to me.

    Also of note: vote for your favorite roguelikes here: link to roguelikedeveloper.blogspot.com

    DoD seems to be currently winning, which makes me sad.

    • MondSemmel says:

      I managed to put 7h into the game, and that was only two (!) attempts at the game. So my second and final attempt took ~5h and only ended once I started sprinting down the floors so that the game would finally kill me and the torture would end.
      The game could have been so much faster if the interface wasn’t so bad, but even then, there didn’t seem to be all that much substance behind it.

    • Slinky MCPunchfist says:

      I don’t understand your complaints…there’s keyboard shortcuts for everything…you don’t have to click every thing…

    • mistwolf says:

      DoD is very decent. It has certainly tickled my funny bone this year, while waiting for the great nethack patch of 2047. ;)

      I found the UI simplistic overall for a roguelike, but it was very fun and easy to just throw time and fun into.

      But, I’m also the type who plays on permadeth and stuff cause, wtf, roguelike with saving? I think not!

  14. Commander Gun says:

    Anyone knows if The Binding of Isaac is in an Indie-Bundle atm?

    • datom says:

      It was in the Humble Voxatron Debut bundle, but I think that has ceased sadly.

    • Randomer says:

      Fortunately, the Binding of Isaac is only $5, and it’s probably the best $5 you’ll ever spend. I’ve logged a good 30+ hours so far. I’ve got friends who’ve played it for 20+ and 100+ hours. Seriously, you cannot regret this purchase.

    • Commander Gun says:

      Fair enough, thanks :)

    • Premium User Badge

      Hodge says:

      It’s currently (and, if my age-addled memory’s holding up, has always been) $5 USD on Steam.

      If I you want my honest opinion, I think it’s a ridiculous bargain at that price.

      EDIT: Randomer beat me to it. Still, If you need even more cajoling, it’s almost certainly my game of the year.

  15. Skeletor68 says:

    I bought Dredmor but haven’t gotten into it despite having a history of playing hours of Nethack (as a completely useless noob it must be said). Didn’t feel fast-paced enough. Might get back to after I finish rimming the sky though.

  16. Lobotomist says:

    +1 For Brogue !

    • roguewombat says:

      +100 for Brogue! This has been my favorite RL for a while now, though I do enjoy me some 100 Rogues and have dabbled in Binding of Isaac / Dungeons of Dredmor. For traditional RLs, nothing beats Brogue in my opinion.

      JADE is shaping up nicely, too. Follow Thomas Biskup on Facebook for regular updates on his progress. : )

  17. Moist says:

    Ugh Unreal World sounds exactly like the thing I’ve needed. Going to give it a shot tomorrow, great work Adam Smith.

    • Samuel Erikson says:

      …Why do you have a Nazi/SS symbol as a user icon?

    • Moist says:

      “…Why do you have a Nazi/SS symbol as a user icon?”

      Because it’s cool as shit?

      It’s not a nazi/ss symbol anyway, or not originally, it has more significance in German mysticism than its obscure usage by the nazis.

      Very very few people recognise it so I don’t really mind. It’s also the mast-head for conquerorworm.net

      I suppose I should mention that I love multiculturalism and think ethnocentrism is irrelevant in the modern world and racism sucks and w/e

    • Moist says:

      Actually I’m finding it difficult to work out the origin of the symbol, and wikipedia says that nobody really knows whether it predated Himmler or not, but given it’s esoteric significance and usage far outside of Nazism I don’t think that anyone would be offended by it.

    • Tei says:

      The failed time machine nazy experiment is the true origin of the symbol.

  18. JackDandy says:

    Very nice article.
    For me, my entry to the genre was DoomRL. A VERY fun game, that teaches the basics of the genre while being very fun and accessible. The keyboard controls aren’t hard to memorize, either.

    As for Dreadmor, I stayed away from it- the artstyle simply puts me off. Honestly, sometimes ASCII is better then actual graphics. Plus, I just don’t think it’s wise to put out money for an experience that other games do far better, for free. I guess it can be a fine introduction, though.

  19. Duckee says:

    I enjoy some of these games, but I always get intimidated and put off by ASCII characters. I prefer Tile-sets, so I know whats going on without spamming the look button all the time. Call me a snob, but this is the minimum of graphical fidelity I want.

  20. NathanH says:

    I find it hard to play any proper rogue like other than Incursion, it just works so much better for me than the others. It helps that I understand the rules very quickly, and that there is a lot to do from the start. I tried Stone Soup but it seemed much more boring at the start, and I didn’t feel like playing enough times to stop dying before got somewhere more interesting.

