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Hands On: Rogue Wizards

Rogue's gone rogue

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Okay, I didn’t want to do this, but the moratorium on “rogue-like” is now legally enforced. Your game is nothing like Rogue, so stop calling it a roguelike, or you will go to prison. Definitely up for a lengthy sentence is the completely charming private beta of Rogue Wizards [official site], which even loses rights to parole for putting the word “Rogue” right in its title, despite containing little that directly associates it with the genre. So forget that silliness, and instead let’s focus on what Not-Rogue Wizards actually does, which is be a very lovely, well designed dungeon crawling RPG.

The daft thing is, what I want to celebrate Rogue Wizards for is quite how much it’s NOT like so many of the glut of rogue-lite crawlers around at the moment. That’s a genre I adore, and I play a lot of them, enjoying how tough they are – which makes a game that’s comparatively easier, and infinitely friendlier, a welcome alternative. Not-Rogue Wizards has you pick a male or female character, then you get to the important business of turn-based combat in tiled dungeons, zapping, whacking and fireballing a broad array of enemy types in a quest to undo the damage of some baddy sorcerer.

There’s a tale here of a group of people known as banlits, those born without the ability to use magic, seemingly somewhat subjugated by the Guild over the years. Recently something odd has been happening with the craft, and banlits are discovering magical abilities, meaning some within the Guild are attempting to allow them (both male and female – until this point women were also banned) to join. All of which has minimal impact on what you actually do, which is set off from an ever-expanding town of craftspeople and quest-givers to blammo all the bads and gather all the treasures of a range of dungeons.

The game grabs handfuls of good ideas from a bunch of places. ARPGs are well looted, most especially with the weapons that are frequently swapped out for incrementally improved versions dropped in the enormous piles of loot you’ll find. They can also be upgraded, slotted and enchanted, which makes their temporary stay in your belt enough to cause pangs as they’re ditched for the latest model. Every item also gains experience the longer its in use, meaning that every hat, stick and shoe can level up if you commit to it, making them even tougher to let go of.

Magic is powerful, but limited by the gathering of resources dropped by enemies. Those same resources are also used for crafting potions. This is a clever balancing act as you’ll want to use fireballs, but also want to be able to mix some new health potions if you find a rare cauldron. Each enemy type has completely different tactics when fighting you, and they fight you in mixed groups, meaning you need to think carefully about your movement and weapon selections. There’s plenty of time to do that because the game switches to a turn-based mode when enemies appear. (Swapping weapons/magic also takes a turn, which means planning is doubly important, although I suspect most of the game’s issues (below) would disappear if this weren’t to be the case.)

One of the main deviations from the roguelike formula is the treatment of death. It’s not a permanent condition, death. Fail in a quest and you not only return to the hub town where you can start it again, but you get to keep all the loot and experience you found in your failed attempt! You know, like you used to in games until about four years ago. It feels distinctly odd after the recent influx of games robbing you of equipment and hope on failure, almost like you’re cheating, until you remember it’s okay! It’s okay for a game to be nice!

Things being in beta means that obviously much is up for change, and there are a bunch of balancing issues that need to be addressed pronto. I realise I’m somewhat contradicting myself here, but at the moment it’s definitely too easy in places. I only learned that death wasn’t permanent a good few hours in.

Then, at other times, it goes completely bonkers and assaults you with ten or so enemies at once, half of which can spawn exponentially, until it becomes literally impossible to win. That rather needs fixing. And let me use this public platform to file the beta report that the yetis are ridiculously annoying – they not only have the ability to take two turns for your every one, but also can freeze you to the spot for two turns. The combination of these two abilities makes fighting them a real chore, and indeed four of them being spawned at once by a boss baddie was the reason for my first death – I literally couldn’t fight back.

The same is true when faced with three or more green blobs – they can replicate so fast it’s not possible to compete. Alongside those issues, there’s also a real oddity where the mouseover comparisons of new weapons and those equipped keep swapping over the order of the two boxes that appear. The number of times I’ve accidentally equipped something crappy because of this is a little galling.

The game has been in development for about a year and a half since its narrowly successful Kickstarter in October 2014. It’s coming along very well, albeit with a lot of balancing to sort out. With crafting, so many ways to upgrade things, loads of enemy types, a lovely presentation style somewhat borrowed from Bastion, and simply because it isn’t a roguelike/roguelite, there’s a lot to like in here already. A Summer release is planned, and it’ll be very welcome.

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John Walker

Senior Editor

One of the original co-founding robots of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, I'm now a senior editor and hero of humanity. Old and special.

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