Hands On: Rogue Wizards

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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  1. Premium User Badge

    Nauallis says:

    Does “roguelike” still actually have a definition? I see it thrown around in game descriptions so much I am now thoroughly confused about what it’s supposed to mean.

    • Jeremy says:

      “roguelike” is to games, as “indie” is to music. It’s becoming a catch for things not allocated to other genres.

      • Premium User Badge

        Nauallis says:

        Seems kinda suspect to me, but your definition makes more sense than anything else I’ve read recently.

    • noodlecake says:

      Games that have permadeath and randomised levels/loot. It’s that simple.

      • asmodemus says:

        Not really. I think turn based is more important than perma-death. It’s pretty much the only thing stopping Diablo 1 from being more rogue-like than any of the games people actually call rogue-like.

    • golochuk says:

      Search for Berlin Interpretation to get the community definition. I think it is overly specific in a small number of details, but it is a good starting point to develop an informed personal opinion.

  2. davethejuggler says:

    I guess these days it’s used to mean “When you die, you start over” combined with a bit of “Procedurally generated things”. To be honest i imagine the vast majority of people playing these games have never even seen the original game. I’d argue that the term rogue-like has become a word on it’s own now regardless of it’s origin. I can’t come up with a snappy alternative like they did when doom clones became fpses.

    • Jeremy says:

      How about… Sessionally Ephemeral. Rolls right off the tongue.

      • Hedgeclipper says:

        Sessionally Ephemeral eXperiences gotta have a catchy acronym.

  3. schachmatt says:

    I will stop using rogue-like however I want if you explain “moriturium” to me.

    • schachmatt says:

      While the word is now edited to the correct spelling it is still incorrectly used.
      Which is quite funny in an article about the correct usage of a term.

      • Dare_Wreck says:

        How is “moratorium” being misused by John? It means a suspension or ban.

    • Lanfranc says:

      “Moriturium” is the state of being about to die. :ja:

  4. kincajou says:

    Erhm, if you’re being picky on words… may it be possible that the name refers to the wizards being rogue in the story (seems like it from your description)… in which case you might owe the game an apology

    • Snerf says:

      Yeah that’s what I was about to say.. Maybe they’re just using rogue in the original sense, as in being a bit naughty and not following rules etc…

      • Dare_Wreck says:

        That was my first thought, too, however I then looked up the original campaign description for the game’s Kickstarter, and the pitch’s title does in fact say this: “Rogue Wizards RPG – Fantasy Roguelike Role Playing Game”.

    • John Walker says:

      Nope – it would have been very silly for me to have ranted about that based on just the name. All promotion for the game from KS onward describes it as a “rogue-like”.

  5. InternetBatman says:

    Just call it a roguelite.

    • noodlecake says:

      rogue-like is fine. It’s used so much to describe games with permadeath, randomised items and gear and procedurally generated levels that everyone knows what is meant by the term.

      I like to stick to it partly because it annoys some pedants.

    • golochuk says:

      It’s too hard to read the difference between these terms.

  6. Dances to Podcasts says:

    “I bet all the comments will be about defining ‘roguelike’ and none about the game shown and written about.”

    • noodlecake says:

      The ironic thing is that you are doing the exact same thing! Also it’s easy to write that after reading the comments. Had you written it first as a prediction it would have been impressive.

      • Caiman says:

        But then it may have influenced the discussion after it, so we’ll really never know. However, the point is still valid; point me to a comments section following a game described as a “roguelike” that strays from the rigid definition and you’ll find the usual discussion.

  7. Philotic Symmetrist says:

    “…despite containing little that directly associates it with the genre.”

    From what I can see the ‘only’ high value factor it’s missing (I don’t count non-modal; “the genre is represented by its canon” and the canon contradicts non-modal) is permadeath; to be fair though, that is probably the single most important requirement for a roguelike and if your game doesn’t include permadeath why would you even want it to be associated with roguelikes (stares quizzically at Rogue Legacy and its anti-permadeath which gets called permadeath)?

  8. noodlecake says:

    Here’s a trailer for the game:

    link to youtube.com

    It does look pretty decent! I’m going to wait till it’s finished to play it though.

  9. Yglorba says:

    Obviously a roguelike that deviates from the traditional design of roguelikes is a rebel among roguelikes; the only proper term for it is a Rogue Roguelike.

    • Yglorba says:

      Or, alternatively, it is only a bit like a Roguelike; it is a Roguelikelike.

      • Hex says:

        I’m assuming you haven’t seen it elsewhere, but:

        “roguelikelike” is a fairly common term. :(

        • April March says:

          So if this game is only like a roguelike, which makes it a rebel amongst them, is it a rogue roguelikelike?