  21. Barrow says:

    I find it interesting that nobody mentioned POWDER. It a nice little Roguelike, which I’m not saying solely because it was my first; it does have a higher level of complexity than Dredmor, but I’d still venture that it’s as accessible to new players as it is to veterans.

  22. Wraithkal says:

    Oh my God. So many memories.. though I’m surprised that no one has mentioned Moria (1983), in neither the article nor the comments! That was one of the first Roguelikes I played ^^

    • Skabooga says:

      I did mention Moria earlier in one of my responses, but I won’t hold it against you because it is such an awesome game. High five! Moria rules!

  23. kimadactyl says:

    Unreal world seems like the old Warcraft 3 survival mods I used to love. Will definitely give it a pop!

  24. KaL_YoshiKa says:

    IVAN is by far my favourite Roguelike ever. While there’s only 2 Towns and 2 Dungeons you’re probably not going to win. The graphical interface does wonders for its playability.

  25. Premium User Badge

    Hodge says:

    If you’re after something at the lightweight end of the scale, I was unexpectedly taken by Hack, Slash, Loot. It’s about as arcadey as a Rogue-like can get while still remaining turn based – think Red Rogue but with Spelunky swapped out for Gauntlet. Or alternatively, if Desktop Dungeons boils the Rogue-like genre down to the numbers then Hack, Slash, Loot boils it down to the action. Shamelessly shallow, but I still found it a fun romp.

  26. Dervish says:

    The original Angband, dating back to 1990, took the Rogue template and added more of everything

    Hey, let’s give Moria its deserved credit, please.

    (ADOM), Angband, Nethack and Crawl. All but the first have masses of variants

    Do they really? Honest question here. I can only find a handful for Nethack and almost nothing for Crawl (Angband, of course, has loads).

  27. Premium User Badge

    Adam Smith says:


    Sorry Moria! Wasn’t meaning to skip past it, just haven’t played it in so long and was glossing over the history somewhat to talk about what’s been more personal to me in recent months.

    As for ‘masses’ of variants, SLASH’EM alone qualifies as masses. Or at least that is my excuse. I’d thought Crawl had a lot more before Stone Soup, although it seems I was wrong. It would appear, in fact, that my memory is mostly confusing Angband variants with Crawl ones.

    I should probably just have left out ‘masses of’ but I am in much too excitable a mood.

    • Galefury says:

      I believe there are only a few crawl variants.
      – The original Linley’s Dungeon Crawl, which is not actively developed anymore.
      – Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup, which greatly expands and improves on it.
      – Crawl Light, a fork of DCSS that aims to lower difficulty, shorten the game, and make it a bit more accessible.
      There is also Erocrawl, which is not exactly a variant, but more of a playground for Eronarn to try out race and monster ideas (some of which make it into DCSS). I believe it was hosted on a public server at some point, maybe it still is.
      So three variants, four if you’re very generous.

      Nethack has acehack, sporkhack, unnethack, slash’em, and a whole bunch more I’m missing. link to nethackwiki.com lists a few of them.

    • jrodman says:

      There were a number of short-lived alterations to the linley dungeon crawl sourcebase, but I’d probably consider them more personal builds, or experiements than “variants” in the longlived school of things like zangband or slashem.

      Personally i played a version of crawl I cobbled together out of Linley’s base, some bits from others experiments, and my own edits. It had some problems, and I never intended to maintain it so I didn’t relase it, but I found it a bit more satisfying.

  28. kinglog says:

    I’m hoping Herr Biskup will keep releasing JADE as regularly as he has been – this was some of the biggest gaming news to me this year. ADOM has a place in my heart as the one roguelike I’ve beaten several times – if he can combine that mystery with his huge random world and the best of dwarf fort adventure mode this should be in incredible game.

    • Kaira- says:

      Yeah, following JADE’s development is absolutely lovely. I’ve played a bit of 0.1.0 and 0.2.0, and I can already see that this will most likely be one of the best roguelikes in the making. Multiclassing with depth, Dwarf Fortress-ish elements of building and armies… oh my oh my.

  29. Eamo says:

    What about Cardinal Quest, doesn’t it even get a mention!

  30. Olli T says:

    Actually, ToME wasn’t originally “Angband with more Tolkien”. It started out as PernAngband, a variant based on Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books. After a few years, McCaffrey’s lawyers caught wind of this and C&D:d the author, who then renamed the project to ToME and used Tolkien’s material as a replacement to the Pern stuff (if Tolkien’s estate got litigious, they’d have many more targets to go against, starting with vanilla Angband).

  31. Insidious Rex says:

    I think the only roguelike i’ve ever put a lot of time into was Castle of the Winds 2.

    Just look at this dude and try to deny that you want to spend hours with him

    link to bit.ly

    • MondSemmel says:

      Wow. I actually grew up with that game, playing it in Windows 3.1 (!). And I’m German, and at the time (age ~8?) had no understanding of English whatsoever. (Actually, it must have been CotW 1, i.e. the shareware version.)
      And then I played it again as an adult a few years ago and finished it. And I still really liked it.

      I can highly recommend it. It was a commercial title but became free in 1998. Of course, it’s pretty basic in scope, but it also has graphics, and the games can be rather short if you make that your goal.

    • jrodman says:

      I believe I played Castle of the Winds (1). Did the second installment feature significant randomization? I found the first trip a very approachable dungeon crawl that did not overstay its welcome.

  32. kikito says:

    Dudes. POWDER.

    link to zincland.com

    Its interface was initially thought to be played with the buttons of a Game Boy Advance and yet it has the same (good) complexity as any of the games listed in this post.

    This means no remembering of arcane keyboard combinations is necessary (there are key shortcuts in the Desktop versions), mouse control, and touch control, if your device allows for it.

    It’s basically what’s keeping my NDS alive (I play with buttons only, no touch).

  33. Snargelfargen says:

    Stone Soup! I promised myself I wouldn’t try any other roguelikes until I beat Stone Soup, but now 4 years have passed, and I still haven’t done it. I definitely recommend it to anybody new to roguelikes, the sheer selection of races, character classes and deities is awesome, and prevent the game from ever getting stale. Maybe it’s time I tried something new… but it’s been half a year and they might have updated Stone Soup! I’m going to find out now.

  34. MythArcana says:

    An excellent article discussing some rather interesting elements in today’s comparison to yesteryear. I also find it amazing that these open source games offer more than any other retail projects who have attempted to replicate them in part. I prefer tilesets and a Windows GUI for my clients to get me in the vibe, so it’s Vulture NetHack and Stone Soup for me; both of which are superb in their own unique way.

    I have nearly every game mentioned in this article installed and I am baffled on a daily basis as to how these small gems offer a universe of endless game play while most modern retail games dump 12 gigs of crap on your drive and offer 11 hours of action – with multiplayer added to flesh it out. Guess what? Stone Soup has a multiplayer web client! Now you have no excuse not to play it!

    Vulture NetHack takes the original v3.4.3 NetHack and adds a much needed (IMO) GUI and tileset with an isometric view; all in a tidy 26 meg package which even includes audio and music if you so desire. All for the low price of $0.00 down and $0.00 per month. Top that Blizzard.

    I also see no mention whatsoever of Mordor and Demise, which is most peculiar, but I think I understand as to why. It’s a shame because Mordor was one of the most polished Windows projects out there and it played on your desktop with multiple windows opened for all facets of the game at once. But…there’s a very dark history behind this and I won’t go into it here.

    Dredmor is a nice beginner’s foray into the genre, but the lack of diagonal attack/movement escapes me and it is absolutely jam packed with toilet humor – over the brim actually. Steam has been holding their new DLC hostage for over a week now and there have been many issues between the 1.07 and 1.08 patches and numerous hotfixes after. You can get this on Desura, also…but Gaslamp has been kept extremely busy with Valve’s horrible fail machine and appears to be eating most of their dev time dealing with the fallout.

    Desktop Dungeons has its’ own allure for what it is worth, but I find it (free version anyway) to be more of a Sudoku-meets-pseudo-hack. The client (retail version) is web-dependent (Unity based) and needs to operate online I believe. Fun, yes. Practical, no. There is also quite a discussion regarding the $10 and $20 versions available on their forums which has me confused and scared away, frankly.

    All in all, my overview of the genre is that the open source projects have NO motive to screw around whereas the retail market simply can’t compete with the feature sets found in the classic badboy freeware versions. No developer (except Blizzard financially) has the resources to develop a true polished retail roguelike in scope and features which compares to the list of revered games above. The first retail game that does come close will get my money first in line, but it hasn’t happened yet.


    • Galefury says:

      Note that the full version of Desktop Dungeons is online-only just for the beta. The finished product will go on your hard drive and require no online connection AFAIK. Also there are plans for porting it to pretty much every system that supports Unity.

  35. DickSocrates says:

    Turn based, anti-graphics with hardcore inventory management? I’d rather torture myself to death.

    • Moist says:

      Turn based, anti-graphics

      Just what do you have against Chess?

    • Moist says:

      “Inventory management” isn’t actually a defining feature of roguelikes, but roguelikes have some of the best examples of it. Few other games make their items so versatile and unique, it’s a game in itself crafting and creating new and more powerful equipment or potions or even entirely esoteric things. In roguelikes with deep character customisation you can often ignore that side of the game entirely (and play wholly other different playstyles).

    • jrodman says:

      I disagree strongly that funny business with altering items is a defining characteristic of roguelikes. Neither rogue, moria, hack, larn, angband, omega, crawl, et al, have this as a significant aspect. However, it is a pretty damn cool feature of nethack.

      As for ‘hardcore inventory management’, I’m not sure what you mean. Nethack definitely features the juggling of necessary items to get to godlike status, and very fiddling controls for manipulating items (containers are awful). They all have somewhat limited item capacity, which I think is a positive thing — forcing you to evaluate what you would rather drag around with you. Most do inflict some kind of weight system. Hmm.. Maybe I see what you mean, it just never bothered me. Most give you *plenty* of room to carry what is needed. Personally I prefer a game like crawl these days, where you make do with what you have, and live or die fast typically.

    • Josh W says:

      Chess has lovely graphics, or at least my version does, they’re 3d too!

  36. Kefren says:

    Yay! Desktop Dungeons! (My personal favourite).
    Yay! DoomRL!
    Also worth a look – AliensRL (play with sound on). link to alien.chaosforge.org

  37. CoyoteTheClever says:

    Incursion actually still is in development, but the creator stopped updating his web page for whatever reason. What happened was he scrapped his original engine and came up with a new one, which he has been working on since then. Here is where updates can be found now:

    link to groups.google.ca

  38. Premium User Badge

    Waltorious says:


    They have updated it indeed! It’s up to v0.9.1 now, which has a really nice overhaul to the skill system that makes it a lot easier to train the skills you want without wasting your time with micromanaging. You can also now “focus” a skill to bump it up quicker, even if you’re not actively using it, which is great for certain skills like Spellcasting or Invocations.

    Also, keep at it! I finally managed my first win after ~6 years. It just made me want to go back and try some different race and class combinations.

  39. andrewdoull says:

    And if you’re a roguelike fan and missed the earlier mention on Rock, Paper, Shotgun there’s always Roguelike Radio, a podcast dedicated to roguelikes.

    Next episode will be on the roguelike of the year.

    (And Adam has linked to a really old list of Angband variants. You’re much better off with this variant list).

    • Premium User Badge

      Adam Smith says:

      Ta! Updated with that list. Sifting through hundreds of bookmarks does not always uncover the best result first time.

  40. Snargelfargen says:

    Oooh the interface in general is easier to use. My ogre priest of Zin is about to go to level 4 of the first dungeon and seems to be doing quite well so far! Well except for the ominous status message “Your body is deteriorating”, but hopefully Zin will protect me.

  41. namad says:

    cataclysmrl is the best zombie roguelike and it isn’t mentioned here! also prospector an amazing game of space travel, caves, crewmembers and black holes is left out too!

  42. dsi1 says:

    Got to give a shout out to X@Com, it’s still in early development, but is good fun link to menzelphoto.com

    (Also an entire list of rougelikes/rougelikelikes:link to facepunch.com)

    • Kyzrati says:

      Thanks for the mention :) A few days ago I release a more recent version than the direct link you’ve got there. Added a new randomized urban scenario and full inventory access. That version can be downloaded directly from here.

  43. jrodman says:

    It is my opinion that a Proper Roguelike comes with source code. I’m glad to learn of Brogue, which meets my expecations.

  44. CaBBagE says:

    There’s a space offshoot to traditional Rogue-likes which hasn’t been talked about much here. Has anyone tried Prospector link to spacesimcentral.com It’s very well done and if you rate a Rogue-like by how time flies it rates highly in my book heh!

    • Premium User Badge

      Adam Smith says:

      I’ve played a bit of it already – definitely something I’m following but I’ve not managed to get really involved yet. Something for 2012, mayhaps.

  45. CaBBagE says:

    Yeah game overload atm, BF3 and Skyrim elbowing everything else out of the way :)